Religion, Politics, and the Great Pumpkin


There’s a History Channel special called The Haunted History of Halloween that Beth videotaped years ago, and we often watch in October, at least when she can find the tape. This year, we found the same special On Demand, although I think it might have been slightly edited. It’s a good overview of how the holiday and its traditions developed, but I also think there a slant to it. It’s a GOOD slant to my mind, but I have to wonder if it might have rubbed anyone else the wrong way. When it talks about the spread of Christianity and what that did to the Celtic festival of Samhain, I noticed a bit of a tone that, while certainly not anti-Christian, did kind of suggest that the spread of the religion homogenized culture somewhat. Or am I bringing my own biases into it? I’m sure the special was partially intended to combat the anti-Halloween sentiments among some fundamentalists. There’s also a bit on how the killing of witches was misogynistic, when I’m sure some people still think it was really about fighting Satan. Speaking of Halloween and evil, are violent pranks around that time (especially on the night of the thirtieth) still common? I’m sure there’s still some of it going around, but when I hear about how kids would set buildings on fire and take buggies apart on throw the pieces on the roof, I have to wonder how people can think society is more violent NOW. There’s a part of the special Beth and I sometimes mention with Garrison Keillor (presumably sarcastically, but it’s hard to tell) coming out in favor of the death penalty for children who throw toilet paper in trees. Other footage includes a young Candice Bergen and Liza Minnelli attending a Halloween party, and modern-day Druids dancing and singing corny songs.

We watched a more modern History Channel special as well, but while it offered a few tidbits of new information, like how All Saints’ Day was originally in May and the possible connection between trick-or-treating and soul cakes (no mention of the Soul Cake Duck), I didn’t care for it as much.

And we couldn’t even make it through the one on werewolves, which was more of a paranormal investigation type of thing than actual history. That seems to be the case with pretty much everything on the History Channel these days, though.


Another special I’d seen many times before but still wanted to comment on was It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the classic horror tale of a town where the children are practically always unsupervised, adults give rocks instead of candy to a clinically depressed child (seems to me that would be just asking for broken windows), and another kid walks around in a permanent dust cloud. Charles Schulz has denied there being any religious connotation to Linus’ fervent belief in the Great Pumpkin, instead saying that he simply mixed up Halloween with Christmas.

Mind you, it’s certainly easy to read religion into it, considering that Linus quotes the Bible on occasion. Looking back at these Peanuts specials, it’s amazing how something so cynical became such an integral part of childhood. That’s not a bad thing, but I’m not sure I always realized just how dark they can be.

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4 Responses to Religion, Politics, and the Great Pumpkin

  1. I took some Halloween books out to my outreach preschools (storytime visits for the library) on Friday and ended up reading from a poetry book sight unseen. I was kind of shocked (I mean, MILDLY) when the very young narrators of a poem announced that if anyone in town didn’t give them good treats, they WOULD egg their porches and soap their windows. I thought “Really? How old is this story? Was that an expected thing for kids to do if they didn’t get treats, not just young hoodlums regardless of the treats?” I just really wasn’t expecting to read that in a book for preschoolers.

    • Nathan says:

      I remember asking my parents why it was called “trick or treat,” and I think soaping the windows was the trick they mentioned as well. I have to wonder when that kind of thing went out of fashion. I mean, there are certainly still plenty of kids who vandalize property, but it doesn’t seem to be the norm anymore.

      • I remember tricks and treats being decidedly separate activities. In my rural area we had an October trick tradition called corning,* where kids– hoodlums or not, I was even invited to go once (I don’t think I did though)– would gather dry corn kernels from feed stores and the like and throw handfuls at doors after dark– it was just a startling sound, not actual vandalism, and being targetted could be just as much a sign of affection as one of revenge (my high school band director once brought in the two large buckets of corn she’d gathered off her porch one week, to say, “Uh, yeah you guys, I get the picture”). And it always happened BEFORE Halloween, so it was hardly linked to what people were giving out or not.

        *it was so common and widespread in my school district that I was kind of shocked to discover it’s not well-known in the rest of, well, the state even, let alone the country or the world. Doesn’t happen in my current town, which is not THAT more urban.

      • Nathan says:

        I know the night before Halloween was Mischief Night in my area, although I never participated.

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