Chill Out, Parents--It's OK If Your Kid's School Ditches The Classroom Holiday Party

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and filmstudio/Getty

Halloween this year will look a bit different in the Evanston-Skokie schools, a district in Chicago’s suburbs. School administrators recently made the call to cancel traditional Halloween celebrations in the classroom environment. In a statement to parents, their reasoning was simple and direct. Not everyone celebrates Halloween, and they’re choosing to honor that. They also note that there is a “range of inequalities that are embedded in Halloween celebrations” and these can have an “unintended negative impact” on students, their families, and school staff.

After the news broke of the district’s decision, mixed reactions poured in from parents, residents, and people around the country. I read a few, including some letters to the editor. And what I came away with is this. Everyone needs to chill. It’s not like they told you that you can’t ask your Starbucks’ barista for those secret Halloween drinks–the Sally or Joker frappe.

The district isn’t alone either. Schools across the nation are eliminating certain long-standing celebrations and traditions in order to do what they feel is best for students as a whole. And hold on to your Christmas sleigh horses–because I’m here for it. And perhaps you should be, too.

My own children’s public school district made the decision this year that though we will continue our long-standing Halloween classroom parties, including Halloween costume parades around the playground, there will not longer be any food permitted at any of the three holiday parties—nor are special birthday treats allowed. The risk of allergy exposure to vulnerable students is simply too great. And many students’ parents cannot afford to bring in special snacks for twenty-five kids on their child’s birthday.

Personally, I appreciate the new food rule. Three of my four children have food allergies, and though I gladly sent alternative snacks for them in the past—it’s a relief knowing that there’s no longer a risk of contamination. There are plenty of other ways to have fun—like games, music, and crafts—that don’t include potential exposure to dangerous allergens.

Yes, some parents were whining about our district’s food decision in social media groups. I clapped back that they were lucky to not have to carry around a very expensive Epipen, praying that their child wouldn’t accidentally be exposed to the food they were dangerously allergic to.

Our schools also sent out a list of Halloween costume no-nos. No weapons, no masks, no gore, no offensive costumes. (Don’t get me started on the kid who wore some sort of MAGA-propaganda costume last year. Like why? And the costume cultural appropriation issue is a major problem in children and adults.) Though all of these rules are legit—I wonder why we’re bothering to celebrate Halloween at school in 2019.

Now before you bah-humbug angry tweet me–you should know I love holiday celebrations, especially Christmas. Our house is literally covered in Black Santas and nativity scenes. We have Christmas shirts, we watch Home Alone and Elf on repeat, bake cookies, wrap gifts, and decorate our three–yes, three–Christmas trees. I’m that annoying person who puts a Christmas countdown on my social media wall two months in advance and shamelessly blasts Pentatonix Christmas music as soon as Halloween is over.

But just because I choose to go all-out in my home–celebrating my faith and all-things-Christmas-magic with my family–it doesn’t mean that our holiday season is ruined because my kids’ schools don’t have holiday classroom parties. I’m grown. I’ll be OK. And my kids? They’ll be OK, too.

For those having a bit of a tantrum about their kid’s school cancelling a holiday party, all is not lost. There are so many other ways that families can celebrate holidays—if they even choose to do so. Visit a pumpkin patch or apple orchard. Enjoy one of the many haunted houses or hayrides. Host a bonfire yourself. Trick-or-treat, go to the town Halloween parade, and visit local fall festivals. Or do none of these. Instead, stay home in your pjs with some hot chocolate, read your kids some Halloween books, and watch Hocus Pocus.

The fact of the matter is, Halloween isn’t for everyone. Neither is Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Thanksgiving. So why do we designate several hours of a school day to celebrate these?

I was reminded of this fact the other day when I went into our local library to pick up a few items. A woman in front of me in line was conversing with the librarian, telling him, “American holiday traditions are so strange to me. Take Thanksgiving, for example.” I couldn’t hear the rest of what she said, but she certainly gave me pause. Because what’s traditional and the norm for many of us isn’t necessarily what’s enjoyed by someone else. It shouldn’t be forced upon them. And that’s OK.

The financial burden that some holidays put on struggling families is a major reason why I support schools making decisions to do away with certain celebrations. I grew up in a low-income community. Our schools went all-out for Halloween, including a student costume parade around the playground, cupcakes and fruit punch, and games that involved a lot of toilet paper.

When I was in fourth grade, I was putting on my homemade foil-star costume in the restroom along with my female classmates when I noticed a girl hunkered in the corner, her eye gaze on the tiled floor. As my friends rushed out of the room, eager to show off their costumes, only Sarah and I were left. I went up to her and before I could say a word, she started crying.

Her parents couldn’t afford to buy her a costume. She was empty-handed, and once she stepped out of the restroom, it would be obvious she was poor. Halloween was among one of the most humiliating days of the school year for her. Birthday celebrations was another—because her mom never came to class in the middle of the day with homemade cupcakes for the class.

After checking in with the teacher, I took Sarah to the lost-and-found bin. Then I pulled her hair in a side pony tail, pulled a too-big sweatshirt from the bin off one of her shoulders, and borrowed some lipstick to turn her into a 1980s girl. I’m sure her “costume” was ridiculous—but you wouldn’t have known by her smile.

Fast forward to high school. One of my peers, Susan, was a Jehovah’s Witness. She wasn’t allowed to celebrate any holidays — Halloween, Christmas, and her own birthday included. I remember that her parents chose to take her out of school on several occasions so she wouldn’t be exposed to ridicule for not participating in festivities.

The experiences I had with both Sarah and Susan happened almost 30 years ago, but it’s not unheard of today. Whether or not a child’s exclusion is due to affordability, belief, or culture, no child should be left out and spotlighted because a holiday isn’t their vibe.

And if you need further convincing, can we give three cheers for not having to find a room parent, delegate tasks, and then torture ourselves with themed crafts, games, and snacks that keep the attention of twenty-plus children for ninety minutes? Plus, would you rather spend your vacation days with a bunch of sugar-hyped first graders or actually with your family on an actual vacay?

If you’re one of those families who thinks Halloween is the best holiday ever, cool. The s’more ingredients, candy corn, costumes, skeletons, and cobwebs are readily available at the store. Work those cleverly-themed family costumes as you trick-or-treat around your neighborhood. I hope you have a happy one. But for those who aren’t down with jack-o-lanterns and zombies or ornaments and candy canes—for whatever reason—that’s OK, too.

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