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Bishop challenges supermarkets to lighten up Halloween

Retailers are helping create a climate of fear, says Bishop, as new book gives guidance on a brighter Halloween

 

The Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd David Gillett, has today published a letter sent to Britain’s supermarket bosses urging them to rethink the way that their stores promote Halloween.

In the letter, which arrived on the desks of the Chief Executives of the UK’s five biggest supermarkets early last week, the Bishop challenged the retailers to ‘cross-merchandise’ traditional Halloween toys and costumes with goods more suitable for those worried about the darker side of the festival. The bishop also commends a new book published by the Church of England written specifically to help churches and schools arrange events for children and young people that focus on the positive messages of All Saints Day, the day following ‘All Hallows’ Eve’.

“This year, I would like you to offer your customers a choice. Amongst your displays, I would like to see products that enable parents, teachers and children to choose a positive, alternative way to celebrate Halloween,” says the Bishop, suggesting that the supermarkets present a range of alternative products such as bright balloons, hair braids and colourful costumes.

The Bishop shares the view of many Christians that large retailers are increasingly keen to commercialise Halloween celebrations in a way that pressurises parents to purchase goods that promote the dark, negative side of Halloween and could encourage anti-social behaviour.

“If you meet this challenge you will be making an important statement about your company’s willingness to accept the responsibilities that come with being one of the biggest suppliers of Halloween merchandise in the UK,” adds the Bishop in his letter.

Furthermore, the Bishop is worried that Halloween has the potential to trivialise the realities of evil in the world and that occult practices should not be condoned, even if they are only being presented in a caricatured, light-hearted form.

“Through my daily contact with schools and churches, I pick up a real concern amongst parents and teachers about the type of activities that people, especially young people, are encouraged to take part in at Halloween. Christianity needs to make clear its positive message for young people. It’s high time we reclaimed the Christian aspects of Halloween,” says the Bishop, explaining the background to his letter.

One way of marking the event within that more positive framework is set out in Better than Halloween, the book that the Bishop is recommending the supermarkets stock alongside their other Halloween products. Written by Nick Harding, Children’s Officer for the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, the 52-page book contains an overview of the traditions of Halloween, and the reasons why many Christians chose not to celebrate it. The colourful resource is packed with a wealth of ideas and inspiration for running parties for children aged 5-11 that replace the witches, monsters and ghosts with games and activities that children will find even more fun, themed around light, laughter, and the triumph of good over evil.

In recent years many churches have begun to organise alternative events for children on or around Halloween, but this is the first time that the Church has offered practical suggestions for parishes on the subject. Better than Halloween also provides essential information on child protection and the practicalities of organizing such events.

The Bishop insists that those in the Church supporting his move towards a more positive approach to the event are not being killjoys, but are simply reflecting the concerns of many parents and teachers across the land: “We want everyone to be able to have an enjoyable time at Halloween, which is why people need to consider the impact of their behaviour on their neighbours. It is why we want supermarkets to take a responsible position in relation to the products they promote for celebrating the event. It’s also why we’ve worked on producing the guidance on creating lively, engaging events for children and young adults that will provide a real alternative to the recently imported ways of celebrating Halloween.”

Better than Halloween, priced £9.99, is available from Christian bookshops including Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, tel. 020-7898 1300, e-mail bookshop@c-of-e.org.uk, on the web (mail order available) – and who knows, maybe supermarkets too.