Did you hear what President Trump tweeted about —
We interrupt this editorial to bring you this special news bulletin: There’s a petition going around to change the date of Halloween.
Forget about Trump; now we’re talking something really controversial. Yes, there really is such a petition: It’s being circulated by the Halloween & Costume Association, which represents the companies making “costumes, decor, novelty items and party supplies.” If you want to think about it this way, Big Business wants to move Halloween. Framed that way, you’d expect Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to stand up for the traditional Oct. 31 date. But think about the children! That’s the argument from the Halloween & Costume Association: It’s safer for kids if Halloween is always on a Saturday night, rather than a school night. The association says 63% of parents or kids on Halloween don’t carry a flashlight. By moving Halloween to a Saturday, little kids can go out earlier in the afternoon (and presumably get home sooner). And schools don’t have to worry about kids high on a sugar buzz the next day.
If all this results in more people participating in Halloween (and presumably buying “costumes, decor, novelty items and party supplies” to use over what would amount to a longer Halloween celebration), well, everybody wins, right? So it comes down to this: The argument for moving Halloween is safety (and commerce). The argument against: Tradition. Halloween is Oct. 31, period. If you want my Halloween, you’ll have to pry it out of my cold, dead, zombie fingers.
The petition now has more than 144,000 signatures. Once it passed the 100,000-signature mark, the organizers sent the petition to the White House. When Barack Obama was president, he instituted a rule that any petition with at least 100,000 signatures would be officially reviewed — and the administration would officially respond. That’s one Obama policy that Trump hasn’t changed. Obama might have had high-minded policy proposals in mind, but you know how people are. The most famous petition was one calling for the United States to build a Death Star — like the one from Star Wars. The Obama White House really did respond to that one. It rejected a Death Star for three reasons: (1). The cost was estimated at $852 quadrillion. (2). “The Administration does not support blowing up planets.” (3) “Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”
You should already have spotted the fundamental flaw in Obama’s own logic: In objection three, the Obama administration referred to “countless taxpayer dollars” yet in objection one rather precisely calculated them at $852 quadrillion. One almost gets the feeling that Obama didn’t take this petition seriously.
The Halloween petition, though, is quite serious. Perhaps Trump really will weigh in on Halloween. He’s certainly not shy about weighing in on whatever crosses his mind. Who knows how Trump would respond to this? A classical conservative who believed in limited government would say that this isn’t a matter for the federal government. But you can also make a more nationalist argument that traditional American values are at risk here — don’t move Halloween just so we can sell more Chinese-made Halloween costumes.
Regardless, though, here’s one not-so-trivial detail: Halloween isn’t an official holiday. Conservatives should love Halloween because government doesn’t have anything to do with it at all. You can trace the holiday back to the 8th century Christian holiday of All Saints Day or All Hallows Day on Nov. 1 — which made Oct. 31 a religious observance known as All Hallows’ Eve. Much like Christmas, it managed to absorb some pagan traditions in the process of becoming the decidedly secular Halloween we have today. In any case, since Halloween isn’t a government holiday, we shouldn’t need government to tell us when to observe it, yet we do so anyway. This is an unmasked weakness of civic character. Whenever Halloween falls on a Sunday, there are requests that local governments change the date on the grounds that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath and Halloween is an un-Christian holiday. (Never mind its Christian origins.) Sometimes local governments agree; sometimes they don’t. When they decide to regulate the day for trick-or-treating, the official rationale deals with Sunday being a night when kids should be getting to bed early for school the next day, although that same logic would apply to Halloween on Monday through Thursday, as well.
In 1982 and 1993, when Halloween fell on a Sunday, Roanoke Valley governments decreed trick-or-treating would take place on Saturday instead — and all this happened rather quietly. In 1999, something stirred up a fuss. Some churches made a point of asking, maybe demanding, that Halloween be moved. Suddenly what had been a quiet matter of practicality became a full-fledged church-and-state debate. It also didn’t help that the biggest locality around — Roanoke — waited until 10 days before Halloween to change the date and did so with the ham-handedness that characterized local government of that era. “Why would you want to go to church knowing that all these people razzed up on candy will be running through your neighborhood?” asked then-councilman Jim Trout. Councilman Alvin Hudson said he was “overwhelmed” by callers.
When Roanoke made the change, that put pressure on other valley governments to follow suit. Naturally, Roanoke County blamed the city: “There’s going to be a lot of confusion,” the county’s spokeswoman said. She was right. In the end, the city, county and Salem moved Halloween to Oct. 30. In the New River Valley, some localities stuck with Oct. 31; some moved to Oct. 30, and some declared it wasn’t up to them to dictate Halloween. The kids won: Some spent two nights rather than just one trick-or-treating. The controversy even factored into Roanoke’s 2000 city council elections, when voters booted out two incumbents and a third was denied renomination. (Trump may want to pay close attention to that.) Somehow we’ve managed to avoid Halloween controversies since then. The last time Halloween fell on a Sunday was 2010. Then, most governments in the two valleys wisely took the position that the holiday wasn’t theirs to regulate. So should we move Halloween to a Saturday every year? Maybe Trump will tell us. Maybe he won’t. But why do we need anyone to tell us?