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Utah is considering moving Halloween so it stops haunting on school nights

A post-Halloween jack-o-lantern pumpkin wilts away on a Salt Lake City porch, Nov. 11, 2021.
Brian Albers
A post-Halloween jack-o-lantern pumpkin wilts away on a Salt Lake City porch, Nov. 11, 2021.

UPDATE, Feb. 10 @ 12:07 p.m.: The Halloween resolution, SCR5, failed during a second reading vote in the Utah Senate, 9-16, with four senators absent or non-voting. Our original story continues below.

The celebration of what we know as Halloween predates even the founding of the United States, harkening back to Celtic times. Traditions like door-to-door appeals for treats, costumes and scary stories have a long lineage.

So, are those observances something you can legislate? Utah is thinking about it — all in the name of school nights.

The resolution in front of lawmakers, SCR5, encourages a uniform celebration of Halloween on the last Friday of October, rather than the 31st calendar day. After all, Oct. 31 can fall on any day of the week, even church-going Sundays.

“[Celebrating Halloween on a school night] poses an educational problem for the following day,” said Republican sponsor Sen. Kirk Cullimore of Sandy. He added that even in an office setting, Halloween is less disruptive when it is marked on a Friday.

For RoyAnn Gregerson, a first grade teacher at Bluffdale Elementary School who has been teaching for 34 years, observing Halloween on a Friday makes perfect sense. That’s what she told the Utah Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee when they were considering the resolution. Any other weekday upsets the school day. With Friday, often a short day in elementary schools, it works out.

“Kids get to party,” she said. “You send them home and the parents don't have to redress them. They’re ready.”

A little chaos, however, is exactly the point when it comes to Halloween said Lynne McNeill, associate professor of folklore at Utah State University.

“Halloween specifically is intended to be a day about tricks, about treats, about disruption, about eating too much, and staying up late and roaming the streets, breaking the sort of rules and norms of everyday life already,” McNeill said. “To try and tidy that up by keeping it constrained to a day on which it's more convenient really goes against the spirit of that holiday.”

In the past, it served as what McNeill calls a “release valve,” allowing people to let off steam before the solemn religious holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the first two days in November. But modern living offers many more opportunities to indulge and relax. A night of too much sugar and too little sleep may just lead to cranky kids the next day — not to an evening of catharsis.

“Parents and teachers are dealing with a lot these days,” she said. “And I think that Halloween just becomes one other exhausting thing that leads to a bad day at school.”

Cullimore, who also serves as the Senate Majority Assistant Whip in the Legislature, had temporarily postponed his resolution while he worked on other policy matters. He plans to lift that hold as soon as Friday (Feb. 10).

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ciara Hulet: How do the history of Halloween and the day it is celebrated play into its cultural importance today?

Lynne McNeill: The history of Halloween is really similar to the history of another holiday that makes February a really appropriate time to talk about this, which is Mardi Gras. Both Halloween, which originated as the eve of All Hallows, and Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday [followed by Ash Wednesday], are days before what's known as a day of solemnity, one of the more serious holidays in the liturgical calendar for the Catholic church.

CH: Is Halloween a religious holiday?

LM: Halloween itself is celebrated in North America almost entirely as a secular holiday. But the days that it precedes, All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2, are religious holidays that are most actively contemporarily celebrated as Día de los Muertos in Spanish-speaking communities. So it's interesting now to see the legislation of Halloween removing that celebration from the evening before.

CH: What role does Utah government have in regulating Halloween?

LM: Oftentimes, a city will declare a certain night as the night of trick or treating, but it's often adapted to the year. … [A law designating a specific day to celebrate Halloween] ties it up in a neat bow and sets it aside so we don't have to worry about it every year. I'm interested to see how much on-the-ground pushback there will be to this regularization of a holiday that is about tricks and treats. I could see people continuing to attempt to trick-or-treat on the 31st, regardless of the day of the week.”

Ciara is a native of Utah and KUER's Morning Edition host
Emily Pohlsander is the Morning Edition Producer and graduated with a journalism degree from Missouri State University. She has worked for newspapers in Missouri and North Carolina.
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