I have always had mixed feelings about Halloween and this year in particular I have been thinking a lot about the spirit of Halloween. I feel pulled into contradiction. On one hand, I always enjoyed the fun of dressing up when I was a child. Then, when I started working at my school for children with disabilities, Halloween took on a new and magical meaning.
Halloween became the one time a year when having a disability is an advantage, not a disadvantage. For on this magical day, our students’ wheelchairs are transformed into amazing complements to their costumes. I have seen Cinderella in her carriage, the Cat in the Hat in his Thingamajigger and army men in tanks, among countless other creative wonders.
Halloween at our school has easily turned into one of my favorite days of the year. I see our students feeling special and I see the love of their families who spent hours building their child’s costumes and coming up with matching outfits for their entire family. It reminds me of the beauty that can happen during this holiday.
Unfortunately, I feel like that beauty is often lost. This year, I have been struck especially by the theme of Halloween decorations — exclusion. Everywhere I look, I seem to see signs saying beware or keep out and “decorations” of bloody handprints or lone body parts, skeletons and axes. I see these decorations everywhere and notice how it causes a profound sadness within me because I see the double meaning in these decorations. Our world continues to be in a state of what seems to be never-ending war, political unrest, turmoil and polarization. Halloween seems to reinforce those messages of judgement and exclusion.
I wish the world could shift its attention to the true meaning of Halloween, which is honoring the dead, not being afraid of the dead or trying to keep others at a distance. I wish the world could see Halloween through the eyes of our students — as a holiday where a disability becomes an ability, where those excluded become included, and where the community comes together in love and solidarity to celebrate this precious life.
As you celebrate Halloween this year or notice Halloween decorations, I encourage you to think of one small way you can make Halloween more inclusive and welcoming this year. Maybe it is through changing your decorations. It could even simply be by making children feel special by complimenting their costumes or inviting someone to a party who you typically do not invite. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).
(Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)