Today the Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Rev David Gillett, will reveal a shocking poster which shows the typical range of supermarket goods on offer to children this Halloween.
The poster forms part of 'Halloween Choice', a campaign that is challenging supermarkets and stores to offer a wider range of merchandise to people who want to celebrate Halloween in an alternative way. The poster features actual masks available for parents or children to buy, one of which is depicts a serial killer from a film, and carries the tag line - 'Not all parents want to see their kids dressed as monsters or murderers this Halloween.'
Along with the poster, a website- www.halloweenchoice.org - will also be launched. The site makes it possible to send a message directly to the supermarkets and also allows people to download a postcard version of the poster, which they can take to their own store manager.
Last month the Bishop sent a letter to the UK's top stores challenging them to offer some alternatives to the horrific masks and costumes on sale, so that parents and children could make up their own minds how they celebrate Halloween (responses below). He also wanted to begin a debate on exactly what place Halloween should take in modern Britain.
In the letter he wrote, 'Amongst your Halloween displays, I would like to see products that enable parents, teachers and children to choose a positive, alternative way to celebrate Halloween. In the same way you offer your customers a choice with Fair-trade goods, organic or 'free from' allergy ranges, many people are similarly asking questions about the lack of alternatives in the current range of 'traditional' Halloween products.'
'Given the huge influence you have on how families celebrate Halloween, I think that 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 biggest suppliers of Halloween merchandise in the UK. Your stance will help send a message to those who use the event as an opportunity to act in a way that intimidates the vulnerable in our society, and will help promote a wider debate about exactly what place Halloween should take in a modern Britain.'
Supermarket responses to the campaign
Two of the UK's supermarkets have responded positively to the campaign:
The Bishop received a message from the office of Sainsbury's CEO, Justin King, saying they agreed there was a case for giving customers choice and they liked the ideas and his suggestions for an alternative. Their seasonal buyers will act on this campaign next year.
Chief Executive Officer, Trevor Bish-Jones, wrote: 'If I am honest, Halloween in the world of retail is just viewed simply as a children's party theme based around witches and scary cats etc. I do not think any conscious consideration is given to its ultimate derivation. Increasingly across the business we are coming across instances where our range takes account of different religious perspectives, e.g. in our stores within the Asian community we celebrate Diwali by selling chocolates and cards to support festivities. I will take you letter and the 'Better than Halloween" publication and use it inside the business to promote debate. I am not sure what the outcome of this will be but I can assure you we will give it full consideration.'
However, other stores are reluctant to consider offering customers a choice....
Asda have been reluctant to rethink their range. They have not replied to the letter. However, responding in the Daily Mail, Asda said: 'We are certainly not trying to trivialise evil or encourage bad behaviour. We are sorry the Bishop feels this way but we are in business to sell the kinds of things our customers want to buy. 'Most people find Halloween fun. It is a fun time when where they dress up and have a party. 'If we can help them to do that, it is what we will do.'
Tesco have written to than the Bishop for writing saying they will respond fully soon.
Morrison's have not replied.
Somerfield issued a general reply informing the Bishop that they have no option in their range. It was a standard letter sent to businesses that are selling products.
The poster can be found here: www.halloweenchoice.org
Notes to editors
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 organising 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 www.chbookshop.co.uk (mail order available) - and who knows, maybe supermarkets too.
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