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 email@example.com, on the web at: www.chbookshop.co.uk (mail order available) - and who knows, maybe supermarkets too.
The full text of the Bishop's letter is below.
Dear Chief Executive,
Halloween product range
As your stores begin to stock their shelves with this year's Halloween lines, I am writing to you - and your competitors - to pose a not-so-scary challenge.
This year, I would ask you to offer consumers a choice. 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. I have no wish to diminish your commercial success or to spoil anyone's fun as we lead up to an event that children enjoy - I simply would like to challenge you to present some alternatives, so that parents and children can make up their own minds how they celebrate Halloween.
Alternative ways of celebrating Halloween will require a different range of products from which retailers can make a profit and from which customers can choose. I enclose a copy of a resource that might form part of that choice - Better than Halloween, a new book produced by the Church of England aimed at people planning 'bright' parties at Halloween time. This, along with a list of other products already stocked by you, could form part of an in-store display of 'brighter' goods - glow tubes, face paints and hair braids, to name a few - needed for the kind of parties described in the book. I commend Better than Halloween to you and your product development team, and hope that you may draw inspiration from it, or even decide to stock it in your own stores.
The potential market for a more positive alternative way of celebrating Halloween is large. In addition to concerned parents within the wider public, the Church of England consists of 13,000 parishes with 1.7 million people worshipping each month - and over 90,000 voluntary youth workers. In addition, we support 4,700 Church Schools, teaching almost one million students.
Through my daily contact with schools and churches across my own area, I know that many parents are concerned about the underlying tone of some of the goods offered at Halloween, and the emphasis on products designed to scare or shock others. Indeed, you will be aware that some supermarkets already stop selling eggs to teenagers during October, and that many police forces have to resort to extra patrols and awareness activity to try and deter the more anti-social aspects of the event.
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.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I would be grateful if you could consider how you might take forward my challenge, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Rt Revd David Gillett
Bishop of Bolton
Church of England Communications Office
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3NZ
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