An appeal to supermarket bosses backed by churches and parents could lead to a significant shift in the way Halloween is marketed in the UK - with an emphasis on giving more than tricking for treats.
Some of the country’s leading retailers have responded positively to suggestions put forward by an Anglican bishop, and the results of a new survey, published yesterday, suggest that most people support - or are sympathetic to - his stance.
‘Trick or Treat’ is being pushed towards a makeover, with the public being encouraged to go online and donate their Halloween money to children’s charity the Children’s Society, in a further twist on what some regard as "the increasingly gloomy and scary presentation of the festival", says the Church of England.
The opinion survey reveals that 36 per cent of people believe that a broader range of brighter products should be made available for parents to buy for their children to mark the occasion, with a further 30 per cent open to the idea. This echoes calls for supermarkets to offer more positive products rather than the usual fare of monster masks and costumes based on horror movies.
Almost half (45 per cent) of the parents interviewed feel ‘strongly’ that there should be a choice of alternative Halloween goods for children, while among the youngest people interviewed (aged 18-24) the figure rises to nearly six in ten (58 per cent).
Christian authors such as C S Lewis who wrote the Narnia series and J R R Tolkein, author of the Lord of the Rings, have often been celebrated by churches - despite the fact that they used witches, monsters and sinister figures in their books. But last year, the Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Rev David Gillett, 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.
At the time, supermarkets gave a mixed response and many parents struggled to find suitable costumes and goods suitable for toddlers. But last week both ASDA and Sainsbury’s confirmed that they are to offer parents a range of less anti-social goods for Halloween.
Writing to the Bishop of Bolton, Sainsbury’s chief executive, Justin King, said: “I appreciate your concerns about the nature of the Halloween products we sell. I can understand your worries that Halloween products may have antisocial effects. When looking at what we would sell for this year’s Halloween, we talked to our customers to find out what products they would like to buy.” He went on to confirm that among the range this year would be glow sticks, hair braids and face paints.
Andy Bond, president and chief executive of ASDA, told the Bishop: “Your concerns have been discussed with my colleagues, and our buying team have collated a range of costumes and accessories which we consider to be lighter than previously offered. The costumes are based on a series of characters, such as fairies and witches, and still promote fun without encouraging anti-social behaviour. We do offer another range which is more adult in theme, though the store signage will clearly distinguish between the two.”
In addition, Woolworths and The Disney Store have told the bishop that they are offering a range of alternative goods available online and in their stores. Tesco and the Co-operative have not responded to the bishop’s letter.
This year, a church-backed campaign is also asking people to rethink ‘Trick or Treat’. A dedicated website has been created to encourage people to donate a cash ‘treat’ to the Children’s Society, helping the charity’s work in caring for and supporting young people in need.
The Rt Rev David Gillett said: “I am delighted that we have persuaded the big supermarkets that they have a responsibility to offer choice. I now hope that parents will use their spending power, vote with their baskets and do what they can to show big businesses that we all want Halloween to be a more positive festival for people of all ages.
“I would also encourage people to visit http://www.HalloweenChoice.org  and donate a treat to the Children’s Society. In return, they can download to a poster for their window, telling ‘Trick or Treaters’ not to call as they have already given a treat to charity.”
The campaign website also includes resources for parents, schools and church congregations, many of whom will be running alternative ‘bright’ events to celebrate the Christian interpretation of Halloween. People can also donate to the Children’s Society through the charity’s supporter action line, telephone 0800 300 1128.
Speaking about the idea of schools donating a treat to the Children’s Society, the Bishop added: “The idea of kids helping kids at Halloween is a really positive twist on what was fast becoming the anti-social event of the year. Of course, only a very small minority of teenagers cause trouble at Halloween. But through my daily contact with schools and churches, I have picked 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. Today’s survey results underline this.”
Martin Field, Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Campaigns for The Children’s Society, says: “We are delighted that the Church of England has suggested a donation to The Children's Society as the alternative ‘treat’ for people joining in the Halloween Choice campaign. Every child deserves a good childhood, and any donations we receive can help us support young people who experience danger, discrimination and disadvantage in their daily lives.”