As Halloween approaches in Georgetown, Del., a small religious group speaks darkly of demons, concerned about which day the witching day is observed in the Sussex County town.
Almost every year, it seems, the approach of Halloween sparks some sort of small-town debate or controversy. The flap this year was over religion, not the threat of safety pins in apples. For the last three years, Georgetown officials have set aside the Sunday afternoon before Halloween for a parade of costumed children in the town circle, followed by rounds of trick-or-treating in the surrounding neighborhoods.
With the Sunday observances, the officials say, they are able to ensure a wholesome celebration with parents and grandparents attending; Oct. 31 is just another night for Georgetown's 1,900 residents.
But several born-again Christians recently argued before the Town Council that Halloween, which they described as "Satan's New Year's Eve," should not be celebrated on a Sunday -- "God's holy day." In fact, they said, Halloween should be banned altogether in Georgetown.
The council voted 4 to 1 last week to continue the Sunday festivities.
Said Georgetown Mayor W. Layton Johnson: "They told us we were not elected by the people, but appointed by God, and that we had a responsibility. I figure people can take a Bible verse and put whatever interpretations they want. But Halloween's for kids, not for adults."
One town has handled the problem by forbidding children to go door-to-door on Oct. 31. Last year, the Town Council of Riverdale, a Prince George's County community of 4,750 people, passed an ordinance banning trick-or-treating because of concerns about children's safety. Most town youngsters now attend a party sponsored by the town or take their trick-or-treat bags to other jurisdictions, the Riverdale police chief said.
"It was 99 percent effective last year," said Chief Leo Link. "You've always got that 1 percent who object to it, but the city fathers figured if it saves one kid from getting hurt or poisoned, it's worth it."
In 1983, a group of parents in Fairfax County who identified themselves as "Christian Citizens of Fairfax," presented a petition with several hundred names to the county School Board asking for a ban of Halloween activities in the public schools. The parents argued that dressing up as devils and witches encouraged children to worship Satan. The effort failed, however, and the schoolchildren wore their ghost and goblin costumes to school on Halloween as usual.
The debate in Georgetown, Del., also was grounded in religious concerns. Two women led the protest, saying they represented a group of "like-minded Christians." A local ministerial association also suggested that the Halloween celebration be held on Saturday instead of Sunday, but made no formal appeal to the Town Council.
"The witches, the black cats, the pagan origins -- all of it has to do with glorifying Satan," said Malorie Derby, 37, a spokeswoman for the nondenominational group. "All we can do now is pray for the council."
Instead of celebrating Halloween, Derby said, she and her two children, ages 7 and 4, observe All Saints Day, Nov. 1, with Biblical costumes and a harvest celebration involving neighborhood children. Last year, her daughter dressed as Queen Esther; her son, as King David.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, however, many other Georgetown children will don their spooky costumes and gather in the town circle.
"We'll judge their costumes in three categories -- ugliest, funniest and most original," Johnson said. "We'll have free cider and gingersnaps and then the kids will fan out to trick or treat -- and that's something to see, all those little kids so excited. Now what can be wrong with that?"