Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Twisted Halloween!

Ever wonder WHY we Trick or Treat?  WHY we dress up as someone else and run from house to house begging for candy?  WHY there is a monster vs. sexiest/hottest costume disparity?  WHEN it became ok to knock on the doors of strangers and expect a free handout?

As I understand it, the origin is from the Celts and their celebration of Samhain or their New Year. Also called all Hallows eve, it marks the end of their calendar year and the time of the harvest.  There are several versions as to where the costume tradition might have originated but they used to wear the skins of the animals that they killed or roam neighborhood dressed up scaring out spirits they believed to be released that day.

It's followed by All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead, where many cultures celebrate and honor their dead in ceremonies.  You can read more about it all here http://www.halloween-history.org/

It all somehow evolved into a "Hallmark" and retail holiday here that has commercialized the day and lost it's essence.  It's about who can get the most candy and have the best costume.  It's not about history, honoring the dead or preparing for winter.  Families are spending money they would be better off saving or spending on something they need, rather than on food that is horrible for you and the kids and costumes that end up ripped, dirty and in the trash unless you are lucky enough to be able to recycle them for another year or to another child.  Sure, the kids are cute as hell, but what are we teaching them?

It gave me pause as I reflected on my own childhood memories of Halloween.  They are mostly of enjoying the sound of leaves being rustled under my footsteps.  The smell of autumn.  The weather of the day - I remember 70 degree days, freezing cold days, snow and rain.  I remember wearing my mother's wedding dress the year I had a broken arm, the year I was a princess and wore blue eye shadow and the guy who always played the scary music!  It was fun to 'be' someone else.  Sure, getting the candy was fun, but it was really about the experience of dressing up and getting to go outside in the dark!  I think my parents just liked getting a glimpse into the neighbor's houses and trying to guess who was at the door!

I still like to play dress up! I'm all for socializing at a party.  It's the running around the neighborhood expecting something for nothing that rubs me the wrong way.

It's clear the tradition is slowly falling out of favor.  As I drove around this evening, fewer groups of kids were out trick or treating.  Fewer homes had their porch lights on.  Fewer people are willing to participate in the giving of treats.  Fewer kids are seeking treats.  I know our town has a parade and party a few days before as do many towns.  The big malls do trick or treat at the stores as well.  Lots of people have costume parties instead.  There is food and dress up but it's more controlled and not in the dark on a school night.  Or maybe fewer and fewer people are celebrating all together.  I'm not really sure.

With regards to the outdoor tradition, part of me wonders, have we lost our minds?  Out of one side of our mouths we tell our kids not to talk to strangers and try to get them to eat healthy and 'right'.  We teach them to be safe when outdoors.  We generally don't let them roam around after dark, especially alone or with people we don't or barely know.  We don't sugar them up just before bed time.  We supervise them.  Well, we should do these things.

Out of the other side of our mouths, just for this day, we tell them it's not only OK to talk to strangers but to go right up to them, even into their houses, and take food from them!  We don't enforce the usual 'safety' rules because we somehow think they are safe because it's Halloween.  Many parents throw caution to the wind and let their children roam about at night, alone (or in a group), in the dark, to the homes of people they don't or barely know.  Kids, in their excitement, run from house to house, not looking before they cross the street in poorly visible costumes, oblivious as to whether the scary guy who just jumped out from behind that tree is someone's dad trying to be funny or someone trying to abduct them!  The only sign of them coming to your door may be the screams and giggles of delight as they celebrate their sugary loot!  Do their parents know who their pre-teens or teens are with running about unsupervised?  Did the parents of any aged child check the local sex offender registry first?!  I won't even get into the 'tradition' of egging, toilet papering or otherwise destroying private property somehow being fun or acceptable if the house was not meeting the expectations of the probably way too old trick-or-treater!

Don't get me wrong.  I used to celebrate it too.  I am guilty of buying into the hype.  Of purchasing costumes for my infants and toddlers, who just cried because they were hot, itchy and knew they looked ridiculous!  Of buying the Harry Potter costume he HAD to have only to have him refuse to wear it because it wasn't cool anymore 5 days later!  Of creating the expectation and setting the bar by taking them knocking on strangers doors and expecting free food.  I accompanied them however very closely.  We only did our neighborhood of about 10 houses and only those who we knew.  One year, the entire neighborhood of parents also trick or treated with a shot glass!  Everyone wins!  I've even hosted Halloween parties and loved doing so, especially when my kids were younger and because there is an October birthday.

Over the years, I've come to change my view of the value of the holiday and what it teaches my children.  I've opted to celebrate in various different ways.  It started about 9 years ago, when my youngest were 2.  One of them had numerous food allergies, some life threatening.  He couldn't eat ANY candy.  It made me question the practice and find other alternatives.  We did a friends party and for a year or two, the immediate neighborhood only and a few select relatives homes for trick or treat.  They got 'safe' food from those who knew him.  The rest of the candy he traded in for safe treats, matchbox cars, stickers or some other trinket.  As he got older it was a new book or a stuffed cat instead of the candy.  To raise awareness, we asked for donations to FAAN (The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) instead of candy.  You could do the same to any reputable charity organization.  The Red Cross comes to mind in light of Sandy's devastation.  Now, at 11, he doesn't even want or particularly like candy!  There is no real expectation for it. He doesn't really understand why his friends still participate in neighborhood candy collecting.

For the past several years, we have gone out for a nice family dinner, costume optional, instead!  That's our new tradition.  This year we had a little extra special treat.  Our waitress was named Megan (My daughter was Meghan) and she was dressed as a cat.  My Meghan LOVED cats.  Think of it what you will.  My boys and I were very amused and happy for this 'sign'.  I don't make this stuff up!  It was better than any candy out there!

I think if one chooses to celebrate, one should also know and teach the history of the day and try to use it as a teachable moment.  We had a great discussion in the car on the way to dinner about this tonight.  We've gotten so good as a society as just doing what everyone else does without giving it much thought. We seem to have lost our ability to think independently at times or we are afraid to buck tradition and say no.  Change is good!  My kids know I'm a wee bit different...

WE are the parents.  We are responsible for teaching our kids values, respect and nurturing them to healthy and happy adulthood.  We should teach them to be independent minded and conscious citizens.  How we each choose to do that is of course, our own choice.  I respect yours, whatever it may be.

I do suggest considering a few alternatives.  Never lose sight of what's driving your decisions.  Never put safety on the back burner 'just because' it's a special occasion.  Do your homework!  Consider using the expectation of going door to door for the greater good by giving rather than expecting to receive or collecting an item for a food pantry or relief organization or charity.  Start a new tradition like our family dinner out or make pizza or fondue together.  Above all, have fun and be safe!

My personal preference is to celebrate November 1st - All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead instead!  Gee, I wonder what tomorrow's blog topic will be?

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