Monday, October 31, 2011

The Grinch That Stole Halloween

It should not be shocking that I dislike Halloween. Okay, it is not so much Halloween that I dislike, it is the candy, because the costumes and the fall theme are pretty fun! So I,, never told my kids about trick or treating. Plus I have never taken them. They know about it now. But they didn't hear it from me. And while they have costumes, I don't plan on taking them trick or treating again this year. And furthermore, I don't feel the slightest guilty about it. Let me try to explain why.

Remember back when you were a kid? Halloween was an exciting time when you got to choose your costume, my mom (and later I) made my costume and then you got to show it off while getting candy from the neighbors? I remember the houses that gave out Snickers, Bottle Caps and caramels (good candy) and the houses that gave out peanut squares, Charleston Chews and bubble gum (lousy candy). And most of all I remember the houses that gave out HANDFULS of candy as opposed to one or two pieces. Those houses rocked. After the evening's haul had been acquired, we would go back home and sort through everything (make sure there were no acid squares or anything that could have had a razor blade in it), eat our most favorite pieces and pass out from all the excitement

Every year I could pour my modest haul between my two legs and count the pieces. My candy was all eaten up in a couple of weeks. I never remember having any leftover at Thanksgiving. Also, I don't think my mother ever took candy away from me in the hopes that I would eat less of it. My mother never worried about that.

Today, things seem so different. First off, I have bought every Halloween costume that my kids have ever had. I never even tried making something. But this year Thing 1 wanted to dress up as Super Why, the leader of the Super Readers on the eponymous show. I was pretty sure that no one makes a Super Why costume. So we went out and bought green tee-shirts, felt, glitter paint and fabric glue and now we have...ta-da!

I am so proud of this! Even though now I know that I spent more on supplies than the costume would have cost, it doesn't matter. Thing 1 loves this. Thing 2 has no idea what is going on, but he loves it too. I do think that part of the fun of Halloween this year has been the homemade costume. I would like to think that I will do this every year until they get old enough to get bored of it. Again, I promise to be inconsistent at best.

But also, I feel like Halloween has turned into a no-rules opportunity for kids to gorge on candy. Perhaps too great a societal focus on healthy eating has created a super demand for unhealthy foods? Even though we don't actually eat all that healthfully as a society, because we know it and obsess over it we create great guilt over our eating habits. Then Halloween rolls around and kids stuff their faces with candy like they will never have it again. This is classic deprivation behavior. What is so crazy is that most people and kids are not junk food or candy deprived. I wish I had more time to study eating behavior and culture.

Remember what I said about those houses that gave out HANDFULS of candy? Well now it seems like everyone is doing it. Our wonderful daycare took Thing 2 trick or treating last Friday around at some local businesses. He came home with easily 2 pounds of candy. He is 2!!! Now I don't fault the daycare. I truly love them. They didn't let him EAT the candy and trick or treating was a very fun activity for the kids. I am glad that Thing 2 went and had such a great time. But can you imagine seeing a dressed up 2 year old and giving him a massive handful of candy? I mean, they don't even care about the candy. The fun for them is the interaction. This is what he came home with.

The quantity is disturbing to me. What ever happened to giving out one or two pieces to each kid? Why am I looked upon as such a stingy Grinch for not letting my kids gorge on candy? Am I depriving them of a rite of passage? Or am I depriving them of a stomach ache? Though perhaps I am not the only adult with a bit of good sense. If you look closely in the pile, you will see two or three small toys and two toothbrushes. Nice.

For the record, I do let my kids have candy. And not just on Halloween. They eat some candy probably every week, though that is usually because DH has something in his pocket when he gets home from work. That is fine, but I don't see the sense in going overboard. I don't restrict my kids food intake. If you are hungry and want thirds, go for it. We eat fat. We eat lots of fat, butter on toast, full fat dairy products, nuts and even coconut oil on our oatmeal! But I do restrict junk food, candy particularly. Does that make me a Grinch? I think it makes me sensible. And it is sad to me to think that such behavior is 'old-fashioned'.

Furthermore, why should I take my kids trick or treating on Halloween? They both went trick or treating at their schools, they'll get treats and parties on top of that, we plan on going to a Halloween party where there will definitely be treats, and every family member and friend that stops by comes with something sweet for the kids. The world has given my kids enough candy. Why the hell do I need to drag them from apartment to apartment in my building and ask for even more handouts from semi-strangers. Isn't the fun of Halloween in dressing up, seeing friends and having a party on a week night? The candy seems like such a sad supporting act.

And lastly, I admit. I am that mom. I will totally throw out all remaining candy that has not been consumed within a week or two. I have done it every year without fail. The kids have never noticed or cared. What a waste. Next time, just give my kid one piece. Any more is like throwing money in the garbage.

Bah Humbug.


  1. I have actually thought about the fact that we as a society will purchase more than a bag of candy per person this week/month. That is a lot of candy. I don't know how much actually gets eaten but that's scary to think about. I, alone, had to purchase a big bag to donate to my kid's school "Trunk or Treat" and one to the church for their party, and then two or three more to give out tonight. So that's 5 bags of candy purchased for giving out. Assuming most families did the's a LOT of candy out there...and won't disappear before Thanksgiving and Christmas...too much candy!

  2. I am with you! Although my son does go trick-or-treating it is much more of a social thing. The first year he went he was almost two. Friends from NYC came and we made a big deal about being together. The other mom brought a bag of healthy treats and stickers and erasers and fun little stuff and along the way would switch out the candy for the good stuff. You're right, they do not care about the candy and it is a waste. Every year I let me son have three pieces on Halloween plus a Popsicle (one house in our neighborhood has Popsicles-we live in LA) and then I put it up on a shelf. For the next week he'll ask for some and then stop. I forget about it and eventually throw it away. Right now I have a collection of Halloween candy from last year, Easter, valentines day and probably Christmas. I guess today's a good day to throw it all away and get ready for the next candy onslaught. Good luck to you with yours!

  3. Love your costumes. Homemade is more fun and spirited!

    We let our kids have some on Halloween and the next two days, and then it disappears. We put a lot aside and use it for decorating gingerbread houses at the holidays (we never eat the houses, it's all for fun). Basically anything that isn't coated in chocolate works.


  4. Handmade costumes are always the best :)
    I think your take on halloween is interesting. As a child I never got to go trick or treating nor did any of my siblings (religious reasons) and I always kind of resented it when all the other kids got to have all the fun. Granted, we did get dressed up in religious costumes and go to church parties, but I always glorified halloween I guess since I hadn't done the trick or treating.
    Anyway, now that I have a child of my own I do let him go trick or treating because it is fun. But I have to say that the majority of the candy does wind up in the trash and that is just a shame.

  5. As a childless person....

    I think the social piece is the most fun, as you've noted. As your children get older, the question might become: is it making them feel bad to not participate in this ritual? If it doesn't, then it won't matter why you don't have them Trick Or Treating. If it does, then you get to ask yourself a bunch more questions.

    I had relatively strict parents. Sometimes, that strictness gave me an excellent "out" socially for things I didn't really want to do, anyway (e.g., going to a party at someone's house when there wouldn't be any adults at home). Sometimes, though, it was acutely embarrassing and left me in an awkward place with my peers. When the issue wasn't safety, ethics, or morality, it was harder to feel ok about it and it definitely had a negative impact on my experience.

    Fortunately, I was never forced to "Trick or Treat for UNICEF"—something that seemed mortifying to me as a kid and seems even crazier to me as an adult.

    There is also the question of what it means for you within yourself. As you say, your kids get candy once in a while. So what, really, is the issue?

    As for the volume given ... I guess I feel lots of different ways about this.

    First, isn't it up to each person what they want to give? What is it that you seek to control? It's kind on a continuum with telling the people at the bad candy house to step up the quality of their candy, isn't it?

    Second, when you were a kid, would you have liked getting a toothbrush, or would it have been in a pile just to less-good side of the Charleston Chews? (Or, in my case B-b-b-b-b-bats ... blecchh!)

    Third, kids can learn about eating too much of a good thing, too, like the lesson I learned about eating too many fresh peaches (with the skin) when I was a kid.

    Fourth, you can set up rules around the consumption part. My folks did. We weren't allowed to "gorge" ourselves. Even a modest haul might last for months. Of course, usually we forgot about it long before it ran out and it just kind of disappeared.

    Fifth, there's no rule that says you have to love Halloween, or to love all of it. No rule that says your kids ever have to associate the date with candy. You could even go so far as to create an entirely different family relationship with the holiday, complete with personal rituals.

    Sixth, personally, I'd be more distressed by the church card. I don't like the idea of adult people proselytizing to minors without the informed consent of the parents.

    Here endeth the random thoughts...

  6. Between your interrogation of your four about what he eats everyday, and this trick or treating thing...I have to conclude that I am extremely happy you aren't my mom! Aren't there better, greater things to worry about than if your kid eats a few Butterfingers one day a year? Your house sounds like no fun.

  7. I agree that there is a dilemma about how to deal with the sugar-overload at Halloween while wanting our kids to still have fun with the cultural ritual. For me, I think it's a matter of coming up with guidelines that work for you: whether you tell kids they can have however many candies each day for a certain time to enjoy Halloween as a longer event, substituting substitute Halloween candy for dessert for a certain time, creating the opportunity for a toy/candy exchange, or allowing a free-for-all on just one night where candy disappears the next (and where a conversation about sick tummies probably follows) - I think the trick (and the difficulty!) is in coming up with some kind of guidelines that work for you. For me, I think that it becomes harder as the kids get older - I can't imagine dumping kids' candy when they are 12, even though that is possible when they are 2! If I follow the approach that I usually go with in other areas of life, I'll probably choose a mix of options that I would be okay with, and then as the kids get older let them decide which to go with (e.g., do you want to trade your candy in for a big toy or have Halloween candy instead of dessert for a week?) Good luck figuring it out! I love that you are so committed to making sure your kids engage in these wonderful experiences, even while you are trying to reform the process for the better of all involved.