I know, I know seasonal blogs. We are all filled to the brim reading about Halloween, and it won’t be long before every other blogger and I will be writing about Thanksgiving and then Christmas and then a nice hiatus before we get to write about “The New Beginnings of Spring Tra La!” But I really have a few things I want to say about Halloween. So please indulge me for just a few minutes.
Halloween could have been my favorite holiday. It had all the makings for The Perfect Good Time. Running around dressed up as anything or anyone you wanted, collecting and eating massive amounts of candy, not having to sit through some long drawn out ritual or service before being allowed to run around at night collecting and eating massive amounts of candy. And let’s not forget the lovely after-glow of the candy lingering in the house, sometimes for as long as a week. THAT made the 8 days of Chanukah pale in comparison.
It was also the perfect inter-generational holiday. There was no age limit to participate. You were either the giver or receiver and dressing up was allowed no matter what age you were”¦except for those two pesky years of adolescence when you felt it was totally un cool to dress up. But even then, no one said you couldn’t. It was your choice. I remember during my “trick or tweening” years, feeling a little sorry for the kids who still had to trick or treat with their parents. It wasn’t until decades later, as a mom, that I realized it was the other way around. It was the parents who were relishing in the few years our kids allowed us to accompany them! And THAT was a TREAT! We were all grown up, but gallivanting from house to house, anonymously clad in costume, and reliving the hedonistic pleasure of taking over the night and abetting our kids in hauling in massive amounts of FREE candy. Why do you think we call it Hauloween?
I was born in Queens, New York and then moved to the burbs of Long Island when I was eight. In contemplating the ultimate Halloween question, “Which is better, city or suburb trick or treating?” the city wins hands down! If quantity is the barometer for a successful Halloween, then trick or treating in apartment buildings in New York is the indisputable victor! Imagine floor after floor and door after door, all lined up, each handing out candy. It was a one stop shop candy jackpot, most amount of candy, least amount of effort.
The suburbs, on the other hand, made you work harder for your treats, trudging from house to house, up looong driveways, climbing stairways to giant web-laced doors just to get pennies for UNICEF and apples with razor blades. (Just kidding about the apples; but for some reason, it wasn’t until I moved to the “burbs” that I heard stories of tainted treats). But there were still massive amounts of free candy. Granted, you had to cover more ground to get the same amount of candy that you got in the city, but the candy was dandy nonetheless, and the neighborhood streets were swarming with kids who had been waiting for dusk since school let out at three. (Because the unwritten rule was that you couldn’t start trick or treating until it was dark).
Once in a while you’d ring a bell and a wise guy (usually a dad) would open the door dressed as a monster. We’d squeal with delight and yell in unison, “Trick or treat,” and with a twinkle in his ghoulish eye he’d say, “Trick.”
We would freeze, not knowing really what that meant or what we were supposed to do and, just as it started to get tense, The Grim Reaper would grin a self-satisfied smile, put down his plastic scythe, and dole out handfuls of candy corn and bite sized Snickersâ„¢.
How could this NOT be a great holiday?
And it was, until around fourth grade, when my trick or treating days changed forever. That was when I found out I was fat.
Food became my enemy and CANDY, the Darth Vader of my universe. In my household, at any given time, my mother, father, or the kids were on diets. This, of course, meant no treats in our house or in our mouths. As I was indoctrinated into the lifestyle of weight cycling diets in the attempt to please those around me with a thin, lithe body; Halloween became the perfect opportunity for a binge. Better yet, it was sanctified by all of the Powers That Be. Passover Shmassover, THIS was the holiday that begged me to question, “Why is this night different from all other nights???” And the answer, “Because on this night you can collect and eat all of the candy you want.” The TV showed it, the movies showed it, the magazines wrote about it, let’s face it, it was National Annual Binge on Candy Day!
And it terrified me.
More than any haunted house, more than any midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead, even more than the Kappa Delta Nu “greaser gang” waiting in the shadows to pummel us with eggs; the scariest part of Halloween for me, was the candy. For years I woke up the morning after like an alcoholic waking from a bar hopping tear, incredulous at the amount of candy wrappers surrounding me and the weight of guilt I had gained by engaging in the simple pleasure of Halloween. I found it hard to fathom why my friends’ candy would last for weeks and weeks eventually becoming too stale and hard for their braces, it would be unceremoniously tossed. Mine was gone within a week.
The treats were no longer a treat for me.
And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. In my early teens I became aware of a whole new trend in dressing up. All of sudden, there were costumes being advertised, that somehow in my pre-pubescent naivete I hadn’t noticed before. They were the same costumes I had always seen, the black cats, Wonder Woman, Bat Girl, belly dancer, nurse, only now they were SEXY, seductive, flesh revealing and titillating. Next to ads with centerfolds of mini Moundsâ„¢ bars and candy corn were centerfolds of young girls with mini mounds protruding out of their Xena Warrior Woman costumes, and the Wicked Witch?
Well that had a Whole New Meaning.
New questions were formulating in my brain. “How could I be expected to gorge on candy and fit into a skimpy costume? When did Halloween become about my body?” And under my anger was a longing to fit in, and the realization that if I dressed up as a sexy cowgirl, I’d be called a Cow Girl. I yearned for the days when I could dress up for the fun of it and not worry if I looked good, or pretty, or sexy, in my costume!
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude about sexuality, but seeing 13 year-olds dressed up as Tinkerbell Call Girls just, well, disturbs me. Now when the Grim Reaper opens the door and responds to the chorus of, “Trick or Treat” with, “Trick!” I can’t stop my brain from thinking brothel.
So what’s a mother to do? Because so many of us regard chocolate, and candy in general, as FORBIDDEN FOOD, when a holiday like Halloween comes along, it may be difficult to maintain our ghoul…um…cool. Many parents have rules about what their kids can do with their candy. Some allow the kids to eat as much as they want for that night and then the rest gets thrown away. Others dole it out one or two pieces a day for seven days or until it’s gone. I understand a parent’s intention and need to set limits and help kids establish healthy food habits, but care needs to be taken as to how this is done. Presenting candy as the enemy (assuming there are no allergies or medical conditions to take into consideration) may lead to sneak eating or an all out binge. Sometimes these eating patterns get generalized to other holidays, events, and meals ultimately developing into more complicated disordered eating behaviors.
It is important to teach kids about mindful eating early on and resist the temptation to introduce restrictive diets that label foods as “good” food “bad” food. I remember when I was 16 and realized that those mini-candies were available ALL YEAR LONG! That was the LAST time I binged on them on Halloween. Knowing I didn’t have to eat them all in one night or the few days that followed (because it would be another YEAR before I could eat them again), diffused the compulsion and drove a wooden stake into Count Choculah’s heart. If candy is not an evil food that shows up once a year like the Jason movies, then the urge to binge is lessened and the fun is in the collecting and the dressing up, not in the consuming.
The part about why little girls have to dress up as hookers, I haven’t figured that one out yet. Stay tuned.
Do you have a favorite Halloween story or parental candy strategy? I’d love to know!
Til next time!