Like so many celebrations, probably all of them, Halloween is looking more and more like an excuse to consume crap.
I’d rate Halloween’s present-day crap factor at 99 per cent; it’s the garbage festival.
At least with Christmas, we can still count on handknitted mitts from grandma and a home-cooked meal. And Easter can involve a ham dinner and church for some, on top of those waxy chocolate eggs and bunnies.
But on Halloween, it’s all store-bought costumes and store-bought candy — all crap.
Why is this OK? When did we decide that it was alright for Halloween to be thrown to the wolves, stripped naked of its origins and replaced with Smarties and plastic masks?
Once, in the 1950s, citizens across North America did take deliberate charge of Halloween.
The old bonfires of Europe, which celebrated the end of harvest, had digressed into pyromania and vandalism.
Community leaders decided to stake claim to the holiday and make it a family affair. They re-introduced the old tradition of trick-or-treating and put children at the centre of the celebration. After that, Halloween was no longer a time of fear and destruction, but one of community and sharing.
Perhaps we can learn something from the bad old days and its family values.
Since I was a child trick-or-treating more than 20 years ago, the only things that have changed about Halloween is that fewer parents make their kids’ costumes and nobody dares make their own treats or pass out fruit.
As a culture, we are “too busy” for costume-making, and we don’t trust our neighbours to leave the razor blades out of the apples.
In other words, the community element of Halloween has disintegrated along with the quality of the treats.
Last year, my children participated in their first Halloween, and, thanks to one local community’s willingness to take-charge, it wasn’t the crappy version.
In Takhini North, about a dozen families agreed they would make their own treats to hand out.
The rules were simple: the goodies must include no dairy (to accommodate one family), no nuts (just in case of allergies), limited sugar, and the packaging should be minimized.
The involved parents brought containers for the kids to collect their array of homemade goodies. Packaging on the loot — which included cookies, muffins, squares, homemade granola and fair trade chocolate — was avoided almost completely.
This October 31, the same collection of neighbours will do it again. And lucky for me and my family, who are not Takhini North residents, we have been invited back to join them.
After two years of this, I don’t think I could go back to the old Halloween.
This grassroots approach to trick-or-treating teaches children about the joys of sharing and cooking for others, of co-operation and community, and of bucking the trend. And it’s just as fun, if not more fun than the mainstream version.
No doubt this type of thing is happening in other neighbourhoods around the world. Churches always offer alternative gatherings on Halloween. And the fair trade chocolate movement is organizing something.
Reverse-Trick-or-Treating is in its second year. It has kids surprising the adults who open the door by presenting them with a chocolate instead — a fair trade chocolate (not crap).
The initiative is headed by Global Exchange, a human rights advocacy group, which hands out the necessary kits to anyone interested in Reverse-Trick-or-Treating.
Along with the chocolate, kids are handing out pamphlets with information about the chocolate industry and the impoverished and abusive conditions that go hand-in-hand with cocoa plantations that are not fair trade.
The idea is to encourage people to buy fair-trade chocolate, which is made with cocoa harvested by workers who are treated humanely and paid a fair wage, to hand out at the door next year.
The organization reported on Monday that the chocolate industry missed a July 1, 2008, self-imposed deadline to end abusive child labour in the cocoa industry.
The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture for the US State department estimates that 284,000 children work in abusive child labour conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa, the world’s largest cocoa producer, and that 64 per cent of those children are under 14 years old.
Just a little food for thought while you’re eating your Smarties.