Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween--a Meaningless Holiday?

Growing up in a conservative Christian household, Halloween was one of those holidays we most certainly did not observe or celebrate in any way, shape or form.  We were not allowed to dress up in costumes or trick-or-treat of go to Halloween parties.  I remember once that I was pulled from my after-school program or class when they had scheduled a Halloween party.  As far as my parents were concerned, Halloween was a holiday that glorified Satan and all things dark and as Christians, we were supposed to avoid those things.  I'll readily admit that I felt left out of the Halloween festivities.  I remember in fifth grade, begging and pleading to be allowed to dress up for Halloween.  I was already an outcast and a misfit and I was desperate to find a way to be normal and "like everybody else".  I put together some make-shift outfit with one of my mom's old church hats and a scarf and more than anything, I remember feeling so ridiculous that I took it off.  It wasn't a good at all.  

As an adult, I don't have a religious slant  as to why I don't want to be bothered with Halloween.  I've just had no inclination to.  I understand that it's supposed to be a fun holiday for children and all that and some folks really get a kick out of it.  But it just seems kind of pointless to me.

But this year, a friend invited us to do the Halloween/trick-or-treat thing and I agreed.  It would be the first time I or my kids would be trick-or-treating.  I guess I just wanted to see what it would be like and I wanted to hang out with her and her kids.  Ahead of time, I put some thought into what we would do with the candy.  I bought small collection buckets and thanks to Sarah at Everyday Paleo, had some pretty good ideas of how we could take the focus off the candy and still have a fun time.  

And Z1 and Z2 did have a fun time trick-or-treating but it got ugly once they got home.  The candy exchange did not go so well and there were lots of tears and frustration.  So much so that we will not be doing it again.  For me, there is absolutely no significance to this holiday but there are a lot of things that I find distasteful about it: this gorging on candy and sugar (treats that in reality are unhealthy and unnecessary) and this whole mentality of "gimme, gimme, gimme" with very little gratitude.  I mean, there were HORDES of children coming to get candy by the time I was leaving my friend's house (we went trick-or-treating very early) and it was disturbing how few of them said "Thank you".  There was just this expectation and this reluctance to slow down and take stock of was already in teh bucket.  I just couldn't believe any of it and I knew I didn't want any part of it after that night.  

I have this sense that because things are so tough economically right now and we have such a skimpy sense of community as Americans, we try to get these holidays to fill in the gaps in our lives and they just don't.  They fail miserably and leave us feeling even more empty.  You go to neighbors' houses to get candy but they don't even know you despite the fact that you're just a couple of yards away. I mean, I am disturbed by how much community is lacking in my neighborhood and I thought it would be nice to see how it goes in other communities that seem to be more connected.  But it just wasn't the case that there is connection and community--not in my friend's neighborhood either.

I'm interested in authentic community building.  I'm very interested in building authentic health--passionate even.  Halloween the way it is currently celebrated does not support any of these interests so now after having this experience, I really don't see the point.  

But what about the costumes, you say?  Well, they can wear costumes when they feel like it (although my boys have not shown much interest in dress-up).  It doesn't have to be tied to Halloween.  What about the candy, you say?  Candy is a rarity around here and if I had my way, it would be even rarer.  The hard-liner in me says that refined sugar should not hold any place of prominence in a child's diet.  But I get it . . . eating sweets is pleasurable and I don't want to be a totalitarian dictator about diet or about anything really because we all know what that gets: rebellion.

I know there are people out there who celebrate Halloween as part of their spirituality and I can totally respect that.  It has meaning for them.  But the way it's celebrated by the majority of folks is just empty.  And I don't have any desire to put my time and energy into something that's pointless.  I'm much more inclined to focus on harvest celebrations and the changing of the seasons--our connection to nature and life with an emphasis on gratitude.  


Serenity Love Sincere Peace Earth said...

I grew up in a religious household My mother is an evangelist and I received a parochial education for m K-12. But we were allowed to partake in the holiday. Some of my best child hood memories have to do with this holiday. Yes it's a holiday to me. I looked forward to coming up with a costume and all the children on the block would crowd into my neighbor's van and be dropped off in neighborhoods with the GOOD candy. Since my brother and I never had to go to school the next day, we would keep going until my mother angrily came and hunted us down. We had loads of candy and my mother always tried to tell us the good stuff was tainted so she could keep it. We would have enough candy to last until Valentines day. A kid's dream!!!!!! I Trick or treated until I was 22!

When I left the church I did a stint as a pagan, and came to see the day as a beautiful expression of the season. The traditions and superstitions give the day more depth for me. And now that I am completely without religion, I still appreciate how it fits into the year.

Fast forward to now, I still wear a costume to work and when I pass out candy. It gives me something to look forward to and I love being part of the cycle. It is a good jumpstart for me to get into the holiday spirit. I no longer do the Christian holidays but still observe some of the pagan ones since they really are seasonal markers.

Didn't mean to co-op your build, just wanted to add on from my perspective.


The Original Wombman said...

No, you didn't co-opt it. I love your perspective on it! :) Thanks for sharing it with me.

Magda said...

I think like most holidays the original meaning has been perverted and commercialized. In my mother's village on the Day of the Dead they all went to the cemetary and ritually brought the dead spirits home with them for that night, the night the veil between worlds is the thinnest. The next they would go to church and ritually process and bring them back to the cemetary.

Next year I invite you to go to the lantern walk at my son's school, an alternative they offer to the commercialized gorgefest. You walk through the woods following a candlelit trail at dusk, and come upon quiet firelit scenes from an enchanted world--gnomes digging, pirates dancing, rapunzel, knights marching, water spirits dancing by a stream...very magical. I think at 7 Xavier will probably be losing some of the magical feeling and see more clearly as his consciousness wakes up, but it is a beautiful thing the community does. The children dress in their costumes, which I think is also nourishing and meaningful to them, to transform themselves... and they get a box of raisins at the end. We usually go to a few friends houses for trick or treat, and then the candy witch comes that night to trade their candy... no debating.

I think with creativity we have to make our own rituals. I also hate the gorefest (as well as gorgefest) Halloween has become. Maybe you can make it your own, research the background and deeper meaning. It is an ancestor festival at heart, and the dressing up is part of it.

Nicky said...

I'm not an observer of Halloween but I like to see the children in their cute costumes.

Your experience is similar to mine ... this year ... parents and children just going from store to store, begging for candy, crying when it was all done. Just looking empty and unhappy although their bags and baskets were filled.

Absolutely no sense of community and it was very distressing to me. If I have children, they would be by-passing that "holiday" for religious reasons and for the reasons/observations you and I bought experienced respectively.

KristinaBrooke said...

Sorry that you were stressed out and did not have a good experience.

We celebrate Halloween every year. We love to dress up and we love to take our daughter Trick or Treating. I don't think it promotes a lack of gratitude. And I don't think it promotes begging (as someone on Facebook said).

My daughter is expected to say Please and Thank You and we don't allow her to gorge. In fact, when we get back she gets 2 pieces of candy that night and the rest goes into a bin in a cabinet. It is out of sight and of mind- in fact we STILL have candy from two years ago. She gets to enjoy the dressing up and the fun. How do we keep her from asking for more Candy? We provide other options so she does not even think about the Candy- and we've never had a problem.

I think much of how we handle holidays/candy/treats as parents is based on our own upbringings. My mom made Halloween fun, but she was so strict about letting us have sweets or sugar cereal. So when I went away to college, I lived off of the processed bad crap and I've been paying for the bad food choices ever since. My goal is to lay down a foundation of understanding healthy choices. I want the choices she makes later to come out of knowing that they are the right thing and not because she thinks she is missing out on something.

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