What Makes It Halloween for You?

 photo IMG_0830.jpgI saw purple candy corn the other day at the store. Purple candy corn. For me that is wrong on so many levels, but I should confess that I am not, nor have I ever been a lover of candy corn. It is, after all, just sugar, corn syrup, and marshmallow. Yeah, I didn’t know about the marshmallow either. And really, that’s mostly just more sugar and corn syrup (I love it when they have both). At any rate, I didn’t mean to go on specifically about the candy corn, but the purple stuff got me to wondering. How did we get here? How did Halloween come to be a night to go gather an enormous bag of candy? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know my kids usually come home when their load is too heavy to carry any more.

What is Halloween about? That’s the funny bit. It seems that the march of time, cultural domination, and social realities have made Halloween about everything and nothing at all, all at the same time – a characteristic I would argue many of our holidays share at times. Halloween WAS about the fading of the sun, the rise of the dark. Then it was about honoring the dead. Then it was about pranks, and then, family fun (and CANDY).

As with all of our holidays, I sense that we sometimes forget what they CAN mean, and get caught up in a bit of what they seem to mean – thus the multiple aisles devoted to candy (as opposed to just the usual two) and the rush on costumes that have nothing to do with any of the original purposes of Halloween (lest you think I am throwing too many stones, I confess that I will be sending Elsa the Snow Queen out in a largely purchased costume because I couldn’t stand to say no to something else). I am taking this minute, right here in front of you like a intellectual and philosophical exhibitionist, to remind myself that I get to do Halloween my way, too.

This day of madness and mayhem gets to be whatever my family and I decide it should be. When I think back to Halloweens in my past, I remember with the greatest fondness being paraded around the neighborhood by Big Sis, coached about how best to approach the doorbell, and defended from the couple of neighborhood punks who sought to lighten my load. I remember costumes that were put together, fashioned as a project with my Mom; they were never perfect, but they were fun, and I remember feeling great about them. I remember crunching in the leaves, turning on the flashlight when the dark became too much, and moping on the occasions when I was forced to wear a coat over my beloved costume. I remember my Mom making salty roasted pumpkin seeds. And finally, I remember my neighbor’s popcorn balls. I would have given up everything else in that bag for another of those popcorn balls.

So where does that leave me in my own celebrations? What traditions do I wish to highlight, to start, to pass on? How is this night of candy hoarding about me and my family (cause I really do need everything to be about me ;-))?

 photo IMG_0825.jpgOur costumes will be hybrid. I bought big parts. We will use face paint and other special bits to make them extra awesome. We will work together and talk about the costumes to get them just so, to eke every bit of pleasure out of the dressing up that we can. We will decorate with creepy things to remind ourselves that death is a part of this great life as we stomp through the leaves that have indeed begun to fall. We will celebrate the abundance of the late harvest by picking pumpkins and roasting their seeds, maybe even making some pesto with them. And I am going to attempt to make popcorn balls without corn syrup (I’m looking at these, but have not settled for sure), in honor of the woman who I suspect kept my mother sane during my early years. I will hand out popcorn balls in a small bag with our name and address on it so people won’t be afraid to eat them and if we run out, there will be plenty of spider rings, glow sticks, and maybe a little dark chocolate for the truly worthy.

And when it’s all over, I’ll break the news to my kids that they can’t keep ALL the candy. They will not be surprised as I’ve been working up to it, and they still have some from last year. This year, we will take advantage of the candy buy back at a local dentist, and they will send it to our troops. Sounds like a good plan to me. Happy almost Halloween!

Wait! don’t EAT that Halloween Candy…

Not when there are so many other things you could do with it.  Seriously.

Lately I’ve been pondering the merits of meat, vegetable oil, different oils when heated and even dried fruit.  I could point you to all sorts of conflicting opinions, ideas and even science on the merits or demerits of those foods, but no one would argue that while candy might make a child smile, it’s not good for that sweet little tyke’s body.  Of course, there is always the all things in moderation argument…. but since when do we do things in moderation anymore?  Some houses give out actual little baggies of candy that it would have taken me a whole block to collect when I was a kid…. in the snow…. uphill both ways 😉

So my poor son faces every Halloween knowing there will be a time limit after which the remaining candy gets thrown out.  He does not over indulge except for the first night so we always end up throwing quite a bit away.  However, the presence and consumption of candy resets the bar for what constitutes a treat, or dessert.  I hate when the bar gets reset.  It takes a lot longer to get that bar inched upwards than it does to knock the sucker right off of it’s holder!

This year we may participate in our local dentist’s Candy Buy Back.  The sign says they are buying Halloween candy on November 1st and 2nd.  I don’t know if they are sending the candy to the troops or not, but “Operation Gratitude of the CA Army National Guard” accepts candy donations from dentists collected in buy backs and sends it overseas to the troops.  It’s a twist on a nutrition minded Robin Hood – take the candy from the most physically vulnerable and send it to grown ups instead 😉  A nice program all around, don’t you think, especially for the men and women overseas who are away from family and tradition.

So what else can you do with the Halloween candy besides sell it?  Well, you can build stuff out of it using lots of glue so no one will be tempted to eat it.  You’ve heard of gingerbread houses?  Make a Halloween House or tower or igloo or yurt by gluing the Halloween candy together (wrappers will probably stick better!)

How about a read the label contest?  If you can’t pronounce something on the label then you don’t get to eat it?  Okay, okay -that one is mean.  Plus the ‘fun size’ little bits that come in big bags are probably not individually labelled.  Although it wouldn’t hurt to look up some ingredients on-line.  Most companies have their ingredient lists at websites and from there you can check to see what ingredients are found on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s lists of food to avoid and cut back on.  You will of course find lots of varieties of sugar and also probably some caramel color and food color which are outlawed in Europe because of evidence of bad effects on health.

You can run some science experiments in the backyard if you have no pets.  Place some unwrapped candy outside and see if any creatures will eat it – and see what types of candy last the longest out there.  Some might make it til Spring.  Does that make you want to eat it?  Ever notice there are no expiration dates on candy?

You can do a ‘science experiment’ in the kitchen where you melt a variety of candy in one big pot just to watch the colors and textures swirl around before throwing it away.

You could also do your own buyback where you offer special activities, art supplies, or special time with Mom and/or Dad in exchange for coughing up the sweet goods.  And what about poisoning the neighborhood children?  Well…. this year I am giving away fake, plastic roaches, because who doesn’t need one or two of those?, as well as boxes of raisins, AND I will have one bowl of candy reserved for the older kids because I do not wish to spend November 1st picking toilet paper out of the trees.

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Last year it was plastic spiders and a good many of the older kids opted for spiders over candy…. after all they were getting that everywhere else!

And lastly, emphasize all of the other non-candy elements of the holiday.  Enjoy carving pumpkins, drinking special teas or a little hot cider, decorating your yard or house, making or planning costumes, walking around the neighborhood together and telling Halloween jokes…..

What did one casket say to the other?…………………..Is that you coffin?

Ba dum bum.         Now THAT’s a little scary 😉