Since we started talking about greening Halloween, we've had a few people ask (fewer than anticipated, to be perfectly honest), "Why are you messing with Halloween? It's only one day a year. Let the kids alone."
Years ago, before everything in the U.S. was supersized (including the amount of candy given out October 31), candy at Halloween truly was a treat. Kids weren't handed the stuff at the dry cleaners, the bank and certainly not in school. Today, we can barely turn around without someone offering a child a lollipop. The obesity epidemic in children is real and frightening. When you open your door to three little girls on Halloween, you should know that one of the three is likely to develop diabetes.
Will offering children healthier alternatives to conventional candy at Halloween stop the disease? Of course not. But we need to wake up to the fact that we celebrate dozens of times a year (birthdays, Valentine's Day, Easter, Christmas to name a few), and too often the focus is on food and more particularly on sweets. So the problem isn't Halloween. It's the fact that as a nation, we appear to turn off our good sense and go overboard whenever there's an excuse to celebrate and happily, there a lot of excuses!
What we've found over the last three years since we started the grass roots initiative, Green HalloweenR,is that parents are torn between wanting to do the right thing for their kids and allowing them to have a fun time. We're happy to tell you that the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in our informal surveys of thousands and thousands of children, when they are offered alternatives to traditional Halloween candy (not told, "We're taking away your Halloween candy"), not a single one from toddler to teen, has turned up his or her nose. It's been amazing to show parents, who are absolutely convinced that their child wants candy more than anything in the world, that they actually don't.
A simple way to think of it is to consider the wash. If you have small children, you probably have to empty their pockets before you drop their jeans in the washer. What's in the pockets? Rocks, bits of moss, bottle caps. To you, it's junk. To your child, these are treasures. Why do you think they collect them?
So when it comes to Halloween, start thinking like a child. Pretend you have no access to conventional candy. What kinds of treasures might you like? (To see if you're thinking like a child, answer this question: In an informal poll of a few dozen kids of all ages, what was the number one favorite small treasure? See answer at the end of the post.)
Just a few ideas:
- beautiful rocks
- water-soluble, biodegradable confetti
- foreign stamps
- crayon "rocks"
- lead free fake "jewels"
For dozens more ideas, see the Green Halloween website.
If you want to try some alternative treasures, here are a few hints on how to approach the adventure:
- Have a positive attitude. Show your excitement about the choices you're offering.
- Instead of a bowl filled with one choice, offer a variety.
- When the princess comes to your door, admire her costume, then get down at eye level and say quietly, "You've come to a very special house. We give out treasures! Please look through our treasure chest (or bowl) and choose your very favorite!" We know what you're going to say, "But we get dozens of kids! How can we can the time with each one?" To that we say, "What's the rush?" So a line forms? Excitement will build and that's a good thing.
- If you're unsure about this whole idea, offer a choice, either one piece of candy or one treasure. See what your trick or treaters choose (let us know).
- Have choices for kids of different ages. Obviously do not offer small items to toddlers. For the little ones, you might choose healthier food alternatives (more about that in our next post).
We realize that some of the treasures listed above are "more eco-friendly" than others. We like to honor everyone in the continuum of green, those who are just getting started as well as those who are totally committed. In order for change to happen, we need to meet everyone where they are. We believe that treasures are preferable to conventional candy. If you're a confirmed environmentalist, you may want to offer only treasures from nature that are unpackaged and can be returned to their source when children are done playing with them. Newly green? Purchasing soy crayons may suit you fine. Either way, you're taking a step in the right direction.
Answer to question: Feathers
Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are a mother-daughter team and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at www.CelebrateGreen.net.