Way back in the spooky month of October, just prior to Halloween, I presented a MyPlate Haiku on Instagram. Not as deep perhaps as a Zen Buddhist koan, a paradoxical anecdote or riddle used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning in order to provoke enlightenment, but reflective of a puzzlement nonetheless.
Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while may know that in my little anachronistic village, Halloween is serious business. Hundreds and hundreds of little kiddies and big grown-ups dressed in scary–and adorable–costumes descend like zombies and crowd the narrow streets to frighten away any evil spirits–and to collect their sweet rewards. My house is in a prime trick-or-treat location and next door to the village wizards whose annual display attracts a lot of attention.
And thus, my perennial dilemma. What’s my personal and professional responsibility as concerns contributing to this massive spike in the community’s blood sugar levels? Fun though it may seem, innocuous though one might think–it is not a good thing. There is a lot of sugar going down–way more than Mary Poppin’s prescribed spoonful.
I have stared deep down into pillowcases with more loot than a bank robber’s heist, yet the pirates and ninjas demand more. I have stared deep into the big eyes and darling faces of newly walking toddler princesses and kitty cats, imploring me to fill their plastic pumpkin with some white crystallized sugar drug–I mean treat. Seriously, should there not be some legal age requirement for serving sugar to children? I feel I should be carding these kids, checking ID, asking for a birth certificate or tricycle license.
Every year, Halloween seems to come around quickly, and each time I struggle with the dilemma. Given the havoc I know sugar and sweets wreak on the individual and global level, I do not wish to be a purveyor of this potential gateway substance associated with dental decay, behavioral issues, food addiction, inflammation, obesity, diabetes, and other maladies. To really appreciate the seductive allure of said substance, consider that recently, after a newly levied sugar-tax was imposed in their country, ordinarily level-headed Norwegians have wildly taken to crossing the border into Sweden to procure their candy and soda more cheaply in binge shopping sprees.
But, neither am I ready to leave the party. So, for years my family has stood at the door giving out a combination of edible sweets and non-edible treats in hopes of offering choice and mitigating damage.
But, this last All Hallows’ Eve I decided to go further. In preparation for the nearly four hundred grabbing hands and gaping mouths, I set out to find provisions that would not further the sugar problem at hand. The additional challenge was to try to not substitute it with useless items that would quickly be tossed in the garbage, and to have things that would be suitable for children of all different ages. And, to not spend more than I would on candy.
As usual, I solicited the help of my little witch, Zena, and with broomsticks in hand, off we flew to the nearest Michael’s Arts and Crafts store to fill our cauldron. We scoured about and found some things that were suitable. Also, next door wizard Amy informed me of holiday-themed milkweed seed packets available for sale to help save our important monarch butterflies. Perfect. We ordered one hundred of them.
When ready, we poured everything on the bed and got to work. We filled perky pumpkin-faced and scary skull-headed gift bags with age-appropriate treats. It was all in fun, though I must say a fair amount of dissection was involved in separating parts from wholes. There were all Halloween-themed cool sticker sheets, water-color painting pictures, stamps, little marble maze games, foam cutouts to make masks, erasers–and seed packets. Unfortunately, we did not procure the mechanical pencils which had been a big hit with the older set the previous year.
The only problems were that we ran out of the little bags and took to using business envelopes; and that Zena, being a very good witch, was a bit too generous in filling her bags which left us short of supplies to reach our projected count. But, time was short, so we’d have to make do.
It was then, in anticipation of the big day, I penned and posted to Instagram the koan-tinged haiku:
Treats of a different kind
No candy for Halloween
We’ll see how it goes.
(We hope they like the Save Our Monarchs Milkweed Seed Packets)
So, how did it go? Pretty well, I’d say. The house was not egged and there were no tricks. There was the one teenager–the kind who doesn’t even have a costume–who did turn and walk away when the cauldron choices were kindly presented to him. A few of the neophyte toddlers did display some cognitive dissonance provoked by being handed something they could not imagine to be the promised candy. And, there was the middle-schooler who when handed a business envelope with indeterminate contents responded by saying she did not like surprises.
But mainly, things were positive. One little girl excitedly told her folks, “We got a card!” There were shrieks of, “It’s the sticker house!” And, the teenagers, were as a whole quite appreciative at receiving something different. I’d say, it was a sign they were actually candied out. It was encouraging to see that they still could like a good, basic pencil–even a non-mechanical one.
The seed packets were mainly tucked in the bags and not really noticed in the dark, but a few who did see them thought they were cool. I hope their value was better appreciated in the light of day–with the help of parents who’d realize what they were for.
The highlight of the evening was once again when Ruth came to the door. Last year, our hearts melted when mid-evening we responded to the doorbell’s beckon to find a little girl and her family waiting. The girl handed us a piece of paper. It was a drawing of–we think–a little bat and a little pumpkin. It was hard to tell, but not bad for a four-year-old. On the back, it was signed, Ruth.
This year, Ruth came to the door with her little sister who was now old enough to stand. Their costumes were beautifully made by their grandmother. Once more, we received a personal drawing–this time of three large carved pumpkins. Ruth’s artistic abilities had increased exponentially. And, now it was signed, Ruth and Grace. This evolved soul, did not seem to expect anything in return. We told them how touched we had been last year and how excited we were to see them again.
As usual, and as we had feared, we did not have enough to make it through the night. As supplies were running low, we frantically tore sticker sheets into individual stickers and repurposed whatever we could.
At the final ring, we had only a few stray bat and pumpkin erasers left. Apologetically we held the basket out to the lone teenager who stood before us. “I’m good with erasers”, he said and graciously accepted the offering.
I tell this story now, not only because it is already less than six months until the next Halloween and time to think ahead. But, because it exposes our complicated relationship with and messaging about food. Please understand I do not maintain a staunch anti-sugar stand. I appreciate how and why we are wired to enjoy it and recognize that it is a source of joy. In my repertoire, I carry a story I once read. When the author was a young girl, her well-meaning parents presented her with an apple with a candle stuck in it, in lieu of a cake for her birthday. She cried. It is also well documented how the denial of any sugar seems to breed an uncontrollable urge for it.
But, given the state of our health and what we know about the detriments of sugar and the foods it is cloaked in, and their ubiquitous presence, can we continue to abide the excess that this holiday ritual depends on? Especially as it so strongly impacts children. Who is really benefiting from this candy deluge? The excuses that it is just for one day, and that we can use it as a way of teaching our kids about moderation, may now be too feeble.
I think it may be time for the expansion of creative alternatives. I remember as a child Trick or Treating for UNICEF, carrying a little orange box door to door to collect money for children in dire need–in faraway places. Apparently, that campaign was started in 1950 and is still around. Maybe that idea can be flipped by households choosing a cause of their choice and telling the children soliciting treats that a donation will be made on their behalf to that cause. Just thinking out loud. Honestly, I am not sure I can sustain the full no-sweets effort. However, if little Ruth can draw all those pictures for everyone–I will certainly try.
As always, please say hi, leave a comment, subscribe to and share my blog, and let me know what Halloween ideas you have tried.
Most sincerely yours, Elyn