My daughter’s first Halloween at merely months old, I tucked her into the little “pea” outfit that had circulated amongst my friends’ babies, buttoned up my chef jacket and joined a mini parade through a senior center where several attempts were made to shove candy into her chubby lil’ hands.
Years later my son waddled out into the brisk night in his sister’s toddler duck costume, while she was decorated with sparkles and butterfly wings. The cooing commentary from those dressed in the most benign attire to terrifying made it clear that our little bird was too, too cute. Tiny people in costumes are beyond ‘adorbs’.
Returning home that evening Zed, who had rarely ate a regular meal in his less than two years, reached into his bag whipped out a sucker, unwrapped and popped it in his mouth like he had been doing that always. Both children dumped their loot on the living room floor while were on FaceTime giggling at the sweetness with our distant family.
Juliette, naturally sorted through her treasures making appropriate decisions about those to keep, eat or toss. Occasionally she would make a face letting us know the piece in her mouth was less than satisfactory, to which we claimed “Quick! Spit it out and try something new. No need to waste precious tummy space on anything less then delight.” Zed had better plans for his candy post-dumping. He laid down in his pile and proceeded to roll back and forth in his own little toddler heaven.
Would I take any of this away from my children as we dance through this year of local eating? I mean, one year out of the maybe 10 years of trick-or-treating wouldn’t be noticed, right? They’re still young enough, right? This won’t scar them for life… maybe? My daughter is already starting to question her parents motives as she gathers evidence for the case that her and her brother be able to enjoy this traditional festivity.
Lessons are being learned throughout this year. While we don’t turn away every piece of candy our children are offered we often talk about whether it is local in origin. Halloween, while beyond conventional candy decadence, is still a holiday rooted in seasonal joy.
Living in Tucson, it was one of the biggest holidays, especially in our neighborhood where our otherwise empty streets would fill with cars. Mexican traditions were also embraced including a neighbor’s oversized pots of Pozole that warmed hands and hearts while kids ran in and out with full freedom for sugar and playtime. The following days were devoted to the more beautiful holiday of Dia de los Muertos where a city-wide parade brought together multiple groups, neighborhoods, and families with full calaveras makeup and costume.
The only year we participated, we painted our faces, dressed best we could muster up, decorated my trike with laminated pictures of our favorite people who have passed away and we shimmied our way through the crowds. We settled into the parade just behind a decorated organization carrying kites that celebrated Transgender community especially those who had died either by abuse or by suicide. Behind us a belly dancing troupe twirled their hips for our daughter. I spent much of the time dabbing my eyes as I became both participant and witness for a celebration that marked the connection between life and death.
While I sometimes want to channel Dia de los Muertos and take away the trick, treats and conventional processed candy of the holiday, I recognize it is simply my cultures way of celebrating, even if it feels a much shallower depth. I am not fully ready to let go of Halloween, at least not while my children are beyond darling in their costumes with their swelled bags of candy that thrill them to no end.
There are strategies though that I have used to make the candy obsessed holiday a bit less gluttonous and a bit more playful for me. First, for the trick-or-treaters, for the last several years we have gifted out clementines. We don’t leave them plain rather we decorate them into all sorts of darling jack-o-lantern shapes and styles. It is an ‘art project’ that we all delight in and that my mother-in-law makes a special effort to participate in as well. We put a bit of love onto each one and when handing them out there have often been squeals of excitement as the kids sort through finding the ‘perfect’ little cutie to become one with their bag of candy.
The first year we attempted it, I received a few smug “good lucks, you are totally going to get tricked.” But, three years in, we are still getting compliments from kids and parents alike. I also figure that if the trick-or-treaters decide not to eat them, at least they are compostable!
A couple quick tips for making Jack-o-Cuties…
- Clementines, tangerines, cuties… basically all the same thing. Buy whatever is available.
- Whether natural or glazed on, there appears to be a waxy coating on them that hinders proper application of the jack-o-lantern face, especially when using sharpies– which all Pinterest posts suggest.
- To lessen the wax, wash and lightly scrub the cuties, then rub dry. It won’t remove all the surface that gums up pens, but it will help.
- Then we use paint-pens. We have done black, but also gold, silver and brown (it was on sale!) Decorate each with faces or other Halloween cuteness and distribute accordingly!
Next, we do the Sugar Sprite in our house. I have also heard something similar called the Switch Witch. Basically, the kids return from trick-or-treating and we tell them to gorge themselves silly. We also welcome letting them select a few favorite pieces for the next few days. The rest is set out for the Sugar Sprite who in exchange delivers a special gift the next morning. In our house, the Sugar Sprite typically gifts art supplies, homemade treats, fruit or sparkly nail polish. The idea is that the more candy gifted to the Sprite, the better the gift. My daughter plays along with giddiness, our son is still young enough that once the candy disappears and a gift appears he hasn’t questioned it too much.
As much as I want to school my babies on the ridiculousness of a holiday that promotes the white powdery drug of sugar (don’t worry- I don’t call it that to them!), I know that my push against it is a bit futile. Our local food year is full of lessons, but I am not sure punishing my kids will have a lasting benefit. We are navigating exceptions and this holiday seems worthy enough for me!
What are your strategies for this holiday? Do you have a love-hate relationship with it as well? Do you think I am completely crazy or that I am abandoning our local food year?
I welcome all thoughts!