Halloween can be a nightmare for natural living families,
with all of the excess packaging; expensive, plastic single-use costumes;
and unhealthy eating. It's enough to spook a green thinker into ignoring the
occasion altogether! But there are ways to enjoy Halloween with our children
without damaging their health or forsaking our eco-ethics.
Halloween costumes are hugely influenced by commercial
media, with fads being driven by television shows and movies,
and are increasingly sexualized. So families
might find this a good place to inject some media literacy into their
discussions. Rather than buy a new costume that you (or your child) will
only wear once and throw away, make one out of clothes and fabrics you
already have. There are lots of great websites with ideas and patterns. Try
collecting pop and beer can tabs to create chain mail, or gluing leaves to a
leotard to construct a human tree. You can also create costumes from items
purchased at thrift shops and yard sales.
Swap costumes with neighbors and
friends. Or advertise on your local freecycle or craigslist websites for a
used costume. National Costume Swap Day hosts a free website that is a hub for people around the world
who are interested in saving money and the planet by swapping costumes
instead of buying and tossing. And if you can’t escape purchasing an
off-the-rack version, at least donate it to your local daycare center or
shelter after the big night.
You'll want to avoid dressing your children in costumes that require
make-up or face paint. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics produced a report in
2009 entitled Pretty Scary: Heavy
Metals in Face Paints, which revealed that ten out of ten children’s face
paints contained low levels of lead, and six of the ten products were
contaminated with the potent allergens nickel, chromium and/or cobalt.
You should also avoid tight rubber masks and fake plastic hair, both of
which contain harmful chemicals.
Trick or Treating
Plastic goodie bags are also totally unnecessary
for your little ghosts and ghoulies. Your kids can
collect their candy in reusable buckets, wicker baskets, canvas bags, or
When you're buying treats to give out at your door, choose
items that come in a minimum amount of packaging. Healthy treats include
raisins, popcorn, nuts and seeds, and organic, low-sugar candy. Or skip the
edibles altogether in favor of useable treats like pencils, pens, stickers,
magnets, erasers, or other trinkets. (Keep them useful or else you’ll defeat
One way to help pull the focus away from overindulgence and
toward community is to participate in a charity-based initiative at
Halloween. Although not as common as it used to be, UNICEF organizes a coin
collection for trick-or-treaters and the Lions Club International has
children collect used eyewear on their door- to-door journeys, which is then
cleaned and donated to people in developing countries.
Have a Party
If you’re having a Halloween party, serve healthy and
seasonal foods there too. Make good use of the
pumpkin theme, not just in decorations but in food too. After you’ve carved
a face into the pumpkin, dry and spice the seeds for nutritious snacks. The
tender insides can be puréed for soups, mashed for pies or spiced up for a
main vegetarian entrée, such as an Indian curry or pumpkin chili. And don’t
forget to purchase your pumpkin at a farmers market or local farm stand in
order to minimize its “food miles” and support your local producers.
Decorations can be fashioned from Indian corn, corn stalks, pumpkins,
lanterns made from recycled food jars or tin cans, dried flowers and
grasses, and any number of other natural or recycled materials.
Your family might also enjoy organizing or participating in
a community celebration that recognizes the occasion but puts a slightly
different and more sustainable twist on it. One group that is thinking
outside the candy box is Green Halloween, a non-profit, grassroots community
initiative that began in Seattle, Washington a couple of years ago to create
healthier and more Earth-friendly holidays. Suggestions for a green
Halloween, and ways to participate, can be found on the Green Halloween
So what will the kids think about your tinkering with Halloween? If you
start when children are very young, a green Halloween will be second nature
to them. But if your family is just transitioning to greener living, older
children might resent having their candy and television character costumes
replaced with apples and bed sheets. It's important to work with your family
on making these changes, rather than sending down decrees from the top. Many
children already are quite environmentally aware and just waiting for their
parents to take the lead. Discuss with them your environmental and health
concerns about Halloween and solicit their ideas for new traditions. And
start slowly, greening just one aspect of the celebration each year so as to
avoid overwhelming your children.
Some families prefer to avoid Halloween altogether,
downplay it, celebrate other similar – less commercialized – occasions, or
create their own unique fall celebrations.
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), is Latin America's
traditional remembrance of departed souls, and one which older children
might like to learn about. In a belief system inherited from the Aztecs,
it is believed that the dead can return to their homes. The Day of the Dead involves preparations to help the spirits find their
way home and to make them welcome. In Mexico, it is a national holiday and is celebrated on
November 1st, in connection with the Pagan Samhain holiday as well as
the Catholic All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (November
Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night is a classically
English event where burning effigies and fireworks illuminate the night in
memory of a 17th century event where a group
of Catholics, led by Guy Fawkes, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament
on November 5, 16054.
Many other countries celebrate similarly raucous events
in late October or early November, so a web search is sure to uncover a
variety of new ideas for your family’s fun. Unfortunately, many of them –
include Day of the Dead and Guy Fawkes Night – have developed customs
similar to trick-or-treating!
Avoid the Halloween Candy Blues
Are your children moody or do they throw temper tantrums in
the days following Halloween? The cause may not be sugar, but the
petroleum-based food dyes and certain other additives found in candy,
according to Jane Hersey, National Director of the nonprofit Feingold
Association. “Unlike sugar, these additives can lead to hyperactive behavior
for days after kids have eaten the offending candies,” she says.
Numerous scientific studies support the link between
synthetic food dyes and hyperactivity. They have prompted the European Union
to require labels on most foods containing synthetic dyes to warn that these
additives “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in
children.” The British government has called on manufacturers to voluntarily
remove the dyes and advised parents to limit their children’s consumption of
dyed foods. The U.S. FDA recently narrowly rejected labeling.
Hersey offers these tips to parents desiring a calmer
Feed them first. Be sure your child goes
trick-or-treating with a full stomach.
Offer a swap. Exchange the synthetic candies that your
children bring home for natural candies, homemade treats like cookies,
or new toys.
Limit the damage. Go through the stash with your child
to toss out the brightly colored candies.
Offer a buy-out. Offer to buy the candy
that your child collects.
Visit a pumpkin patch. Take the kids to a pumpkin patch
to pick their favorite pumpkins for Jack-o-Lanterns or homemade pumpkin
Throw a Halloween Party. Feature natural treats and
include a costume competition, a scary movie, and spooky music.
Buy natural candy. To find natural versions of popular
candies like dark and milk chocolates, peanut butter kisses, fruit
candies, chocolate mint patties, and hard candies, check out the
Feingold Association’s website
Plan a candy-free outing. Arrange for a special evening
at the skating rink, bowling alley, or movies, followed by healthy
Give out alternatives to candy, such
as stickers, temporary tattoos, colored pencils, removable pencil
erasers, tiny toy cars, little bouncy balls, etc. (Be careful not to
give swallowable toys very young children.) Party shops are full of
ideas, but avoid the useless plastic treats.
The Rituals Resource Book: Alternative Weddings, Funerals, Holidays and Other Rites of Passage
by Susan Mumm (Alexandra Yul Publishing, 2004)
Treasury of Celebrations: Â Create Celebrations that Reflect Your Values and Don't Cost the Earth
by Alternatives for Simple Living (Northstone
Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children
by Cait Johnson, Maura D. Shaw (Destiny Books, 1995)
is a writer with over 35 years of experience, the mother of two adult
daughters, and the editor of
Natural Child Magazine.