The Homogenization of Halloween

November 20, 2008 at 7:31 am (Published)

Published originally in Pittsburgh CityPaper, November 13, 2003.


After participating in Halloween festivities with my kids last week, I am really bummed out. At the Edgewood Primary School parade I attended to catch a glimpse of my third-grade flapper and my first-grade taco (complete with foam rubber apparatus strapped around his little arms and yellow fabric strips flopping around), I counted fewer than 10 costumes that hadn’t been bought, or that contained any sort of originality. Not that the kids weren’t cute or excited … but their costumes had been an afterthought.


For the last two to three years, the trick-or-treat population seems to have shifted from one where younger kids genuinely have a blast, to a majority of older teenagers who don’t even bother to put on costumes, let alone say “trick or treat” or even thank their sugar-doling benefactors. The activity of trick-or-treating itself seems outmoded in an era when we are encouraged to view our neighbors with suspicion. When I was a trick-or-treater, it was unheard of to check the treats for needle marks before they’re eaten. Exactly when did neighbors turn from nice people to people whose names we don’t know, and would rather get a root canal than talk to?


Far be it from me to suggest that maybe Halloween’s time has passed. Already, many families don’t participate for religious reasons, and test scores in Pennsylvania’s schools might increase even nominally after that one day being spent on actual learning instead of parading kids around the school and sugaring them up. (Yes, I’m that geeky mom who sent sugarless gum to school as a class treat.) Kids do need days when they can celebrate and have fun, even at school. But it’s time to clarify what’s being celebrated and why we ritualistically spend money on pumpkins we cut up and throw away, treats that make our kids fat and hyperactive, and costumes that look just like everybody else’s.


Perhaps Halloween could be re-defined in a way that doesn’t automatically include overboard consumerism, maybe a fall festival combined with a celebration of human creativity and imagination. Think about it! No sugar, no dragging your kid all over the neighborhood, no radio commercials that chastise you for not buying your Giant Eagle cupcakes yet, no parade of kids all dressed like the same character from the highest box-office draw. Instead, have a day where kids are encouraged to make something, build something! Your savings might even balance out any increased employment tax we’re about to see!


If Halloween continues in its current form, however, here are my suggestions for some new rules next year.


1.) Trick-or-treating is for kids under 12. If you are older and not accompanying a young child, my husband will be poised in our bushes with the hose.


2.) People are starving in the world, and even in Pittsburgh, so don’t waste perfectly edible pumpkins. If you’re creative enough to carve a pumpkin that looks like Phantom of the Opera, you can certainly find another way to express your decorative prowess.


3.) Don’t pass out sugared treats anymore, because most responsible parents throw the majority of this junk in the trash anyway. Consider doling out the change between your couch cushions, fancy pencils and stickers kids can use, or nice new pairs of socks for the kids with beagles at home.


4.) Even if all you do is cut out two holes in an old sheet and call your kid a ghost, show some imagination and Just Say No to homogenized costumes. Certainly, your kid could win “Scariest Costume” with just a briefcase and a placard around his little neck that says “Mayor Tom Murphy.” It would also instantly solve the problem of “he got too many treats.”


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