Homemade Halloween costumes. Visits to Haunted Houses. Creatively carved pumpkins. Sticky orange colored popcorn balls. And buckets of candy. Yes! Buckets of candy!
These are a few of my memories from Halloween’s past. A time when we would gather at my aunt’s house to celebrate the holiday (as well as her birthday). A time when we would race from house to house gathering as much candy as our buckets could hold. When they were filled, we would run back to the house to dump them, then head back outside for more. The Dads would accompany us, chatting away while keeping us cousins corralled, occasionally helping us retrieve candy buckets that had spilled after tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. We thanked them for their hard work with a stylish necktie – one neighbor’s alternative to giving candy to us trick-or-treaters.
Back at the house, we would dump all our candy out onto the floor, group all the similar candies together, count our loot and begin eating. I don’t really remember my parents curtailing my candy consumption, they just let me relish in the wonder of the night.
These wonderful Halloween night traditions were the culmination of a season of enjoyment. In addition to the standard store-bought Halloween decorations, we would stuff some of Dad’s clothes with newspaper to make a scarecrow, tie up cornhusks on the front posts, and head out to a roadside stand to pick out the perfect pumpkin. We waited patiently while Mom crafted bunnies, witches, robots, Little Red Riding Hood, angels and sailor costumes — whatever we had desired to wear that year.
Pumpkin muffins, ghost-shaped cookies, caramel apples and homemade popcorn balls were on hand for our enjoyment. We made pumpkin carving a family affair, with each of us sketching out several designs on paper before grabbing our knives to start carving. It was a low tech, high enjoyment way to enjoy the season.
The Changing Face of Halloween
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain when the Celts marked the end of the harvest and beginning of the dark winter ahead on November 1st. The Celts believed that during the night before the new year arrived the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On that evening the ghosts of the dead returned to earth to cause trouble.
As a way to ensure they didn’t encounter ghosts when they left their homes, Celts would wear masks so that they wouldn’t be recognized, hoping the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. To keep them away from their homes, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from entering.
Today’s mass commercialization of Halloween has turned the holiday into a wild celebration of consumption – of candy, store-bought decorations and elaborate costumes representing the latest television and movie heroes. This year, the National Retail Federation reports that consumers will spend $2.5 billion on candy this year, making Halloween second only to Christmas in the amount consumers spend on a holiday.
The marketing of Halloween here in the U.S. has been so successful, that Halloween as a holiday has emerged in places where it previously never existed.
My childhood Halloween memories bring tingles up my spine, the enjoyment I had as a child, dressing up in homemade costumes, running around with my cousins and eating, eating, eating, candy until I could eat no more. I certainly don’t want to deprive my children of the joys of going house-to-house collecting candy, but I don’t want the overriding theme to be about consumption. So, when I began to receive Halloween costume catalogs back in the beginning of summer, I wondered what could we do differently.
The Harvest Season
Pumpkins by the hundreds have been available at the grocery store for weeks. I’m tempted to buy a few, but I hold off because I know that I’ll have thousands to choose from when we make our annual trek to a farm.
We make our pumpkin search a family affair, heading up north to enjoy a day filled with piles of pumpkins, hay mazes, hayrides, music and lots of local foods. This tradition is one that everyone enjoys – kids and adults – because there truly is something for everyone. It proves to be a relaxing and fun day on the farm, far away from the storefront displays of plastic decorations, $80 costumes, and huge bags of Snickers bars.
Thirteen years ago, Greg and I started another wonderful Everage Halloween tradition. We brought the neighbors together for a Pumpkin Carving Party. This gathering of families has proved to be a party that everyone looks forward to. We give awards for the best pumpkin, the scariest, and the most original; and always have great food on hand. It is nothing fancy, just an enjoyable afternoon carving pumpkins and lots of laughs with our friends.
As for the tradition of running house to house to get candy – I wouldn’t take that away from my kids. The neighborhood streets are packed with families and the kids squeal with delight with each new house they visit. That night, go ahead kids, eat all you want. Because tomorrow is a new day, filed with new candy-eating rules, and unfortunately, a new season. All those fall wreaths, cornhusk dolls and scarecrow decorations that have graced store shelves for so long will be pushed to the sale aisle to make way for Christmas.
So, while you still have the time, enjoy the “Halloween” season. Wherever you are, in the city or in the country, there are lots of ways to build the tradition of the holiday, putting less emphasis on the one night of candy consumption, and place more on the celebration of the season, celebration of friends, and a celebration of all the great season foods the earth has to offer.
A few seasonally inspired party recipes:
Easy Pumpkin Pudding
- 1 cup canned pumpkin
- 1 package (40oz serving size) sugar-free instant vanilla pudding mix
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1 ¼ cups skim milk
Mix all ingredients together. Place in individual bowls or glasses and chill until set. Serve cold with nonfat whipped cream (optional).
- 6 red baking apples, cored, sliced
- ¼ cup raisins
- 1 tbsp soft margarine
- juice of one lemon
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 6 candy gummy worms
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine apples, raisins, lemon juice, spices and sugar in large baking dish. Cover and bake until apples are tender, about 30-45 minutes. Place in bowls and serve warm or chilled. Garnish each one with a gummy worm.
Recipes from Communicating Food for Heath Newsletter (www.foodandhealth.com)
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