(Note: Welcome to the third part in our Halloween mini-series. If you need to catch up here is episode 1 and episode 2.)
Yesterday, I asked the 3-5 children to raise their hands and “Tell us something you know about Halloween.” By far, the number one answer was, “Trick-or-treating,” with it’s companion “Candy,” coming in a close second.
My wife Jennifer grew up primarily in Austria and Germany, and while European nations are today increasingly catching the Halloween fever, it was a non-existent holiday in her own youth. Sure they had opportunities to wear costumes, but there was nothing to compare to our tradition of going from door-to-door begging for candy. Although I would regal her with tales of my youthful forays of filling pillow cases, then coming home to dump the candy into a big pile on the living room floor to 1) remove all “yucky” (i.e., non-candy) items, 2) check for hidden poison or razor blades, and 3) enter into negations with my brother over trades, she didn’t see the point.
When our daughter was two, we joined some friends for a “safe” trick-or-treat adventure at the Wallingford Town Center, a mall of entrepreneurial shops carved out of an old school building. Jennifer’s response to her first trick-or-treating experience was still, “So?” But then we decided to do the real thing by hitting up some homes in the neighborhood. Since it was a group of 4 adults and 2 small children, 3 of us waited on the sidewalk as the girls were escorted to each door. Standing in the fall night with Jennifer as our little princess in a parka made her way past grimacing jacks and thick tangles of artificial spider web, swarms of giddy ghouls pushing past us in the dark, adult voices hallowing to one another down the block, she started to become visibly excited. Soon she insisted on being the one to walk the girls to the doors, and before long her's was the loudest voice calling, “Trick or treat!”
Living in a big city, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that our neighborhoods are real neighborhoods, but on Halloween, as families pour out into the streets, in the dark of night, we claim them for our own. We go to our neighbor’s doors, whether we know them or not, ring the bell and they’re happy to see us, complimenting us on our attire. What an incredible experience for children: most of the strangers, most of the time are friendly people! For me, that’s the real magic of Halloween. As an adult the candy is secondary to the exercise of greeting and being greeted on the doorsteps of my neighbors.
The candy, however, is central to the kids. Every parent handles it differently. I’ve heard good arguments for almost every strategy from laissez faire to rationing to throwing the whole mess out. When my own child was a preschooler, our technique was for the adults to secretly deplete the supply, especially of chocolate, as Josephine slept – all for her own good, of course.
One of our friends went so far as to add an entirely new mythological figure to the pantheon of holiday characters called the “Sugar Fairy.” As legend has it, this deity, sister of the “Tooth Fairy,” loves nothing more than to eat sugar. Naturally, she has a mouthful of rotting teeth and a sadly out of shape body. Each Halloween Eve, she searches homes across the land for gifts of candy left for her by children. When she finds such an offering, she adds it to her hoard and in its place leaves a toy for the generous child. It's always struck me a decent solution.
In the classroom, I used to ask our Pre-K kids to bring their “leftover” candy to class, but I’ve curtailed this exercise due to the prevalence of peanut/tree nut allergies and the tendency for packaged candy to be tainted with these toxins. Instead, I have my own supply of disgusting, guaranteed nut-free candy that has been on our storage room shelves for years. It’s disgusting because of its vintage, the fact that its been on the floor many times, and by virtue of having been handled by dozens of children.
I start by reading Nancy Carlson’s charming book, Harriet’s Halloween Candy. As part of the story Harriet sorts her candy in various ways – by size, type, and favorites. The children then use masking tape to mark off an area on the rug for their own use, and are each given a collection of “disgusting, not-eating candy” to organize as they see fit. It’s a terrific pre-math exercise and fun to see all the different ways they manage it.
As we shared our knowledge about Halloween yesterday, Thomas gleefully cautioned us that we get “so much candy that we can’t eat it all in one day or we’ll get a tummy ache.” I’m not sure if he was speaking from experience or merely passing on some wisdom he’d been taught. Indeed, in our story, Harriet, in an effort to protect her stash from her younger brother, devours her entire supply in a single sitting, bringing on the dreaded tummy ache.
Candy is a treat with a built in trick. It's a hard lesson to learn, but somebody has to do it.