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Have a Healthy, Green, Healthy, Simple Halloween
by Wendy Priesnitz

HalloweenIn North America, Halloween is traditionally an important time in the life of many families, not to mention one of our kids' favorite occasions. Celebrations like Halloween are great opportunities for having some fun as a family and for sharing the principles behind our natural lifestyle with young children. But if your extended family and friends aren’t as environmentally or socially aware as you are, the commercial hype can be troublesome. For many, Halloween is just another commercial opportunity, benefiting greeting card and candy manufacturers, and often becomes an orgy of excess packaging (all those little candies in separate wrappers); 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 forsaking our eco-ethics or spending a pile of money.

Although Halloween doesn’t pose a gift problem, it does have its own billion dollar consumption issues, as families spend big on costumes and candy. Aside from the stomachaches and headaches resulting from all that sugar, Halloween results in a huge pile of discarded candy wrappers, goodie bags, plastic pumpkins, masks and costumes.

Halloween costumes are hugely influenced by commercial media, with fads being driven by television shows and movies. So families might find this a good place to inject some media literacy into their discussions. Rather than buy a new costume you (or your child) will only wear once and throw away, make one out of clothes and fabrics you already have (like so many of us did as kids). 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. 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.

Plastic goodie bags are totally unnecessary. Your kids can collect their candy in reusable buckets, wicker baskets, canvas bags or pillowcases.

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, or at least organic, low-sugar candy. Or skip the edibles altogether in favor of useable treats like pencils, pens, stickers, magnets, erasers or other trinkets (but keep them useful or else you’ll defeat the purpose.) 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.

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If you’re having a Halloween party for any age, 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 pureed 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, starting with Halloween. Now, in a number of other cities, volunteer coordinators are not only working to turn their city’s Halloween holiday healthy and eco-friendly, but many are also raising money for their own, local nonprofit beneficiaries.

If your family is inclined to activism, another innovative idea for Halloween is Global Exchange's Reverse Trick-or-Treating initiative. The basic idea is that children reverse the shelling-out tradition by going door to door and handing adults a sample of vegan-friendly, Fair Trade chocolate. The chocolate is accompanied by a card informing recipients about poverty and child labor problems in the cocoa industry, affecting mainstream candy enjoyed at Halloween...and how Fair Trade chocolate provides a solution.

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 (or any other occasion you're trying to green) 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.

Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Life's editor and a journalist, former broadcaster and author with over 40 years of experience, as well as the mother of two grown daughters.


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