Thursday, October 15, 2009

What Are You Going To Be This Year?

Americans spend 5 billion on Halloween. Does that seem a little crazy to you, too? And what is it spent on? Costumes and candy - two items that have little meaning the next day. Now, contrary to what my children would have you believe, I like Halloween. It’s a wonderful opportunity for creativity and play. It’s the only chance you have to dress up once you become an adult, unless you work at Disneyworld. And dressing up is fun. Even people who say it isn’t, secretly like to. I have a great flapper costume, but it’s not entirely appropriate for trick of treating, so on Halloween I am traditionally a witch. But not this year because my daughter has appropriated my witches’ hat, the one with a spider dangling from the rim.

Halloween costumes can break the bank. But they don’t need to. I admit I’ve spent my share of fortune on the perfect costumes for my children, painstakingly choosing them from the elaborate catalogs that start arriving in late July. I justified this expense because my kids used the costumes year round – they liked to dress up on an almost daily basis. Now that they’re older they do occasionally indulge their alter egos with a pirate patch or Egyptian head covering. The costumes are getting a bit long in the tooth, but they can still inspire an adventure or two.

My oldest has been crafting his own costumes since he was old enough to explain his plans to me. He’s been Harry Potter playing Quidditch, a crazy scientist, a winged dragon with “real bird wings”, and a faceless ghost. Last year he was an “enigma”, which looks strangely like a bank robber to me (sweatshirt hood pulled tight to hide face, dark clothes, dark shoes, dark gloves, and a colorful scarf. OK that last detail might be the one that gives you away on the police tape, but still.) The younger two have been a little harder to convince. They think the store bought costumes will truly transform them. And many years I’ve been too weak to fight the onslaught. But after all those years of wimping out, we’ve accumulated literally hundreds of costumes. Certainly there are plenty of options in our costume bins.

This year I was determined that we would not be like most Americans and spend too much on Halloween, so I started recycling the catalogs before the kids got home from school. A few still squeaked by, but they mysteriously disappeared later that night. I told the kids that this year we were going to make their costumes. My youngest was relentless in his wish to BUY a costume and my talk of the crowded landfills and working conditions in China fell on deaf ears. So finally I caved and agreed to take him to the store. But only to look for ideas. I stressed to the kids that we weren’t there to buy a costume per say, just to “look”. What we needed was inspiration, not a polyester masterpiece for $29.99.

So we headed to the store to see all the new costumes on display this year. I must say that many of the costumes seemed a little too adult for me. We cruised the aisles admiring and wondering over all that we saw. In the end we left with a pair of fake eyelashes which inspired a fancy witch with big orange lashes costume and a plastic sword for the “knight-deatheater-with-a-sword” costume my youngest has planned. Either way, I’m happy because I only spent $10.

If my kids hadn’t gotten on board and become agreeable and then excited about the idea of creating “their own costumes”, I was prepared to bribe them. I figured I’d rather spend money on something of value, like a trip to Borders, than more over-packaged, fake looking costumes from China. In the end, that wasn’t necessary because my children trust their own creative capabilities.

This year, I challenge you to come up with your own costumes from what you have. Purchasing a prop or two is fine, but try to stay away from the “all in one bag” costumes. Homemade costumes always win at the costume contests anyway. Plus this is a wonderful chance for your kids to use their imagination and learn a great lesson being resourceful.

Another idea for an ecologically responsible costume is to rent one. Local theaters typically rent costumes as a fund raiser. It’s a great way to get an authentic costume and support the arts. These can be pricey and most are for adults, so this might only work for your older teens or your own fantasies, but it’s a great idea and a true win-win.

Children’s magazines are full of homemade costumes. If you’re crafty, this might be the way to go; although even these can get pricey depending on how particular you are about materials. The key is to not only be creative, but reasonable.

We live on a rural road and have never had a trick or treater dare our driveway, so I haven’t got any great words of wisdom on healthy treats that won’t make kids turn up their noses. As much as I believe in organic, whole food, Halloween is a whole nother ballgame. All bets are off. Kids want candy. They want the processed, colorful, additive filled kind. And I’m not going to stand in their way. At least not for one night.

If you’re feeling wealthy, there are a few organic treats out there. We’ve had the organic lollipops and the flavors are unique and yummy. Here are a few brands, mentioned in Kiwi magazine –

Yummy Earth Organic Lollipops – about $7.99 for 60 pops.

Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate Minis - $20 for 76 mini chocolate bars,

Endangered Species Bug Bites - $32 for 64,

Surf Sweet Gummy Bears are made with natural colors, flavors, and organic fruit juices. $7.49 for 10 packs,

Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks - $4.59 for 5 packets, (you can find these in a lot of grocery stores, my kids like them but I avoid them because the dentist says so)

I wish it were still acceptable to make Halloween snacks, because homemade popcorn balls, caramel apples, and my awesome cookies would be great to hand out. Sometimes progress is not a good thing. I guess you save those for your own kids.

Each year on Halloween we tag along with friends who live in traditional neighborhoods. This does have the added advantage of enabling us to select a neighborhood that isn’t so big the kids end up with a lifetime supply of candy. But still I wrestle with the question of – do you let them eat it all in one night or dole it out? I haven’t got the answer.

Since this year Halloween falls on a Saturday night, I’m tempted to let them pig out so they can regret it the next day. But that might hurt me too much, so it’s likely I’ll resort to the plan I always use – a hearty helping on Halloween night and then several treats for lunch dessert and after school snack for a few days. I keep their stash out of sight and pull it out so they can choose their favorites first and in just 2 or 3 days, the “unchosen” candy loses its appeal and without the brightly colored plastic pumpkin staring them in the face, they forget about it. When they stop asking for the candy, I put the remains in a ziplock bag and place it in a high cupboard (“just in case” someone remembers), but soon none of us remember it’s there. I come across a hard lump of stale candy from time to time when I’m rooting around looking for my cheesecake pan, but by then I can throw it out with no one the wiser. It’s not a very organized plan, but it’s all I’ve got. If you know a better way to handle Halloween candy – I’d love to hear about it!


  1. I'm with you on this holiday. As much as I detest candy in all forms, I can't bear to stand in the way. Halloween night will be a sugar frenzy for my two who never eat candy, but after that it's a big sugar detox! :)

    I would so much prefer caramel apples, popcorn balls, and cookies to all of the store bought, pure sugar candy.


  2. Hey Cara, here's an easy Pikachu costume tutorial for anyone still scouting around for ideas. I did this for Ryan last year. This year I'm doing a Mario, and a 'dude with a sword through the head' costumes. One thing to keep in mind for home made: hoodies=easy costumes.