Halloween: Candy, Consumption, and Costumes (Oh My!)

An image of a "shocked" skeleton
Image of a lit Jack-O-Lantern
Photo by Łukasz Nieścioruk on Unsplash

Halloween at the end of the month is such an interesting cultural phenomenon in 2023 here in America!  Here is a blog post we wrote last year: The Culture of Costumes on Creative Learning Experiences – Treehouse Learning where we started with some of the positives of supporting imaginative and creative play, especially making costumes! We also wrote this post about finding flexibility, adaptability, and resilience within predictable routines here: Cultivating Flexibility & Resilience, and Adaptability – Treehouse Learning. With that, there is certainly a time and place for out-of-normal-routine experiences like trick-or-treating, or even copious amounts of candy consumption. (More on that too).

Photo by Sebbi Strauch on Unsplash

One of the challenges we have with some cultural expressions and celebrations of Halloween is related to the waste, consumption, and complex environmental and social impacts for all of the expression of a holiday as a social phenomenon (i.e. heavily influenced and shaped by capitalism and consumption, and often inappropriately appropriating other cultures and customs) We invite all families to consider a wide range of possibilities for how we can mark Halloween as an opportunity for imagination, play, and pleasure (and fear, gore, blood, and highly processed sugar!). 

Here are some challenges we’ve identified, as well as some alternative ideas, but please remember that as parents, we can also choose to opt out entirely and simply BUY NOTHING too!

An image of a skeleton
Photo by Sabina Music Rich on Unsplash
  • Pumpkins: 
    • Challenge: Pumpkin Waste and Landfill Trash: Every year, millions of pumpkins are bought, carved, and discarded every year. Literally, tons of organic waste are sequestered in a plastic garbage bag where they cannot break down! Please consider how your family can ensure pumpkins don’t end up in a trash can! 
    • Solution Idea: Growing Pumpkins, or Composting them: Please compost, or if you’d like to bring them here to compost at Treehouse Learning and we’ll help! Last year, we scattered donated pumpkins along the road and campus, and are happy to report multiple volunteer pumpkin patches. 
  • Costumes:
    • Challenge: Wasteful Consumption & Production: The Halloween Costume industry is a multi-billion dollar industry each year that often relies on mass-produced factory costume items that are designed to wind up in a landfill and for consumers to expect to purchase new ones next year. Factory workers are typically paid exploitative wages, work in dangerous conditions, and the “fast fashion” industry consumes vast energy and carbon resources and leads to environmental contamination through waste and pollution. 
    • Solution idea: Make a costume, swap it, or upcycle it! We love to repurpose trash into cool things you can use or wear! Our Tree Planting Party also includes a Costume Swap, and the Ecotober Event also has a costume swap (though our experience is that this is more geared towards older children.). ARC, Goodwill, Sister Carmen, and other local thrift stores also have GREAT costumes too. Can you create a costume out of your existing dress-up box, using only things that can be found or made?
  • Decorations
    • Challenge: 15’ High Skeletons on lawns, headless bodies, and scary, bloody gore! Is anyone else shocked to see how many houses are already decorated and lit for Halloween… and we’re still technically in September?! One must need an entire giant house just to store all these seasonal decorations! Plus, sometimes, the publicly displayed decorations are meant to be quite frightening, and young children each have their own capacity and tolerance for understanding Halloween and “fear” (as well as our own family values).
    • Solution Idea: Thrift Stores, trading with neighbors, and lots of conversations! As with costumes, ARC, Goodwill, and Sister Carmen have incredible decorations too! We support a circular economy (including keeping tax dollars within Boulder County, as well as supporting the people who work at these organizations or are supported by their mission), and buying used, and donating what we don’t need is an easy way to support that.
  • The Candy!!!
    • Challenges: Sugar, Highly Processed chemicals and additives, and wasteful practices. Mass-produced Halloween candy is not actually designed to taste good. It is designed to sell!
      • Candy typically contains inexpensive additives and shelf-stable ingredients that aren’t actually food at all. This also includes chemicals that are banned in Europe (and elsewhere) due to the links between chemical additives (ie. dyes and other preservatives) and cancer/negative health impacts. 
      • Candy and ultra-processed, inexpensive “food-like substances,” are also a contributor to health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease
      • The candy and ultra-processed food industry are connected to larger food and justice inequalities. These include environmental practices (palm oil production typically contributes to rainforest destruction), food deserts, and food swamps (respectively, a lack of healthy/whole food options in a community and an over-representation of shelf-stable, processed, fast food in an urban area). 
      • Our Pearly White Clackers: Sticky candy is not exactly great for our teeth and dental health! 
      • Trash! Individually wrapped candy creates landfill trash through plastic wrappers and plastic-coated cardboard that can’t be recycled.
    • Solution Ideas: Rarely is an “all or nothing” approach a wise idea! There is a sweet spot (pun intended!).
      • Moderation is key. Homemade Cupcakes or cookies are far healthier than candy, despite also containing added sugar. 
      • Perspective is everything: Candy in moderation probably isn’t going to cause long-term harm, but you also won’t “harm” your child either by avoiding or delaying candy exposure as long as possible! 
      • Find a better alternative: When possible, there are also “healthier” alternatives that still are candy, including items that are sustainably sourced or packaged, or use ethically sourced ingredients and that also intentionally avoid some of the worst-offending chemical additives and non-food ingredients. 
      • Consider non-candy options: Also, it is okay to be the kind of family who passes out stickers, pencils, toothbrushes, or apples. It is also okay to close the blinds, turn out the lights, and hide out in the basement pretending like you’re not actually home too.
A lit-up Halloween display of skeletons and lights
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Planning Holiday and Cultural Celebrations at Treehouse Learning

While we don’t “celebrate” holidays here at Treehouse Learning like you might at home with your own family, we do bring awareness, conversation, and stories about many different cultural celebrations and traditions throughout the year, especially those that are relevant to our community of children, staff, and families. This time of year, we love getting to plan creative dress-up, imagination, and costume days at the end of October! Our favorite dress-up day we like to call, “Wear Your Imagination!” We also incorporate an interactive study of squash and pumpkins, which will also include using all parts of the pumpkin, such as roasting the seeds and composting the flesh. We are especially excited this year to explore the multiple “Volunteer Pumpkins” that grew last year! Our program expectation is that candy and treats with added sugar be enjoyed at home though!

We recognize that many of our families celebrate or acknowledge Halloween and that cultural celebrations are part of childhood experiences that involve stories, traditions, planning, and imagination. Also in the upcoming fall weeks, we’ll be engaging with stories, vocabulary, food experiences, and significant items connected with Día de los Muertos, Diwali, and other Cultural and Heritage celebrations in a developmentally appropriate and culturally honoring way, as principled in NAEYC best practices and principles. (Read more here).

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