Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?
However tempted I am to say something like, "Halloween was simpler when we were kids!"; it's just not true. When I was of trick-or-treating age, I was faced with an enormity of moral and safety concerns each October 31st. My family, very faithful Conservative Baptists, approached Halloween with great suspicion thanks to its age-old ties to the Devil himself. A few years, we went to church on Halloween for witch-free celebrations (that's where I got my first goldfish!); I always chose "good" costumes, princesses and fairies and, ok, I really only ever wanted to be a princess. Also, we had the specter of razor blades and poison, which must have happened one time ever, and yet most of our parents were sure there were razor blade vendors on every block. Beware of the caramel apples! Take heed of the popcorn balls!
This year, in Portland, we have a modern flavor on the ages-old debate over Halloween. At Buckman Elementary, costumes will be banned for the second consecutive year; the principal "says celebrating Halloween at school excludes some kids and can be very offensive." (My six-year-old's school, Grout, is allowing costumes but banning weapons and gory/offensive/skimpy "content.") This has brought up all the debates you'd think ("what's happened to childhood?" "Halloween is an American celebration" "children need to have the opportunity to use their imaginations and dress up, but I do not believe this needs to be accomplished through Halloween"), and a few new twists. A few commenters on Think Out Loud said that they were disallowed from costumes by their family due to strict religious beliefs, and they appreciated the opportunity to stand up for their beliefs (in one case) or to soak up the "normalness" of the culture around them (in another case).
I'm not very passionate either way on this one; costumes at school, for me, means I have to have them ready earlier (I'm a very-last-minute homemade costume aficionado). And I do understand that they are distracting from the learning environment, and agree that there are ample times outside of school to wear costumes. On the other hand, I disagree that Halloween costumes in particular create disparity and cultural discomfort. As one commenter said and I agree wholeheartedly: these differences are always apparent, and Halloween costumes don't highlight them more or less than any other day at school. In my experience, you can see the cultural/economic differences best in the clothing worn to school when it's cold and rainy outside. (And as someone who was once a very poor high school student and is now a high school coach, I'm telling you, the disparity issues only get worse and more obvious every day that goes by in public school.)
Want more reasons to feel ambivalent about Halloween? The candy. It's not just probably pretty bad for you and your kids (and even I let my kids gorge for a day or two on Halloween and a few other holidays; childhood, right?). It's also the product of child slave labor.
"A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions. Many of them have been taken from their families and sold as servants. U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations, since they don't own them. This group includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the U.S. division of Cadbury."
I've been buying fair-trade chocolate for a while now for many reasons; first, the sort of thing that keeps me up at night is the awful working conditions and environmental destruction of tropical crops like sugar and chocolate. (Bananas and coffee too; I'll spare you the rant on these.) The terrible conditions of sugar plantations include workers so desperately poor they are little more than slaves. Once I stopped eating most processed sugar and other processed foods, when I do eat some, I get headachey and depressed. But this tips the scales for me; kids the age of my own kids are sold by their relatives to hack cocoa fruits out of trees, and Hershey and Mars say "hey, it's not our department."
I don't really know what to do here. I'll still let my kids trick or treat; it seems too much to ask to deprive them from it. But I'll be going to People's for a package of fair-trade chocolate (Theo and Equal Exchange are my favorite and a package of mini bars -- while smaller in net weight -- isn't a lot different in cost-per-item than Hershey's) to hand out.
And I'm telling my kids about why I'm getting sniffly and passionate about this. Because I want the world to be a safe place for all kids, everywhere; and I think kids in other countries deserve fun and imagination too, Halloween costumes or no.
HT: I originally read about this issue on Rage Against the Minivan -- great post!