Coping with the candy, costumes and carving of All Hallow’s Eve

Originally published in Chicago Parent magazine, October, 2009
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What is it with parents who are so obsessed with Halloween safety that they spoil the innocent joy of children eating candy corn, bobbing for apples and, of course, worshiping Satan?

“Oh Sweetie, you look so darling!”

“I’m a ballerina, Mommy!”

“Yes, Honey, a beautiful ballerina. Now, you have fun trick-or-treating but remember our rules.”

“Yes, Mommy. ‘Always hold Jimmy’s hand.’ ”

“Right! Hold your brother’s hand. And—?”

” ‘Always hold Daddy’s hand.’ ”

“Good! And—?”

” ‘Always hold the hands of the two security guards you hired.’ ”

“My smart little ballerina! And what do we do if we should happen to spot a stranger anywhere within 500 yards?”

“Um … ‘Stop, drop and roll’?”

“C’mon, honey. We went over this.”

” ‘Duck and cover’?”

“No, that’s just for nuclear attacks. Remember? ‘When a stranger’s not a dream, open wide and—’”

” ‘Scream, Scream, SCREEEEAM!’ ”

“Good girl! Only make it more high pitched and piercing, OK?”

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”

“Better. Now, do you have everything? Glow-in-the-dark candy pail … reflective tape … flashlight … backup flashlight—”

“Mommy, it’s almost noon. I want to go!”

“… whistle … air horn … cell phone … taser. Honey, I’ve changed my mind about the pepper spray. You’re too young to carry it. Let’s give it to Jimmy. He’s almost 9.”

“Aw!”

“Now, off you go to Aunt Ellen’s house, but don’t eat any of her candy until I’ve X-rayed it. Have fun and be back here in 20 minutes.”

It’s the ancestors’ fault

Partially to blame for fanning our Halloween hysteria is, of course, the Media, grown so irresponsible that they barely deserve to be capitalized. But perhaps it is better that we gain an understanding of this holiday by exploring its ancient origins, which can be found, according to most historians, in the past.

According to 15 minutes of exhaustive Internet research, Halloween is celebrated in much of Western society, most commonly in the United States, Canada, Ireland and Scotland. Known as “All Hallow’s Eve,” the name was popularized by the Scots as “Hallowe’en,” a Gaelic term that translates, roughly, as “Are you going to eat all that?”

Immigrants arriving in America in the 19th century shortened the name from “Hallowe’en” to “Halloween” so they wouldn’t sound so, you know, Europy. They brought with them the custom of carving festive jack-o’-lanterns from turnips, a vegetable they quickly abandoned in favor of the pumpkin, though in a concession to their Old World traditions, families still gathered at Christmas to trim the rutabaga.

As the popularity of Halloween grew, so too did the use of the traditional holiday colors of black and orange, so evocative of the autumn season. The colors yellow and white were added in the 1920s due to the powerful lobbying efforts of the Candy Corn Growers of America.

Halloweenies

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to date back to pagan times when Druids walked the Earth, their huge gnashing razor-sharp teeth, rending talons and powerful spiked tails making them unequaled as nature’s perfect predators.

No, wait a minute. We’re thinking of dinosaurs. Druids came later. They just had regular teeth, and we think they wore robes.

Halloween historians, or “Halloweenies” as the bullies in the mathematics department taunt them, speculate that trick-or-treating evolved from the harvest festival that was so much a part of the Druidic religion of the Celts. The harvest festival began on Oct. 31 and involved the lighting of bonfires and, to appease evil spirits, the sacrifice of animals and sometimes humans, which made for some interesting “tricks.”

Pagan Dad: “Thor! Skullsplitter! Come down here, boys, and take a look outside our dirt hovel. It seems that someone has accidentally dropped their wallet! Why don’t you go outside and pick it up?”

Pagan Son No. 1 (groaning): “Dad, are you trying to trick us into being the village sacrifice again?”

Pagan Dad: “Well, I just … that is, I …”

Pagan Son No. 2: “That is so pagan!”

Pagan Dad: “You watch your mouth, youngster, or I’ll sacrifice you myself!”

Pagan Son No. 1: “Look, Dad, maybe that old trick worked with our brother Baldur—”

Pagan Son No. 2: “And our other brothers, Rind, Vali, Loki—”

Pagan Son No. 1: “And our sisters, Nanna, Frigga, Sigya—”

Pagan Son No. 2: “And Ed.”

Pagan Son No. 1: “Oh right, Ed. Anyway Dad, that may have worked … well, more than once. But how dumb do you think we are? I mean, what century are you living in, man, ’cause me and Skull are in, like, the second!”

Pagan Son No. 2: “C’mon Thor. Let’s go finish carving our turnip.”

Pagan Dad: “Wait! Hear that chanting, boys? The villagers say they have Prince Albert in the can. You want to go see?”

Pagan Boys: “Yeah, cool!”

Careful carvings

Against this dire historical backdrop, small wonder that Halloween has become synonymous with the phrase, “Cut the eyeholes bigger!” Yet of all the dangerous aspects surrounding Halloween, arguably the most perilous is pumpkin carving, which offers the triple threat of knives, fire and pumpkin guts.

Here are some general safety tips:

– When carving, avoid cuts by keeping your fingers tightly curled inside your pockets.

– For a special holiday taste treat, have the kids separate the seeds from the pulp, carefully placing them on a large sheet of waxed paper. Later, when everyone’s gone out trick-or-treating, toss the mess in the garbage.

– Have children draw an elaborate spooky face on the outside of the pumpkin. Parents can then haphazardly cut out two mismatched triangles for eyes and what appears to be a mouth while swearing at each other.

– Treat your pumpkin with the same respect you would a turnip.

Halloween costumes also present risks to children that can be avoided if parents are careful to not be idiots. Some less obvious costume safety tips include:

– Know your colors. “Fluorescent” means DayGlo or neon. “Luminescent” means radioactive.

– When using makeup, check the ingredients. Watch out for phrases such as “corrosive,” “permanent” and “untested.”

– Reflective tape enhances costume safety. Consider having your child masquerade as a roll of reflective tape.

Just as costumes pose certain dangers to children, they can also threaten the mental health of parents. For example, when selecting a costume for your child, remember this simple rule: Don’t select a costume for your child. Instead, let your child select his or her costume. It will be Spider-Man. Buy it at the store. Problem solved.

Yet, some parents take genuine pleasure in crafting a unique costume for their child, knowing that in years to come they both will share an indelible memory of the forging of an important bond.

Family psychologists refer to these parents as “big pains” while sticking their finger down their throat and gagging. These are the sorts of parents who design costumes that Leonardo de Vinci might have created had Velcro existed in the 16th century. And they’re humble. My God, they’re so annoyingly humble! Especially at your child’s classroom Halloween party.

Normal Human Mom: “Wendy, Rebecca’s costume is lovely. Her tiara looks so real. So do her wings. Is her dress actual silk?”

Inhuman Overachiever: “Well, luckily I had some scraps saved from my Great-Great-Grandmother Portia’s cotillion dress. It’s amazing how well they made textiles back in the 1870s. I’m just relieved it fits Rebecca. I began work on it a year ago and she’s been growing like a weed. Your Billy’s costume is quite something, too. He’s …?”

Normal Human Mom: “A hobo. Actually, a sort of hobo-Spider-Man, I think. We made it 15 minutes ago after Billy told me the party was today. He’ll have a much better costume tonight.”

Inhuman Overachiever: “That’s great! What is it?”

Normal Human Mom: “Um, either a dinosaur or a Druid. Which one just wears a robe?”

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Dave Jaffe, the father of two boys, is Chicago Parent’s special correspondent, with emphasis on “special,” not “correspondent.”

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