I’m a lot of fun. I like roller-coasters, drinking sake, and hiking cliffs and ravines, choosing to hop boulders wherever I can. I like almost every sport you can name, I like making up silly songs for my kids, and I like spontaneity in all forms. For all intents and purposes, I can guarantee you this: I am fun. When it comes to Halloween, though, I have what some might call “issues.”
Issue #1: I don’t like scary stuff.
As much fun as I like to think I am, ghoulish monsters, people sneaking up on me from behind dark corners, spooky music, and gory make-up are just not my cup o’ tea.
I should add that our boys are very innocent and sensitive, and partially due to the fact that they do not watch television, they are pretty unadulterated in the scary/spooky/make-believe is supposed to freak you out department.
When our older son was a toddler, Halloween displays would cause him to hide his face and cry as he shook his head back and forth – “NO!”- against my chest until we would remove him from the offending storefront. I once unknowingly parked his pumpkin patch wagon under a life-size creepy gorilla statue at our local pumpkin patch, and only when I looked back at him to see why he had stopped speaking to me mid-sentence did I realize that he was literally paralyzed with fear.
Issue #2: I don’t like my kids to eat a lot of candy.
Ok, now I am kind of sounding like I am a ball of not fun; I know. But hear me out: I enjoy sweets, and I find a treat here and there fine for my older son. As vegans, we have to pick much more carefully what we consume in the sweets department, so we consequently end up eating less sweets than most people if only for the simple reason that the things we can eat are more scarce (we are not much fun for the candy manufacturers who place their wares in the supermarket check-out aisle for example). That being said, my older son had his first sweet at the age of 2 while visiting our family in Israel, and he enjoys a modest sweet once in a while. Fortunately for me and his dentist, he doesn’t really have a sweet tooth and it’s sort of a non-issue; we don’t keep candy or cookies around and he doesn’t really ask for them.
Our younger son is just 2 and he has virtually no desire for anything sweet. I don’t know exactly how we accomplished this, but he would not even partake of his recent birthday cake. Putting all of that together, a holiday that exists to a large part around the consumption of candy and sweets sounds like a problem waiting to happen for me, my husband, our boys, and our dentist.
Issue #3: I don’t like trick-or-treating as an activity for small children.
By now, you probably are totally 100% sure that I am indeed not fun at all, but I simply do not see anything fun about a bunch of small children who should otherwise be tucked into bed snoring gently walking around the streets in darkness wandering from house to house screaming for sweets and potentially getting scared. Now that my older son is 5, he thinks being scared is a neat “big guy” thing, but I also believe strongly that his sweet bravado might crumble in the face of a front yard grave replica, a mummy behind a curtain, or a Freddy Kreuger mask. And then we would be far from home, he would be tired, cranky, and potentially embarrassed and it would just not be… fun.
Now that I have convinced you that when it comes to Halloween, I am not really fun, let me convince you how we make it super fun, and no one feels left out or left behind or scared or anything not fun.
Solution #1: No forcing the scary.
Much as it is inconvenient at this time of year, I don’t need to force my kids to be something that they are not. Their innocence and sensitivity is a feature of their personalities and they will soon enough be calloused by this hard cruel world. For now, I avoid reasoning with them that there is “nothing to be afraid of,” and I help escort them from regions of stores that are scary. I emphasize that it’s not just about being a “big boy,” since some big girls (like Mama) also don’t like being scared. As they get older, they will discover for themselves their comfort level with scariness, and I will one day perhaps be holding their strong and brave hands for protection as we make our way through the drugstore.
Solution #2: Chill out on the candy control and make a little indulgence okay.
This may not work for everyone, but in our family’s experience, a little fun in the food department works, and we don’t have problems reining it back in once Halloween ends. We put limits on sweets: how much (“One or none!” we say with a sincere smile), what time of day (never in the morning, and never before bed), and what kind (thank goodness for vegan substitutes for butter, cream, and gelatin!). This year, I have decided to make a vegan toffee bark as our special Halloween treat. It will be the main sweet we indulge in, and I will let my boys choose the things we decorate it with.
Solution #3: Make your own traditions.
Our favorite alternative to trick-or-treating is organizing a daytime get-together with a simulated “neighborhood” where kids go “door to door” to collect their goodies. We have done this in the park with each family standing at a designated spot with a basket of their items to hand out (non-candy treats are welcomed!). This satisfies the exploratory and adventurous nature of kids at Halloween, and it seems to do the trick, forgive the pun. In our homeschool community, we have park days where we dress up and have a parade, and we also make other activities during the week of Halloween costume-friendly, where appropriate.
The other thing we do as a Jewish family is to appreciate Halloween as an American funday, but to understand that in the Jewish tradition, our fundays also have historical, spiritual, and religious content to them. So for Purim, we don costumes, eat fun food, and we also go to Temple to celebrate a brave Jewish Queen who saved the Iranian Jews from near extermination by the evil Haman thousands of years ago. This emphasis doesn’t mean Purim is better than Halloween, it just means Jewish and secular holidays are different and thus they get different attention.
In our house on All Hallow’s Eve, we eat fun foods like mini egg rolls and vegan chicken nuggets, bob for apples in a deep bowl, carve pumpkins, hang some decorations, and invite over my parents and a few close friends who don’t have kids but want to be a part of a family celebration of this fall festival.
And we have fun. We have fun because we are together doing things with our hands, we are eating special foods and treats we don’t normally eat, and we have fun because we have found a way to be ourselves at a time in our culture where there sometimes seems to be only one way to be.
So this Halloween, I can promise you that I won’t be scared, I won’t be fighting with my kids over candy, and I won’t be walking the streets in darkness. And I will be in the most fun outfit of all: my pajamas and slippers. And if that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what does.