For my daughter, Halloween is the epitome of holidays. She has always been enamored with the festivities and creativity if this fall holiday. In fact, when she got her first costume as toddler, she wore Pooh Bear around all day and would have a tantrum if I wanted her to take it off. We went on hikes as Pooh Bear, she slept as Pooh Bear, she ate as Pooh Bear, etc….Now that she is a teenager, her joy for Halloween is no less. She starts planning next year’s costume on November 1.
Unfortunately for my daughter, I do not share her enthusiasm for Halloween. I hate how the holiday has become yet another example of the commercializing of childhood, not to mention the candy.
Here are some ideas to help your family’s Halloween be more eco-friendly, especially the costumes, candies, and decorations.
4 Green Halloween Costumes Ideas
Halloween has certainly changed since my childhood. During my youth, it was rare to have a store bought costume, even in my affluent neighborhood. The store bought costumes looked and smelled cheap. We were more creative. We raided our dad’s closets and became hobos or had mothers that sewed unique costumes. I still remember a friend that covered her body in purple balloons and was a bunch of grapes!
Today, Halloween has evolved into children wanting costumes that represent characters. Licensed costumes made of toxic materials prevail. Sure some children were Batman or Darth Vadar in my childhood, but just visit a Halloween costume store and see the variety of movie and TV characters available. There’s more than one Batman, who knew? Costumes are still cheaply made, but they are costly. More concerning than the price is the toxicity of the materials, such as vinyl, especially the masks.
For girls, skirts have gotten shorter and corsets common. Since when did Halloween become the time to dress like a prostitute? Even Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz now wears a mini-skirt. For boys, big fake muscles are added to super hero costumes. What sorts of body image messages are we sending our children?
Shopping with my children for a costume is a huge challenge. We visited two Halloween stores and walked out empty-handed. Fortunately my daughter recognized the quality and price of the costumes, as well as the cheap, synthetic fabrics. My son wanted to be Batman, but the costumes were so toxic, I couldn’t do it.
What to do instead?
1. Choose a practical costume:
One year my son was a motocross rider. He does ride dirt bikes, and he needed new pants and a jersey anyways. His costume became his new riding gear, so it got lots of use. This year, he will be a fisherman. Yes, he already is a fisherman, but now we can buy him skins as part of his costume, and he can use them on the boat for years. As a child with special needs, he is more comfortable not wearing a mask or fabrics that will cause sensory issues.
If your child takes ballet, why not be a ballerina? If you child rides horses, why not be a jockey? If you encourage your child to chose a costume of their real life interest, you will have to buy less and what you buy will last long beyond the holiday. You will also be supporting their life-long interests.
2. Challenge your children to chose a hero, historical figure, or have a literary theme for their costume:
Avoid Hollywood! Why are movie characters the dominant costumes these days? I think it would be really fun if schools inspired children to dress up like historical figures. It would be educational and creative. Just imagine your child’s response when someone asks, “Who are you?” Or imagine if your children and their friends chose a book to represent, each of them being a character. The creativity would abound!
3. Shop thrift stores:
When I was in college, I had so much fun shopping in thrift and consignment stores for my costume. Sure there are plenty of costumes in thrift stores, but I was more inspired by the old clothing to create a unique look. Take your child to the thrift store and see what inspires them! Don’t be afraid to use scissors and alter the shape to create! The best zombie costumes come from thrift stores.
4. Look for natural fibers and dress up play
You are not going to find many natural fibers in costume shops, but you will find them in thrift stores or online stores. Most of the natural fiber costumes you find in catalogues like Magic Cabin are made of silk. The dramatic play costumes of my children’s toddler years made great costumes during Halloween and were used often for dramatic play throughout the year. The natural fibers are inviting to children, and they want to touch and wear them. They are perfect for sensory issues, and they inspire creative dramatic play, an important part of childhood development.
If using makeup, make sure it is natural. This may be challenging to find, but you local health food store is a great resource.
Now that you got the costume figured out, what about the candy?
4 Green Halloween Candy Ideas
Trick or treat! Does anyone ever chose “trick”? What does it mean? According to historical information, it started out as trick AND treat:
Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Known as souling, the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money and ale.
In Scotland and Ireland, young people took part in a tradition called guising, dressing up in costume and accepting offerings from various households. Rather than pledging to pray for the dead, they would sing a song, recite a poem, tell a joke or perform another sort of “trick” before collecting their treat, which typically consisted of fruit, nuts or coins.
Irish and Scottish immigrants brought the tradition to the United States, where the trick origin of the holiday, as well as other aspects of the holiday were forgotten. After World War II’s sugar rationing ended, candy companies began nationally promoting the holiday. Now almost 70 years later, children come home with pillow cases heavily laden with enough candy to last for years. What to do about all that candy?
1. Give out only organic, eco-friendly candy:
Thankfully, the organic candy companies are now making small, Halloween size treats. There’s a plethora of choices from organic lollipops to organic gummy bears at your local health food store or coop. If giving chocolate, make sure it is fair trade. Avoid candy that contains GMO ingredients or high fructose corn syrup. You don’t need that kind of negative karma harming children’s health just to save a few dollars. It’s unfortunate that homemade treats aren’t trusted anymore, as kids go to neighbor’s houses they do not know, but perhaps you could make some cookies for your friends’ children. Of course, you could just give out pencils and stickers, but that might disappoint the kids.
2. Participate in a candy buy back program:
There are many candy buy back programs. You can find them sponsored by local dentists or by companies. One such program is by Spry:
The annual Halloween Candy Buy Back program is back to shine for another year. In 2005, the organization was founded as a way to get kids’ excess Halloween candy “off the streets.” The program has since teamed up with Spry and Operation Gratitude; together they will partner with dentist offices nationwide to collect children’s Halloween candy to send to the troops overseas along with toothbrushes and necessary oral care items. This simple act of kindness not only gives soldiers a “Halloween away from home,” but it enables children to exchange their Halloween candy and receive a token in return, whether it be a new toothbrush, a dollar per pound of candy exchanged, or other small prizes provided by participating dental practices.
3. Create your own buy back program
Since our very first Halloween as parents, we have created our own buy back program. Our children are allowed to keep any natural candy they collect, but the rest is put aside and given away. We then go to the health food store and let them buy replacement candy or they can chose a toy or something else they desire. They don’t need or miss all that sugar and artificial ingredients, and they know all that junk food will make them sick. It is not a one-for-one trade, and they don’t mind. Quality over quantity!
4. Practice reverse trick or treating or performing tricks!
The idea of reverse trick or treating, where children give out fair trade chocolate and information to their neighbors seems to have waned, but it is something you could do on your own. Your family could chose an issue you care about, such as saving a local forest or protecting an endangered species, and then hand out information to your neighbors while trick-or-treating.
Alternately, you could have your child perform tricks! Let’s bring back the tricks! Try it with the children that come to you door. Answer, “trick” and see what they do!
4 Green Halloween Decorating Ideas
I recently took a bag of old clothing to the local mission thrift store, and there was a sign saying “We can no longer accept Halloween items.” When the thrift stores are turning away donations, it’s a sign that there is too much junk out there. Halloween does not have to be another gluttonous American holiday. We can scale it back and by making our own decorations and reusing what exists.
1. Visit thrift stores
While looking for your child’s costume, you can look for decorations. There is plenty that can be made from old sheets and a pair of scissors, in addition to commercially-made items that have been discarded.
2. Choose an organic pumpkin for your Jack-o-Lantern
Even though you will not be eating the pumpkin you carve, it is still important to go organic for the sake of the soil, water, and health of farm workers and communities. An organic pumpkin will cost a little more, but it is cheap when you consider the greater impact. Better yet, grow your own pumpkins. It’s too late for that this year, but plan for it next year. Your children will love to watch their pumpkins grow leading up to this day. Alternately, find an organic pumpkin patch and have a family outing. My fondest childhood memories of Halloween are the trips to the pumpkin patch.
3. Use natural materials for decorations and make your own
Look for soy or natural beeswax candles to create a spooky effect. You can make your own cobwebs from natural, cotton string which is cheap to buy in large quantities at hardware stores. Corn stalks make great fall decorations too. Visit Pinterest and look for natural Halloween crafts and decorating ideas. There is a plethora of ideas!
4. Don’t decorate
A simple Jack-o-Lantern on the front porch really is enough. Don’t feel obligated to decorate unless your heart is in it.
Halloween does not have to be a toxic, unhealthy holiday. We can change it in our families and communities with a few small steps. Choose one or two of these ideas to start. Discuss them with your children. You may still end up with a toxic, licensed movie character costume, but at least a conversation will occur about natural materials and health. Let’s make Halloween less scary for our environment and our bodies!