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Simplify Your Life

How to Turn Halloween Into a Real Treat

October 26, 1998|Elaine St. James

Stress is a major factor in many of our health-related problems. A key way to reduce stress is to simplify. By reducing clutter, commitments, tasks and expenses, your life will streamline into the Stress Free Zone. Elaine St. James tells us how.

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Halloween has become the latest casualty of commercialism. According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween is a more than $2.5-billion industry, second only to Christmas in retail spending. By Labor Day--a full two months in advance--the stores are already stocked with giant bags of candy, costumes, masks, home and yard decorations, party items and toys. Many malls now feature seasonal Halloween stores that cater exclusively to this buying trend. Manufacturers have gotten into the spirit by spending upward of $260 million on advertising to promote Halloween-themed products, from snacks and soft drinks to cereal and even beer.

In simpler times, Halloween was a day of whimsy and fun for children, and a way for neighbors to gather. Costumes were made from items people had on hand--an old white sheet for a ghost, a cardboard cone for a witch's hat, generous dollops of Mom's makeup for goblins and princesses alike. Today, stores sell high-priced but flimsily made wear-it-once-then-throw-it-away costumes depicting movie superheroes, television characters and even political figures. The old pillowcase or paper bag that once carried trick-or-treat loot has been replaced by a slick designer model that can be purchased along with the costume to match.

My own childhood memories of Halloween--and probably yours, too--are of an evening that involved everyone in the neighborhood in a shared social event. Home-carved candle-lit jack-o'-lanterns stood on the porches to light our way. The parents who accompanied us trick-or-treating enjoyed it as much as we did. Almost everyone knew each other, and there was a lot of laughter and fun. We stayed out for an hour or so, then returned home to inventory our treats--many of them home-baked--and to drink hot chocolate and listen to ghost stories.

Today little remains of the simple neighborhood festival we enjoyed so much. Halloween is an entirely different occasion--as if goblins and ghouls have stolen the fun and left a mammoth commercial pumpkin on our doorsteps. It's disturbing that a celebration that once cost little, if anything, and created more laughter than stress has been transformed into a giant consumer albatross that adds clutter to our lives and a lot of nonrecyclable stuff to our landfills.

If you're tired of the commercialization of Halloween, and want to make a difference in your own family and community, here are some ideas to consider. Enlist your friends and make it a neighborhood effort.

1. Decide not to spend. An easy way to start is to refuse to buy any commercial Halloween products. Instead, involve your kids and their friends in a creative event, designing their own costumes and decorations with materials you and your neighbors already have around the house. Award prizes for the best and worst costumes.

2. Make Halloween an occasion to give. I met a woman who told me how she and her friends added a new twist to their annual costume party. They dressed up as vampires and werewolves and passed out fliers on downtown streets urging people to give blood on Halloween. They had fun and made a contribution to the community blood bank at the same time.

3. Create a healthier holiday. According to the International Mass Retail Assn., some $950 million of candy and chocolates is sold during Halloween, making it the biggest candy-selling season of the year. Candy has long been a staple of Halloween, but the traditional commercially packaged candy has little to recommend it. Encourage your kids and the people on your block to find healthier options--such as fruit chews, sesame bars, carob cakes, wild berry granola bars and small packets of trail mix, salt-free pretzels, dried fruits and nuts. Or, if you're one of the growing number of parents who feel it's no longer safe for your children to go door to door, even in your own neighborhood, host your own candied apple or apple-bobbing party as an alternative to trick-or-treating.

4. Emphasize the seasonal aspects. Encourage your family to enjoy the natural beauty of the autumn season. There are many activities for kids to participate in, including carving pumpkins, creating corncob wreaths or baking festive cookies. When it gets dark, you can gather together and tell ghost stories by candlelight. These are simple, fun and inexpensive ways to create lasting Halloween memories for your children.

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Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Christmas" and "Living the Simple Life. For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111, or e-mail her at estjames@silcom.com.

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