If you’re not a parent you might not be aware that there is a debate being waged lately around -of all topics- Halloween candy.
There seems to be two distinct camps, one favours a candy-less Halloween, using approaches like the Switch Witch, who comes to visit children’s homes after trick or treating and takes their candy in exchange for a gift (or something? I am not up to date on the entire Switch Witch mythology, for me it falls into the same bewildering category of parenting as the Elf on the Shelf) .
The other camp is made up of parents imploring the candy police to just back off and let their kids have some fun. It’s one night! Who cares!
I think I fall somewhere in the middle on this great, and vastly important, debate. OK, maybe a little more toward the first camp.
What this means is that after trick or treating I didn’t take Olive’s candy completely, but I did ask her to choose three pieces to keep (three pieces because she’s three years old. I had to make it something easy like that, otherwise how would I remember this cruel, arbitrary rule for next year’s somber, candy-reduced festivities?). The rest gets donated.
My thinking on this is pretty simple: Like all other holidays, I want Olive to enjoy Halloween for the experience, not what she gets from it. I’d prefer Christmas be about family rather than gifts, I’d prefer Valentine’s Day be about love rather than roses and chocolates, and I’d like Halloween to be about the thrill of dressing up as a dragon and running around way past your bedtime, hollering at neighbours doors, rather than stuffing your face into a sugar coma.
For those calling foul on a non-fun holiday, I wish you could have seen this kid. Olive was in love with trick or treating. There were pumpkins lit up and down the street, ghouls and goblins and princesses passed us by, and at each house her face lit up when the people inside answered the door. It would be silly to say that candy doesn’t factor in at all – after each house she’d look into her little bag and exclaim, “MORE candy? I get MORE candy?!” but that thrill didn’t dissipate one bit when she had to choose her three later on.
And fuck, I mean, I’m not against candy – just like I’m not against gifts or flowers. I don’t ban it or forbid it – who has the energy? It’s not the candy that’s the issue.
It’s the excess that bothers me. And this idea that celebrations need to involve excess isn’t a child’s idea, it’s an adult’s.
Olive had exactly zero problems choosing only three pieces. I was hardly ripping candy from a screaming child’s hands. In fact, it was quite fantastic to see how seriously she treated the exercise. She took her time, and we explained what each candy was and she changed her mind several times. When she had decided, she ran and put the pieces on the dresser, and she has not mentioned them since.
Guys, it’s not about the candy. Not at this age, anyway.
It’s about laughing at your mom as she tries to draw on a cat’s nose, and making the last-minute decision that you want whiskers, too. It’s standing with stage-fright at the first door you knock on, and loudly correcting everyone who calls you a dinosaur. It’s carving the little flat-sided pumpkin you picked out yourself, and having your face light up when you see it in the dark, filled with flickering candles for the first time.
It’s not about the candy.
And yes, yes, the candy does serve a purpose. I mean, it’s why we’re trick or treating in the first place! So of course she should have some. What, then, is the point of making her choose three?
It’s so that she learns that she can have some of it without needing to have all of it. It’s so when she’s older she can learn that you can have two or three drinks and be pleasantly tipsy, without feeling like you have to keep drinking until the drinks are gone. It’s moderation, and it’s a terribly unsexy concept and it does involve excess occasionally, but mostly it means knowing when to say enough, and, more than that, that it’s still fun if you say enough.
Fun doesn’t equate to excess. Or it doesn’t have to, anyway. And somehow we get it into our heads that without these things – the overabundance of gifts or the piles of candy – the holiday will be meaningless. I get it, we all want our kids to have fun. So do I. It’s why we do it, right?
But I can tell you, as someone who paints wooden eggs for her to find on Easter instead of buying chocolate ones, and says no gifts at her birthday party, and asks her to choose three pieces of candy from the pile in front of her, the fun doesn’t disappear when the stuff does. I promise.
They know that far, far better than we do, these children who have more fun playing in the box than with the gift that came in it.
They know, that is, it until we teach them otherwise.