Another Kind of New Year

by Jeanne on November 2, 2009


Halloween, that is. Halloween, as I’ve mentioned before, is my favorite holiday. And not because of the candy. It holds a deeper, even spiritual place in my heart. Ever since I was little, Halloween has been magical for me. Over the years, I haven’t been quite able to explain my feelings for it. Most people assume it’s because of the candy, or the costumes, or the partying. It’s not any of those. But I can’t quite articulate what, exactly, it is.

I recently found out that Halloween (or Samhain, as it’s called by the Celts–to get all pagan for a moment) is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. That sounds right to me. As the daughter of parents whose families came from Wales, Scotland,and Cornwall, three of the 6 Celtic Nations, I think Celtic blood and its customs run through my veins. This day is also the end of the light part of the year and the beginning of the dark part of the year. It’s the time to slow down and reflect. I feel this keenly.

As a young adult living in Seattle, I kept Halloween as my special holiday. If it fell on a weekday, I often took it as my personal day off from work. I spent the day quietly, preparing for the evening. In the evening, I would get together with my friend, Dan, who shares many of my feelings about the holiday, and we would eat dinner, followed by some specially baked item. It was quiet, peaceful, lovely.

Now, as a mom, I get sucked into the big vortex that is Kid’s Halloween. During this season, every single aspect of a kid’s life gets invaded by Halloween. Unfortunately, not the parts that are special to me. I do love the custom of carving jack-o’lanterns and decorating them with lit candles inside. But, for most of the dominant culture, Halloween is about dressing up in crazy costumes (often ones that are expensive), and eating as much candy as possible. Because my daughter has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, and since most mass-produced candy either has peanuts or is manufactured on equipment that also processes peanuts, this candy-extravaganza is stressful for our family. On top of this, my husband and I decided early on that we didn’t want to raise our daughter with a constant supply of candy. For a culture that seems to regard candy as a basic right of childhood, this is akin to heresy. Most people don’t get it. They either look at us funny, or lecture us about the “need” for children to have candy. It’s not that we wholeheartedly hate candy. It’s just that for us, a little, every so often, is fine and is enough. But everyday or most days? No, that doesn’t feel right to us.

Because candy isn’t, and really can’t be the center of our lives, even on a holiday such as this, we have chosen to focus on the community and convivial aspects of the holiday. This feels right to me. Instead of going to the mall, even the tiny mall in the historical building a few blocks away, and trick-or-treating with random merchants, we have persevered in trick-or-treating in our urban neighborhood.

Trick-or-treating is a way for us to connect with our neighbors. When Girlfriend was a baby, we took her trick-or-treating in arms. We went to each house and chatted with the folks for awhile. Each set of neighbors oooo-ed and awe-ed over her and how cute her costume was. That first year and the year or two after, they were surprised that we didn’t want candy. But, they got used to it. Over the years, our closest neighbors, feeling like they wanted to give something to Girlfriend on this treat-oriented night, prepared something special (and non-peanut) as a trick-or-treat gift for Girlfriend. They come out with a tiny jar of Play-Doh, bought just for her. Or a bag of cute stickers. Or a quarter. Each treat is small in size, but is big in intention. These tokens show us that these people have listened to us and our needs and care about us. That they have chosen to make a bit of a special effort for Girlfriend, to let her know that she’s part of the community. It warms me to the core.

As Girlfriend has gotten older, she and D’Ahub and some neighbor families have gone out in a bigger and bigger radius around our house to do trick-or-treating. Most of these folks don’t know us very well, or at all, so they give out candy. Mostly peanut-oriented. We have taught Girlfriend to accept it graciously, say thank you, and move on. After trick-or-treating is over, we would come home and let her pick one safe candy to eat. Then she would play “Candy Store” with the loot. She made this up years ago. She would sit at her little craft table, line up all the candy, put prices on them, and then spend the days ahead playing store. After a couple of days, she got tired of this and D’Ahub would take the candy to work to share with his co-workers.

What I’m hoping that Girlfriend is learning from these experiences is that it’s not about the candy. It’s about the connection and the community. She dearly loves to go out with her neighbor pals, has fun bopping about around the neighborhood, and then spends the rest of the night talking about what everyone’s costumes looked like, and who did what, while she plays store. And no, to answer the question we get asked on a regular basis, we do not let her trade her candy in for money or for a toy. Again, it’s not about the candy and it’s not about getting stuff. It’s about the process and the community.

Over my years as a mom, I have had to learn how to re-find balance and peace on this special night. When Girlfriend was little, I took her trick-or-treating while D’Ahub stayed home and handed out the treats. For the past several years, I have opted to stay home and await the ghouls and goblins who knock on our door. It helps me to slow down and access the part of me that cherishes this night. I turn off all the lights, light candles, and read a book I’ve picked specially for the night (nothing fancy, just a novel that I know I’ll love). And, every so often, there’s a knock on the door and I get the chance to connect with the costumed moppets and the parents who come seeking a bit of conviviality with their treats.

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