Georgina Guedes

The Halloween Grinch

2014-11-03 09:31

Georgina Guedes

Halloween didn’t form a part of my childhood. In South Africa, it wasn’t something we did. I don’t know if we resisted it under the religious banner of the verkrampt old regime or whether we just left the Americans to their candy festival without giving it much thought.

Fast forward 30-odd years, and here we all are dressing our kids up as ghosts and ghouls and Elsa, and letting them loose into a kind of organised chaos to go and beg sweets off our neighbours.

South Africa does Halloween a little differently from the way that they do in the Americas. Because it’s not an established tradition, we don’t stock up our fruit bowls and candy jars in preparation for the event.

Instead, we buy into whatever celebration has been set up in a local park or arranged by a residents’ association. In our neighbourhood, participating houses mark their willingness to proffer treats by tying orange balloons to their front doors.

This is enormous fun for the kids. It lets them get their favourite thing – sweets – by charging around the neighbourhood in a little gang (something that doesn’t happen too often here), knocking on doors and seeing inside houses. And they get to dress up. I fully believe that “just for the joy of it” is a good enough reason to do anything.

The pricking of my conscience

And then, of course, behind the gang of kids, trails the gang of parents, frowning and complaining about the volumes of sweets being procured by sticky little hands. Because modern parenting dictates that we must control their sugar intake, it’s a bit baffling that we have concurrently adopted a celebration that’s all about the saccharine load.

So, this year, as I followed behind the neighbourhood kids, enjoying the sense of community and the astonishing generosity of the people who decorated their houses and supplied the sugar, I felt a twinge of conscience. Here we are, in our privileged suburbs, allowing our children to beg for something that we don’t want them to have.

I tried to think of how to make this better. Including children from less privileged backgrounds seems kind of tacky. We shouldn’t be giving poor kids piles of unhealthy sweet stuff either – especially since we don’t have any assurance that they’re going to go home to a healthy, balanced meal and a good tooth brushing.


What happens in the States

Last week, “Dear Prudie”, Slate’s agony aunt, answered a question from a person in an affluent suburb in the States who whined about how people from less wealthy neighbourhoods ship their children in to the best areas to score the good candy at Halloween. I don’t know what this woman really expected Prudie to do about it, other than suggest that perhaps the sweets should only be handed over if a recent local utility bill is produced by the trick-or-treaters.

Again, this speaks to the perpetuation of privilege. "Our nice children in our nice suburb can have our nice candy, and the rest of y’all can go suck." And for some reason, this year, although I love the sense of fun and community, I did feel that we were engaging in something a little distasteful. It’s never been a part of our culture, so no one can bang that drum in justifying unjustified expenditure.

However, in the States, part of the Halloween door-to-door fun is also collecting money for Unicef. Someone who thinks like I do made little orange spare change collection boxes a part of the process in 1950, so now there’s a strong fundraising element to the proceedings. How very South African of us to have appropriated a cultural event without appropriating the charitable component at the same time.

Collecting more than sugar

So next year, while I will absolutely indulge my children’s joy in trick or treating, I will also make this another opportunity for our family to think about those less fortunate. I will chat to our residents association about including a collection for Unicef, and investigate how best to get them the funds. Because I don’t think that I can abide another year of rampant, thoughtless saccharine acquisition.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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