When a child is two or three years old he experiences one of life’s biggest miracles. He rings a doorbell, calls out a simple phrase and a grown-up hands him candy! What could be more divine?
The miracle of candy is undoubtedly the bedrock of a child’s love for Halloween. But there are other elements of Halloween in which a child can delight, and they will give him more to savor than just sugary sweets. When young children are invited to fully participate in holiday activities, new traditions are created that make the experience richer for everyone. Let’s start with pumpkins.
A two-year-old child can choose a pumpkin. It might be the most lop-sided, lumpy and unattractive pumpkin we’ve ever seen, and it may not even stand up properly, but does that matter? When we let go of the notion of creating the ‘perfect’ holiday from our point-of-view and allow a child to lead in the fun, it lightens our spirit and our child gains self-confidence when we trust his choices. Participation is the key.
When we bring the lumpy pumpkin home the child can participate in carving it. No, not with a knife of course, but if the child wishes to scrawl something, anything with a pen or crayon on the pumpkin, the parent can then carve the drawing. The child enjoys watching her parent carve out the creation, even if it’s just a crooked line. And when a candle is placed inside, the child’s jack-o-lantern is complete and it is a creation she takes pride in. But if mommy or daddy is carving a masterpiece nearby, the child may not have the incentive to make anything. When we draw, sculpt, carve or even build a sandcastle for a child, we discourage the child from doing those things herself. If the child cannot do as well as mommy or daddy, why bother? The unfortunate result of this is that the child disengages from an activity that might have provided a creative outlet. I witnessed vivid proof of this theory several years ago.
My husband and I brought our three miracle sheet guide-year-old daughter to his company’s family picnic at the park. One of the children’s activities was to decorate T-shirts with tubes of paint. My daughter was given a white T-shirt and we sat at the picnic table together. I was utterly amazed when all the parents who joined the activity with their children showed the children how they should design a T-shirt by painting it themselves. There was not one parent who would let a child freely decorate a T-shirt; the adults completely dominated. “Let’s put a sun over here. And now I’ll write your name.” Was it because it was a T-shirt and not just a piece of paper? Was a T-shirt too valuable to leave in the hands of a three-, four-, five-, six- and even seven-year-old? Would the child’s creation not be ‘good enough?’
The end result of this spontaneous experiment was illuminating indeed. The T-shirts were hung out to dry in a tree. None of the children showed the slightest interest in the finished T-shirts. The parents retrieved them after they had dried, but the children could not have cared less. They had contributed nothing to the shirts and felt no ownership.
Meanwhile my daughter, Charlotte, sat completely absorbed, as she took a tube of paint and squeezed it to make a short vertical drip on her T-shirt. Young children are usually more inclined to experiment with the mechanics of art materials than they are to conjure up a design. She chose another color and made another line on her shirt. Enjoying this process with all her senses, she made one line after another, each with a different tube of paint.
Charlotte and I lingered, long after the other children, who had watched their parents paint designs on T-shirts, had left the table. There were just a few latecomers left. When Charlotte finally finished she admired her work. “I’m an artist,” she said thoughtfully. “Yes, you are,” I responded. A parent across from us smiled at me in a conspiratorial and slightly demeaning way. We hung Charlotte’s T-shirt up to dry and she wanted to check on it twenty minutes later. At the end of the company picnic, she proudly took it home.
This event was a profound lesson for me, and it reinvigorated my belief that children must be left alone to direct their artistic endeavors. There is little reason for a child to be involved in an art project if it is not produced solely by the child. Well-meaning parents who demonstrate their own creative talents for children risk making them feel incapable, discouraged and disinterested. Children should be trusted to participate, not only in art projects but in all the activities they encounter, to the furthest extent of their capabilities. Now let’s return to a child’s participation in Halloween.
A child as young as two is capable of choosing his Halloween costume. When Charlotte was two she said she wanted to be a “kitty-cat.” If I was crafty I could have made something with her, but instead I took her to a costume store and she chose between the several cat costumes they had. She chose a black, cartoonish cat costume and wore it well.
Charlotte’s costume choice was the beginning of a long line of yearly costume decisions made by my three children. Halloween should be a time of fantasy. What other day in the year are we encouraged to live out a wish to be someone or something other than who we are? Parents should not suggest costumes to a child. It is much more interesting to wait to see what the child comes up with all on his own. And when we allow our child to initiate his choice, we encourage him to express his inner desires.
Once children are donned in their fantasy garb, the Trick-or-Treating and parties they take part in should be as wholesome and child-friendly as possible. Less is more, and going to the houses of a few jolly neighbors is best. Beware of parties where people dress for shock value, like the one where an acquaintance of mine, who should know better, dressed as a drunken wife-beater. That may have been his fantasy, but it was a bit too real for my tastes. Children do not understand horror costumes, or people covered in blood. Sensitive beings that they are, young children frighten easily. My daughter Madeline’s first Halloween night was almost ruined by a talking pumpkin that terrified her when it spoke the nightmarish words: “Give me your candy!”
My youngest child, Ben, had a more glowing first Trick-or-Treat experience. We had just left our house with Ben attired in his chosen outfit: a ghost in a sheet, when it began to rain. We visited a couple of houses before it started pouring. I picked Ben up and ran with him down the street, both of us giggling. We stopped at just one more house where a party was in progress, and there outside stood a tall, lovely woman in an elaborate angel costume offering candy. When we got home Ben burst into the house soaking wet and exclaimed to his dad, “I saw an angel!” A celestial vision and the heavenly taste of candy made for an indelible first impression of Halloween.