21 Oct 2011

Halloween Out of the Attic

Halloween keeps changing down the generations, from a time when tricks and pranks were more the rule than treats, to the Peanuts pilgrimage through suburban streets demanding candy (or begging for it, as some parents view the tradition), to the apparent safety of adult-monitored Halloween parties of today. But by opening up the floodgates to the fantastic and the mildly gruesome it remains many a child’s favorite holiday after Christmas—as well as many adults’ (excluding those who plump for Thanksgiving).

The keys to those floodgates don’t just lie within the malls and pop-up costume stores and the fantastic doesn’t only come in the form of injection-molded PVC masks, which can release hormone-disrupting phthalates that children breathe in. Grandparents have their own storehouses of the imagination locked away in closets, attics and basements: discarded work clothes and fabrics from a lifetime ago, tools and implements that may now well be obsolete, costume jewelry. As a child, I unearthed an old welder’s mask from my grandfather’s work space and its blank, black face and rectangle of darkened glass took life (accurately or not) as a deep-sea diver’s helmet, the head of an alien robot, and a radiation mask to face a post-apocalyptic world.

photo credit: reelsinmotion/flickr

credit: reelsinmotion/Flickr

Our homes are lodged with trivial castoffs whose obsolescence is vital to a child’s imagination—the more completely outmoded and useless an object, the more it opens itself up to uses no one has ever put it to before. One joy of grandparenting comes with helping the children in your life dismantle and suture together the hoard in the basement. You can call it “bricolage” after the French or “adaptive reuse,” to borrow a term from smart growth—and it doesn’t require an art degree. As we suggest in “Homemade Halloween,” even worn-out khakis can play a vital role in an Indiana Jones costume.

phpto credit: Americanvirus/Flickr

Credit: Americanvirus/Flickr

The jewelry box may contain baubles of all kinds to enhance an older child’s costume. Take care, however, with jewelry and ensure that if an older child is allowed borrow a piece or two younger children won’t have an opportunity to swallow it or prick themselves. Be vigilant as well that children get nowhere near firearms or other weapons; given the opportunity, kids can be disturbingly adept at finding dangerous items—and have no concept of the harm they can do.

photo credit: wishymom/Flickr

Credit: wishymom/Flickr

Makeup can be key to the look and for this you are better off using your own supplies than the low-grade theatrical makeup sold in costume shops, which may contain lead or other toxics. To be sure, check products for safety on
the Campaign for Safe Comsetics database. And, in any case, test for a reaction by applying a small amount on a forearm and letting it sit for an hour before applying it to a child’s face. Or skip the makeup entirely and devise masks out paper plates, construction paper or papier mache.

If you need to see more finished costumes to motivate you, check out this slideshow of 25 costumes made from recycled materials at The Daily Green.

As for candy, your neighborhood may trick-or-treat, or the parents may prefer Halloween parties. If you host a party or bring supplies, consider avoiding bags of candy bars and either baking up goodies yourself from wholesome ingredients
or opting for USDA Organic and Fair-Trade certified treats from sources like the Sierra Club, Global Exchange, Green and Black’s, Newman’s Own, Endangered Species. Get the basics on what to look for in “Halloween Treats.”