Halloween has become the second biggest consumer event of the year after Christmas, with North Americans spending more than $6.5 billion and Canadians purchasing about $1.5 billion of that each year. Costumes, candies and decorations top the list of goodies — Halloween accoutrements made in China are shipped here and disposed of shortly after.
Like Christmas, the meaning of Halloween has been set aside in favour of profit. The ancient Gaels held a festival called Samhain on this date, a celebration of the end of harvest season, when livestock was slaughtered for winter stores, supplies was stocked up, bonfires were lit, and costumes and masks were worn to ward off evil spirits. In Gaelic culture, it was believed the line between the living and the dead disappeared on October 31, and the dead could cause the living problems such as illness or crop damage.
Halloween arrived in Canada in the late 1800s along with Scottish and Irish immigrants. Halloween dinners and balls, the telling of Celtic legends, and bobbing for apples became tradition here. Halloween postcards were distributed throughout the States between 1905 and 1915, as well as Halloween figurines and decorations, marking the commercialization of the holiday. Costumes began being mass-produced in the 1930s and trick-or-treating came about in the 1950s. The 1990s saw a rise in manufactured decorations. Today, the holiday is a major consumer affair creating heaps of waste.
Traditionally, in Ireland, jack-o’-lanterns used to be carved from a turnip or rutabaga to scare off evils. In North America, though, pumpkins were found to be easier to carve and readily available at harvest time. In 2006, U.S. farmers harvested nearly 17,200 hectares of pumpkins, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Many households carve several pumpkins for Halloween. The problem is, many of these pumpkins aren’t used for food and end up in landfills after the holiday, creating greenhouse gas emissions. Go green and limit your pumpkin purchase to one organic or pesticide-free pumpkin, or better yet, grow your own. Make use of the pumpkin by using the seeds and meat as food. Compost the pumpkin remains in a backyard composter or indoor vermicompost and turn the pumpkin waste into a valuable soil amendment. Alternately, the city’s free annual Leaf and Pumpkin Composting Program runs until November 9. Consult www.calgary.ca for drop-off locations.
Almost $2 billion was spent on candies last year, making it all the more clear that worldwide hunger is not a problem related to food shortage, but rather, how our food resources are being allocated. A 2006 estimate of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says 854 million people worldwide are undernourished. The over-consumption of sugar causes tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes — all major health problems in North America. Forget about consuming genetically modified, sugar-laden, heavily packaged candy and choose something more traditional like homemade candied applies. It will be more enjoyable both for kids and adults, and leave lasting memories rather than cavities, weight gain and indigestion.
As costume and decoration trends change, these items eventually join candy wrappers and pumpkins in our frighteningly ever-expanding landfills. Try making your own costume, purchasing a second-hand costume or renting a costume for the night. Go plastic-free in both your costumes and household decorations. Instead, light some soy or beeswax candles, decorate with items from around your yard and garden like pinecones or cornhusks, or save yourself the bother and go decoration free.
Celebrating the holidays doesn’t have to mean spending money you don’t have, burdening the environment or outdoing your neighbours. Learn about what Halloween means and base your celebrations on tradition this year instead of joining in on yet another event hijacked by rampant, destructive consumerism.
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds take minutes to prepare and require one hour of cooking time. Rinse the seeds in water, and then spread them on a cookie sheet. Allow them to dry overnight. Preheat oven to 250 F. Toss the dried seeds in a splash of olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, garlic powder or your choice of seasoning. Bake about one hour, tossing every 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Allow seeds to cool, and serve as a wholesome snack (they contain such nutrients as manganese and zinc). Store seeds in an airtight container at room temperature or refrigerate.