I've just been reading a great post by Janet Lansbury about how we can help children take ownership of their art by backing off ourselves. Couldn't agree more.
But it was centred around the American festival of Hallowe'en, and that made me reflect on my strong distaste for that celebration on the last day of October. A lot of people assume that I'm just anti-American, or something. But that's not it. Sure, I think that we have lots to celebrate in Australia without adopting other people's festivals, but that's not the real reason I feel uncomfortable about Hallowe'en.
And it's nothing to do with religion and witches, either. I'm not that straight-laced.
It's the modelling that worries me. It's the behavioural undertones, and the hypocrisy of bad behaviour being amusing and acceptable for one day of the year and criminal for the rest.
Let's take a look at the behaviour that's put up as okay at Hallowe'en, and see how it stands up for the rest of the year.
First you make lanterns out of pumpkins. Okay, that sounds like fun; I have a few hesitations about wasting food, given that much of the world lives in abject poverty and starvation, but I guess pumpkins are cheap and plentiful in the US (as they generally are here), and it's only once a year.
Then you dress up. I have no problem with that, and I love Janet's plea that parents let their child choose their costume; that's an outlet for fantasy, self-expression, imagination. These are all good things.
Then the adults buy a whole lot of lollies or make sweet treats. Again, it's only once a year... but it's once more, on top of all the peers' birthdays, Easter, local shows, Christmas, etc etc. In a world of increasingly obese children, I have my hesitations about introducing yet another excuse for eating garbage in the name of a celebration- and yes, particularly if it's not even our country's celebration. We don't do Thanksgiving; why do we do Hallowe'en? (I see a lot more value in Thanksgiving, actually.) Is it commercial influences playing us yet again?
But that's not the reason I flatly refuse to 'do Hallowe'en' in school or childcare; no, it's this last bit that makes my blood run cold.
Children go out in groups, knock on doors and say 'trick or treat', expecting to be given lollies.
Sound innocuous? Let me rephrase that.
Kids are encouraged to form gangs, knock on strangers' doors (whatever happened to stranger danger?) with their faces often disguised by the costume, and threaten to do something nasty to a complete stranger unless they're bought off with lollies.
Yeah, sure, the tricks might be mostly harmless. It's not exactly a major imposition to have to wipe raw egg off your windows (though it's a waste of a good egg)- they could probably do with a clean. But I don't like blackmail.
Do we accept this at any other time of year? Is it good modelling of acceptable behaviour to encourage our children to do this? If a group of kids with masks on came to my door and demanded something from me with threats of menace, any other time of year I'd slam the door, call the police and be terrified out of my wits.
Sorry, but to me, Hallowe'en is glorified bullying. And I won't model that.
(I welcome my American friends to comment, because I'd love to know what you're thinking...)