MONDAY, OCT. 20, 2008

Families and groups take steps to make holiday a more Earth-friendly event

Americans are expected to spend nearly $5.8 billion on Halloween this year.

Almost $4 billion will go toward costumes, greeting cards and decorations, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation. That leaves about $1.8 billion that’s forecasted to be spent on candy alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans in 2006 consumed 26 pounds of candy per capita – much of it around Halloween.

For some families, that’s just way too much sugar to stomach – not to mention the huge heap of candy wrappers, plastic props and paper party goods to clean up when the holiday ends on Nov. 1.

All the commercialism surrounding Halloween has led some people to adopt more earth-friendly approaches to the popular holiday. This year, their efforts are being celebrated by “Green Halloween,” a nonprofit community initiative to create healthier and more environmentally conscious holidays, beginning with Halloween. The grassroots movement started last year in the Seattle area and has quickly grown nationwide.

Hundreds of families, schools, churches and other groups – including several in the Spokane area – have become part of the initiative, according to Corey Colwell-Lipson, a family therapist, mother of two and the founder of Green Halloween.

“What we’re trying to do is show people that there are alternatives,” she said during a phone interview from Sammamish, Wash. “We hope that people will be inspired to create traditions that work for their families, neighborhoods and communities. … This isn’t just about Halloween. It’s about the way we celebrate as a country.”

The idea behind Green Halloween started in 2006 while Colwell-Lipson was trick-or-treating with her daughters. She was amazed to see the excitement in her children’s eyes as they received little items such as bubbles or stickers instead of conventional candy. Their joy inspired her to “think outside the conventional candy box” and wondered if there was a way to make Halloween not only healthy for kids, but also healthy for the environment.

She talked to other parents who then talked to their neighbors, teachers and others in the community. Colwell-Lipson also approached Whole Foods Market, which embraced the concept and decided to help by putting up “Green Halloween” flags in their stores to show shoppers how to make the holiday more healthful.

This year, Green Halloween has become a program of Treeswing, a Seattle nonprofit working to reverse the trend of childhood obesity – which affects one out of every three children.

As the news spread about Green Halloween, Colwell-Lipson heard from thousands of people across the country. Some were folks who wanted to share the earth-friendly ways they had been celebrating Halloween for years. Others were new to the movement and wanted to learn more.

Halloween doesn’t have to be unhealthy, insisted Colwell-Lipson. And healthy, she said, can still be fun as long as you provide children with alternatives.

There was once a time, she said, when candy was truly a treat. These days, however, kids are inundated with candy – at birthday parties, school and holidays like Halloween. What they’re not exposed to, however, are “treasures,” said Colwell-Lipson, “cool little trinkets such as polished rocks, seashells, feathers, acorns, things from nature that children love.”

Instead of telling kids to take a handful of candy from a bowl, she encourages other parents to put these “treasures” in a basket and ask kids to “pick just one” and make that moment as special as possible.

It’s also a way to make Halloween more memorable. Instead of buying a costume from a rack, families can spend a few hours going through old clothes and their closets at home to put together a unique outfit for trick-or-treating.

By doing this, adults teach values such as moderation, gratitude and simplicity, said Colwell-Lipson. “This is an opportunity to teach our kids how to enjoy the moment,” she said. “It’s a way to say, ‘I love you so much that I want to help take care of the planet and your future.’ … Children don’t really want stuff. They want time with Mom and Dad.”

Several people in the area shared some of their Halloween traditions that promote health and community.

Every year, Mary Naber of Spokane bakes pumpkin bread, which she shares with others (although not with trick-or-treaters since it’s not “packaged”). Last year, she invited a few moms and their kids over for a gathering that included carving pumpkins, drinking tea and making pies from scratch.

To cut back on their children’s sugar intake, some families have asked the “Halloween fairy” to come to their house to leave money or a book in exchange for pounds of candy.

Shelly Flores of Spokane usually throws a children’s party on Oct. 31. It’s not only Halloween, after all, it’s also her daughter Reyna’s birthday.

“We try to find healthy things to do,” Flores said. “I always try to keep the party really low-sugar because I know a lot of the kids will be trick-or-treating and getting tons of sugar.”

So instead of cake, Flores serves creative dishes such as spiced apple dumplings or crepes with apple fillings. She’ll also have snacks such as tamari cashews disguised as “monster toenails.” Some of the birthday activities the kids have done in the past include the “Pear Witch Project,” which is making a witch with a green pear, shredded carrots and other healthy ingredients. Instead of candy, the Halloween/birthday piñata is stuffed with glow sticks, stickers, children’s tea bags and toothbrushes.

To get away from the commercialism of Halloween, older kids can trick-or-treat and do community service simultaneously, suggested Laurel Fish, a senior at St. George’s School. Instead of asking for candy, they tell their neighbors and friends ahead of time that they’ll be collecting canned goods for the food bank through a school fund-raiser called “Scare Away Hunger.”

“This way we get to fulfill our secret desires to dress-up, go trick-or-treating and help the community in the process,” Fish wrote in an e-mail.“It’s also a good way to get people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily do community service involved in a project. To me, ‘Scare Away Hunger’ seems like the perfect way to celebrate community sustainability by providing essentials to those who can’t afford them and having fun in the process.”

In addition to Halloween, Colwell-Lipson and others also want to make other holidays less commercialized and more about family. That’s what led her and her mother, Lynn Colwell – a former resident of Post Falls – to write “Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family.” According to the authors, it’s the first-of-its kind guide to “giving all of your holidays and celebrations an eco-makeover.”

In their book, Colwell-Lipson and Colwell suggest talking to your children about the significance of Halloween and other holidays. Instead of focusing on stuff, emphasize the experience of spending time together. Mother and daughter also suggested asking kids what they cherish most about these celebrations and what they hope to pass on to future generations.

They also advised to start slowly, especially since holidays and special occasions can be stressful times. For instance, this Halloween, instead of completely getting rid of candy, families can experiment by giving trick-or-treaters a choice between candy and some other nonsugar alternative to see which one kids prefer.

“Getting healthy and going green doesn’t have to happen overnight,” they wrote. “Through creativity, laughter and collaboration, we’re here to show that learning to be green during holidays and celebrations can be easy, affordable and fun for the whole family.”

Virginia de Leon is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Reach her at virginia_de_leon@yahoo.com. You can also comment on this story and other issues pertaining to parenting and families by checking out www.spokesmanreview.com/ blogs/parents.

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