The Halloween tradition of giving out treats to prevent being the recipient of "tricks" has various origins. Some of them are tied up with the Roman Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). The word "Halloween" is derived from "Hallows Eve"- the evening before Nov. 1 when the hallowed (holy) men and women (Saints) are traditionally paid homage to. All Souls Day is a day when deceased family members and friends are celebrated and remembered. In the late middle ages in Europe, it was a tradition for poor people to go from door to door and ask for "soul-cakes" (treats) in return for saying prayers for the dead on All Souls Day.
November 1 traditionally heralds the beginning of winter - when in the Northern hemisphere all of nature seems to die and the cold, dark winter months return. This was the time of the year when the ancient Celts had a custom of disguising themselves in ghoulish costumes to scare away the evil spirits by acting just like them - in other words, tricking them. Or to placate these evil spirits they may have been given a "treat." In Mexico there is a feast called the Day of the Dead. This too occurs on Nov. 1 and 2 with customary sugar treats in the forms of little skulls - but the emphasis is on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased rather than fearing malevolent spirits.
In the United States Halloween is the time when children dress up in whatever costume strikes their fancy and go around their neighborhoods knocking on doors saying "trick or treat" (a tradition which started in the mid-1950s). And all kinds of "treats" are dropped into their eagerly held out bags - mostly candy made specifically for this occasion. The treats are supposed to appease the children from playing us some tricks. But here I wonder whether we, the candy givers, aren't the ones playing tricks on the children.
For most of what goes into their bags is bad for them. Most of the candies contain artificial flavors, colors, and chemical ingredients. Many of these candies are also made with ingredients that derive from GMOs (genetically modified organisms, most notably corn syrup and soy bean oil). Consider one of the popular fruit chews - it contains besides the corn syrup and sugar (listed as first ingredients) partially hydrogenated soybean oil, Dextrin, artificial flavors, red, yellow and blue artificial colors, but no fruit.
Most of us know how detrimental too much sugar is for our bodies, but for holidays a few times a year we feel we can indulge. The problem is that as we learn more about the ill effects of added chemicals and GMOs to our food, it's no longer just a sugar issue we should be concerned about. This is precisely why on Nov. 7 in California they will be voting on Proposition 37 which is to label all genetically modified foods (which are actually banned altogether in parts of Europe and in Russia). If we want to treat our children, there are healthy alternatives found in health food stores or in the organic sections of our grocery stores. Non-food treats can also be given out. Some of these items are more expensive but it boils down to a decision we have to make - either saving some money when buying artificial candy with GMO ingredients or ensuring that our children are getting treats that won't do any harm. Now, not giving the children the usual fare of Starburst, Twizzlers and Snicker Bars, may induce them to play tricks on us .. but at least we can have a clear conscience when we treat them.
Carol Berry lives in Manchester.