Hallowe’en Part 2: Through a Waldorf Lens October 28 2022
Our Own Children Now on Hallowe’en - through a waldorf lens
Hallowe’en is meant to be fun, of course, but it also holds opportunities for us to allow our children to experience that death, too, is a part of life. Skeletons, ghosts (Ireland for a century or two kept a census of ghosts as well as of the living), and the barren fields after the harvest all speak to the human heart of the end of life. Children are no different and they sense on a deep intuitive level that this is true. It isn’t necessary (or beneficial) to frighten children, especially under the age of nine or so. Young children will experience the feelings around Hallowe’en without undue prompting.
Costumes are very fun and children love to dress up (well, we all do, really!). For children up to age nine or ten or so it is important to have costumes that do not hide the face completely. The face of a monster or an unknown person (to the child) can be disorienting and very scary. The idea is to be out in the darkening gloaming and to feel a bit of a tingling thrill. To be frightened beyond recovery is not the point.
Think about costumes for your child that can help the child play act a person whom they might admire –– a prince, a king, a princess, a knight, Winnie the Pooh, Pinocchio, Pippie Longstocking, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter –– before thinking about monsters or fantastic beings or beasts. This is only because children will take on a bit (or a lot) of the character of the costumes they choose. Trick or treating should always be with a grownup and the grown up can then talk a child through things that might be too scary or too overwhelming for them. The human voice can be soothing if the child becomes disoriented. Stay close and ensure that all parties and trick-or-treating have lots of friendly well-known grown-ups around to keep the mood cheery!
For the nine to eleven-year-olds a little more suspense is in order. Telling stories is always welcome and Hallowe’en provides an especially fine opportunity for good stories. Stories with some genuine surprises and scary parts are a good idea at this age. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, for example, or a ghost story, might be helpful for the children to test the limits of their own courage inwardly. The storyteller would need to measure the capacities and sensitivities of the children listening. The point is not to push the scary part, but let it arrive in a story artistically. Of course, for some particularly strong-willed or cocky youngsters, a good startle in a story is a humbling and helpful thing. This is in the hands of the one telling a story. A well-designer tale has to do with mystery and the weaving of the worlds between the living and the dead. It is important that children understand that all lives come to an end and that the love we feel for those who have passed is important, meaningful, and continuing.
Making costumes from scratch for this age group of nine-to-eleven-year-olds instead of purchasing pre-fab costumes is especially meaningful. It helps the whole family to think about who each in the family might like to “try out” as a personality. It also stimulates group creativity on how to express that different personality and how to genuinely disguise oneself. It takes time to figure out and make a costume, collecting the pieces needed over days or weeks. Time is a helpful agent in allowing children to digest what is happening and to build up a healthful sense of anticipation and excitement.
The coming of the darkness at this time of year is already provocative of fear and dismay as the summer wanes. The Hallowe’en celebrations in our American traditions help to both enhance this and to calm the worries with community and fun. To understand we are not alone as the season turns is helpful and supportive.
As for the candy that is given out in copious amounts as treats for the tricks of our costumes, communities who agree together to give out apples, or handmade little gnomes or other toys, with an occasional sweetie made with honey or sesame seeds are relieved when this is carried off without problems. It does need a round-the-neighborhood consensus however to be successful and to not leave handmade types at the mercy of ridicule. As parents, it is a good idea to reduce overwhelming numbers of sugary candy bars and chocolate things to manageable levels for a youngster to avoid illness, irritability, sleep disturbances, and a drop in the immune system! Sensitivities to wheat, additives, and gluten are also to be considered in the treat collection from trick-or-treating.
The celebration of the end of the Earth’s hard work of the summer to nourish the living and to honor the dead is a good and very ancient tradition with a very important purpose. The courage of Michaelmas is tested this way and prepares the stalwart soul for the coming of dark times. It gives the children pictures for life of cycles of the year and cycles of a lifetime. It gathers communities together for social strength as the days grow short. It helps us to understand who we are as we try on different costumes of beings we are not! Allowing time for thoughtfulness and inner picturing of these significant things is the best preparation of all for us as parents, as teachers, and as participants in the great wheel of the turning of the year!