Halloween for vegans can be hard. Most of the junk that is out there is little tiny packets of milk chocolate. Arterial stoppers and blockers set to time bomb in 20 to 50 years form ingestion date.
Maybe looking at it that way we can be thankful not to partake in that junk food fest. But still, especially for the kids we want to have a Halloween that is fun and that they feel they can take part in.
There are lots of aspects to Halloween that vegans and vegetarians can happily include themselves in. Carving pumpkins is one of the funnest activities in my mind that kids and parents can share in during this All Hallows’ Eve. Of course there is also bobbing for apples and wearing frightful or funny costumes. Many of the treats offered are vegan but not most and of course surely we can come up with some terrific vegan tricks to boot!
If you’re interested in Halloween I suggest reading the intriguing history of Halloween on the History website.
I’ll briefly summarize for you. Halloween like a lot of the Christian holidays started originally as pagan holidays and celebrations. Halloween started out just like this. Originally a Celtic festival called Samhain (SOW-in) it celebrated the end of summer and the beginning of their New Year on November 1st and the start of the long and often deadly winter to come.
On the eve before (i.e. October 31st) the Celts thought that the line between the living and the dead became blurred. It was believed that the other worldly spirits not only damaged crops and caused other general trouble, but that their priests (Druids) could use this time to foretell the future of the coming harsh winter months.
These prophecies were important for such a culture wholly dependent on the natural world for their existence.
So the Druids built huge bonfires in celebration and there was lots of burning of crops and – sadly – animals as sacrifices too. Additionally, the Celts wore costumes primarily made of animal skins and heads during this celebration too. The next day they lit their hearth fires which they had extinguished the night before with embers of the sacred bonfire in the hopes to be protected from the coming troubles of winter.
Additionally as the Romans and then the Church co-opted that area they incorporated their own holidays into the milieu and then eventually Halloween came full circle to become more of a non-religious holiday celebration.
There is also an interesting history to the Jack O’ Lantern too. We have the Irish to thank for this one too. A wonderful culture full of stories and imagination. The story goes like this and involves a fellow they call Stingy Jack.
Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but true to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks so he convinced the devil to turn into a coin to pay for the booze. The Devil did so but instead of using the coin to pay for the libations, Jack put the coin aka the Devil in his pocket next to a silver cross so the Devil couldn’t change back.
Eventually Jack freed the Devil but made him promise that he wouldn’t bother Jack for a full year and that when Jack died, the Devil would not claim his soul. To this the Devil agreed.
At the end of the year when the Devil came for revenge on Jack, Jack tricked the Devil into climbing up a tree to get an apple. The Devil did so and while in the tree, Jack cut a cross into the bark preventing the Devil from getting down. Stingy Jack then negotiated with the Devil that he would only let the Devil down if he didn’t bother Jack for another 10 years. What could a Devil do but agree.
Shortly thereafter Stingy Jack died. God wouldn’t allow such a mean spirited character into heaven and the Devil had made a promise not to claim his soul so Jack couldn’t go to hell.
The Devil then sent Jack off into the dark with just a lump of burning coal to light his way. And so Jack roams the world with nothing but a burning lump of coal to light his way. He put this into a carved out turnip by the way. The Irish came to call this fellow Jack, Jack of the Lantern which then became shortened to Jack O’ Lantern.
In Ireland they put carved potatoes and turnips in their window to scare of Jack and his kind. When coming to the US, the pumpkin – fruit native to America – was found to be the ideal vessel for a Jack O’ Lantern 🙂
So having a deeper understanding of Halloween can help you celebrate it better I think. And as vegans you can see that there is much to celebrate vegan style in the Halloween tradition.
The biggest problem comes for the kids who you send out with their Jack O’ Lanterns to go trick or treating. The big confectionery companies have made it so easy to buy little packets of milk chocolate to the extent that these treats will make up the bulk of their haul.
What can vegans do about Halloween?
What we have done in my family is what I like to call “the vegan treat exchange”. I buy a lot of single serve packets of chips or Pringles as well as some of the softer, chewy candies that don’t have gelatin in them like some JuJubes and Jelly Beans etc.
Then when the kids get back from their trick or treating we go through them and exchange out all the milk chocolate for vegan candies on a one to one basis. this works well for younger kids. Kids under age 12 or so. When you still have some parental authority!
For the older kids who still like to go trick or treating but who might have some ‘tude towards their parental units or they might just be felling peer pressure to give in on their vegan ideals now and then, I make a deal with them.
I know what they might have been scoping out for their Christmas list and I’ll buy one of the gifts. And the deal is, they get this early Chrimy gift if they give me all their non-vegan Halloween candy. Usually works like a charm, because not only do they get an early gift, but they can also partake in the one for one vegan Halloween candy exchange.
Some of you might be lucky enough that you have very confident and well adjusted vegan children who will just not indulge in non-vegan candy without having to cajole or bribe them. That is the ideal situation.
Some of you might have rebellious teens and kids who want to stick it to the old man and so they might seek out any opportunity to rebel against their parent imposed vegan ideals. You’ve gotta roll with this. The more you push back the harder it’ll be to bring them round again. I have found that subtle attacks on their flanks can help. I.e. birthday gifts where you adopt a rescued animal on their behalf. Christmas gifts that can include books about animals – see Jonathon Balcombe – perhaps hoodies and sweaters from Sea Shepherd etc.
At the end of the day, as your children start to mature you need to learn to let go and let them enter into the consequences of their own decisions. Just as I have found that being a gentle, compassionate example of veganism to be the best approach to convince others of the merits of veganism, so do I believe that it can be the best approach with our own children.
Trick or treat, smell those fragrant vegan feet, give me something vegan to eat!