Halloween: Forget the Candy, It's About Community

Family Matters on 11.01.12
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Image: Sarah_Ackerman / Creative Commons

It’s the day after Halloween and while some may see this spooky holiday as a happy excuse for kids to dress up and gorge on mountains of candy, it can also be seen as a great opportunity to give, get creative and get to know the people living in your neighborhood.

Yesterday was my first Halloween -- in the sense that I gave out treats rather than standing on the receiving end (thanks to finally moving to a house after years of living in city apartments that no kid would ever find).

With my toddler standing right behind me suspiciously eyeing everyone who showed up, I thoroughly enjoyed plunking candy into each child’s bag, complimenting costumes and saying hello to their accompanying (and sometimes costumed) parent.

In hindsight, I think besides the loads of free sugar, Halloween was a fun way to open my door to my neighbors, who live on the same street, yet whom I sadly never get much of a chance to interact with. Even if the contact is fleeting and it happens within a framework of a hyper-commercialized holiday, it speaks to one of those basic human needs for community -- much sought, but quite elusive in our culture of individualism, over-consumerism and increasing social breakdown.

Transitioning back to a culture of gifting

Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, writes about the idea of “social and cultural capital,” where giving is integral to the fabric of relationships that make up a community. But the advent of money -- especially debt-based money -- has turned relationships into paid “services” that we buy rather than give (childcare, cooking, clothing), thus undermining that foundation:

When I ask people what is missing most from their lives, the most common answer is "community." But how can we build community when its building blocks-the things we do for each other-have all been converted into money? Community is woven from gifts. Unlike money or barter transactions, in which there are no obligations remaining after the transaction, gifts always imply future gifts. When we receive, we owe; gratitude is the knowledge of having received and the desire to give in turn. But what is there now to give? Not the necessities of life, not food, shelter, or clothing, not entertainment, not stories, not health care: everyone buys these.

It is indeed a sad fact that one can buy almost anything cheaply nowadays -- except a true sense of belonging in a community (I call it a "dollar-store-rification" of our culture). Though there's many effective ways to tackle this problem, as a collective whole, we’ve still got some ways to go before going back to our communal roots.

But in the meantime, we can do what we can to build a culture and economy of gifting and co-creating rather than a culture of buying. It may sound trite, but sometimes the best way to go is the make it simple and with our own hands: by making our own meaningful, handmade costumes, getting together as a family to scheme scary decorations, giving some alternatives to candy, joining a potluck club, and generally trying to find ways to know our neighbors better -- even if it’s just for a trick or treat.

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