In Our View: Alternative Treats

When trick-or-treaters come knockin’, this year try different kinds of surprises

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We’re not saying Halloween is a silly, worthless holiday that should fade into irrelevance. No, not at all. And we’re not saying Halloween is our favorite holiday. Not even close.

We’re just saying that arguing over the value of Halloween is a debate not worth having. Halloween is like the mildly annoying but intermittently amusing father-in-law: It is what it is, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Beyond the jaded journalist, though, Florence Wager is much more effervescent about what will happen Monday evening in neighborhoods across Clark County. “I love Halloween,” Wager said to Columbian reporter Marissa Harshman. (Florence also loves helping folks have fun outdoors. The former longtime parks and recreation activist and volunteer was named Clark County’s First Citizen for 2009.) But she also recognizes the downside of Halloween: “Of all the times of the year it’s apparent we just stuff kids full of sugar, it’s Halloween.” With the growing national problem of obesity, especially among children, Wager has adjusted her Halloween hospitality in recent years. Now, instead of dealing out calorie-crammed candy to kids, Wager resorts to alternatives that are just as eagerly grabbed, stuff like wax vampire fangs, bottles of bubbles and neon crazy straws.

Just a guess here, but a lot of kids in Wager’s Northwood neighborhood probably know that candy can be found at countless front doors, but if you want some really cool goodies, there’s this one lady who has stuff no one else has.

Despite our reluctance to debate Halloween’s worth as a holiday, we will take a stand on trying a new approach to front-porch giving this year. Wager has been known to give out sugar-free bubble gum, Matchbox cars, stickers, balloons, coloring books and unsalted microwave popcorn. One big advantage to her system: You won’t have to battle the crowds at the seasonal candy displays. Simply detour to the trinkets department and dig in.

Unfortunately, Wager’s strategy remains the exception and not the rule, as evidenced by recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 1,170 establishments in the United States manufacture chocolate and cocoa products. We like the fact that 34,200 jobs are sustained by this industry, but when you glance into any kid’s Halloween bucket, you have to wonder how his or her digestive system will survive the gooey, sweet onslaught.

It’s also not much of a bragging point that the average American consumes 24.7 pounds of candy each year. Think about that statistic for a moment, and you’ll agree with us, that Wager’s Halloween game plan becomes even more praiseworthy.

No matter how dismissive some of the grouchy skeptics are to Halloween, it remains a wildly popular event. The Census Bureau estimates 41 million American kids will be on the prowl Monday evening, and that’s just children ages 5 to 14. It doesn’t include those who are younger or older.

And here’s one of our favorite pieces of Halloween trivia, a list of spooky haunts where trick-or-treating must be especially challenging: Tombstone, Ariz.; Cape Fear, N.C.; and Skull Creek, Neb.

Finally, a few traditional tips we’ve offered for previous Halloweens:

Drivers, always yield to pedestrians, even if they aren’t following the law. Look both ways at intersections and reduce speeds even more than usual in neighborhoods.

Pedestrians, walk facing traffic, don’t jaywalk, and wear light colors or reflective clothing.

Parents, know where your kids are at all times and accompany younger children.

Kids, don’t count your candy before you get it. You might receive a few surprises that last longer and are easier on the tummy.