When I was growing up in America, Halloween was a chance for creative juices to flow when it came to costumes. We could dress up as anything – a cartoon character, an astronaut, our favourite superhero, or any other person, place, or thing we felt inclined to represent. While new, specially-made outfits could be bought, many families saw the holiday as a challenge to use what was already in their cupboards and repurpose old clothing and accessories to enhance costumes.
Imagine my shock when I relocated to the UK ten years ago and walked down the Halloween aisle at our local supermarket for the first time. Lining each shelf was blood ridden, scary costumes, masks, and decorations. But the cultural differences around Halloween didn’t really hit home until I had my own children.
For the first few years, I was able to divert them away from the gore and dress them as Buzz Lightyear, Batman, and a pumpkin. They were frightened when a zombie ballerina or bloodied clown knocked on our door for sweets, not sure how to respond to the sight in front of them. But as they have aged – particularly my eldest – they want to fit in with friends who relish wearing scary, often violent costumes which are likely to be thrown into landfills after one wear. As a parent who wants to protect my children, I think it’s time we rethink how we do Halloween costumes in the UK.
In an increasingly brutal society, it baffles me why we encourage the next generation to become immune to, and even celebrate, violence. Halloween has become known as one of the busiest times of the year for emergency services and while that isn’t linked to young children, it is an indication of the behaviour that takes place on this one night of the year. There are endless possibilities of costume ideas that don’t promote death and gore, but not wearing one can leave some kids feeling like the odd one out in their schools and neighbourhoods
I’ve chosen not to let my kids wear scary or gory costumes, but others do. While that is their personal choice, it affects my kids. Imagine my little five-year-old hearing a knock and eagerly opening the door on a dark Halloween night when he finds a football player with blood dripping down his face and body. That’s an image that will haunt him. In every other aspect of life, we aim to protect our young children from violence to keep them safe. Why is Halloween different?
And just as bad, when I started looking at the massive amount of plastic waste generated by Halloween outfits, it made me want to teach my kids why buying new costumes every year contributes to the demise of our planet. It was estimated by Hubbub in 2019 that 2,000 tons of plastic waste – equivalent to 83 million plastic bottles – was produced from throwaway Halloween clothing sold by retailers in the UK. The same research found that 30 million people in the UK dress up for Halloween and upwards of 90 per cent of families consider buying new costumes. Every year, 7 million outfits are thrown away, with only some being recycled.
Retailers have a lot to answer for, as 83 per cent of the materials used are made of polluting oil-based plastic, but consumers must take action to change the status quo by choosing not to buy new, plastic costumes; instead, we should buy from charity shops or reuse materials at home to make costumes. I want to encourage my kids to love their planet by doing what they can to produce less waste – avoiding new Halloween costumes does just that.
This year, we visited charity shops and found pre-loved skeleton costumes that we will reuse or return to the charity shop. They weren’t scary, violent, or new, and my kids loved them. In future years, I hope they decide for themselves to do Halloween costumes responsibly. This is a creative time of the year when we can think outside the box. Making fun and unique costumes is the best way to celebrate the holiday without harming children or our planet.
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