Halloween Philippine-style

This is my column today, November 2, 2014.

I was at the Mall of Asia for lunch last Friday where I promptly found myself amidst a stampede of fairies, super heroes, an assortment of cartoon characters from Shrek to Sponge Bob, zombies and other various interpretations of dead people and scary beings.  It was bedlam.
There were kids of all ages all over the mall; and when I say all ages, I really do mean all ages.  There is no denying it – the Western (or should we say, American) Halloween tradition of dressing up in costumes and doing trick or treat has found its way into our culture.
Of course it is only inside the posh villages and gated subdivisions where one can actually see children dressed in costumes knocking on doors and screaming “trick or treat.”  Let’s make no bones about it – the whole trick-or-treat phenomenon is not sustainable in our culture where discipline, self-restraint, and concern for others are tossed out when certain “benefits” are to be had.  Probably because resources are always inadequate, people try to grab what they could when they could for fear that they would end up with nothing if they try to be nice or considerate to others.   This is pretty much evident during distribution of relief goods or even at buffet restaurants where people shovel large quantities of the choicest food on to their plates without consideration for others.  I don’t think there will come a time when the trick or treat tradition would spill over to the barangay level unless of course someone comes up with rigid guidelines such as requiring registration of participants, having marshalls to ensure kids do not visit houses more than once, or that everyone is orderly so that each one gets a fair share of the loot, etc.  But then again, where’s the fun in all that?    
Fortunately or unfortunately, we have malls that are more than happy to accommodate.
Our malls have been trying to kindle the celebration of Halloween in the country for quite sometime now as they obviously stand to gain from the whole consumerist phenomenon.  More kids participating would translate into more business.  Every kid that comes to the mall to do trick or treat would require a costume and a parent or a guardian in tow and they all would have to eat or drink and most likely watch a movie or do a little shopping afterwards.
I do think seeing kids in costumes can be heartwarming.  I don’t have anything against children between the ages of 2 and 10 running around shoving  plastic orange containers towards the direction of harassed store clerks for candies.  So I do find it strange when grown-ups join in the fray.  Hey, the whole trick or treat thing is supposed to be for children.  Grown-ups can party all they want in bars during hallow eve, but let’s leave the trick or treating to the kids.
But even more bothersome were the sight of infants in strollers being pushed around the mall while their parents or guardians collected candies.  Those candies were obviously not for the infants or at least I hoped the parents knew that months-old babies should not be fed that much sugar and in candy form. 
The whole trick or treat thing (and to a great extent Christmas carolling and the Filipino tradition of aguinaldo when children collected presents from their godparents) is meant to enrich the childhood experience.  Am not sure whatever experience and memory two-month-old infants get from the whole trick or treat experience is worth all the risk and inconvenience imposed on the poor infant.
I saw one tiny infant dressed up like a mermaid, complete with tails that bound her tiny legs, headgear that limited her head movements, and sequined clothes that must have been itchy and suffocating, squirming in her stroller while a harassed and sweaty yaya patiently fanned herself while both were standing in line for candies.  What kind of parents expose infants to that kind of aggravation and for what?  For candies they are not old enough to eat?  For memories that are blunted by the trauma of having to suffer itchy clothes, the heat, and all the shoving and screaming?
At MOA last Friday, we watched how kids doggedly went about knocking on establishments like it was a chore.  Probably because of the heat, the congestion, and the disappointment of being turned away by many establishments, it didn’t look like they were still having fun.  The manager of the restaurant we were having lunch told us they rationed their candies for specific time slots because there were just too many kids that participated this year, and the suspected many kept coming back.  If the manager was correct (and I suspect she was), what kind of lessons are parents teaching kids today?
The number one retailer in this country even had a promo last Friday.  Customers who could present proof of purchase of a certain amount would entitle one child to dip his or her little hand – once - into a bowl of candies.  Alas, the others who didn’t have receipts were sadly turned away.
Halloween in this country is just another occasion that highlights the many gaps in our system.


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