Dangers in life are everywhere, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission, even in holiday celebrations. When it comes to holiday celebrations, however, the CPSC is strangely selective. There are no warnings about salmonella from Easter Egg hunts, or about woodchuck bites on Groundhog Day, but there is an entire alert that has been issued to warn parents about what their children have to fear in celebrating Halloween.
Halloween is the only holiday to have a specially-dedicated safety alert from the CPSC. Why?
The CPSC warns children not to eat any candy they get on Halloween until their parents have checked it for signs of tampering. Why? Because the candy comes from outside the home? Well, the CPSC does not warn Christmas carolers to check the hot chocolate and nog given out by neighbors for signs that the drinks have been poisoned.
Why the difference?
The unfortunate answer is that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been duped by an urban legend. The urban legend claims that there are people who routinely poison Halloween candy, or put razor blades inside of Halloween apples, or needles inside of Tootsie Rolls handed out to trick or treaters.
It’s hogwash. No such thing has ever happened.
These stories were invented back in the 1980s by fanatical right wing Christian groups who hated Halloween because of their religious belief that Halloween is a satanic holiday. These groups tried to get parents to fear trick or treating by spreading false rumors about mysterious, un-named neighbors all across America who used Halloween to attack children. These Christian groups got local TV news and newspapers to spread their warnings that all candy should be checked, just in case a neighbor had pumped cyanide into a Reese’s peanut butter cup.
There never was any evidence of any real threat, but that didn’t matter. Once enough people got talking about the supposed problem, people assumed the rumors were true, and parents across America started “checking” their children’s trick or treat candy.
Many parents reacted by refusing to allow their children to go trick or treating any more. Instead, they took their children to alternative “harvest festivals” that had been set up, oh-so-conveniently, by neighborhood churches.
Even today, without there being any evidence of an actual need, the Consumer Product Safety Commission advises parents, “Warn children not to eat any treats before an adult has carefully examined them for evidence of tampering.” Think about this for a second, and the very idea of parents checking candy for signs of poisoning becomes obviously ridiculous. Just how would you tell if arsenic or mercury had been pumped into the middle of a Milky Way candy bar, just by looking at the package? Do you know the signs?
If the Consumer Product Safety Commission is truly dedicated to keeping children safe during holidays, perhaps it should start issuing warnings to parents not to allow their kids to sit on the laps of shopping mall Santa Clauses without getting a certificate proving each Kris Kringle is not a child molester. They could advise parents to warn their children on Columbus Day not to try to take a boat ride across the ocean. They could issue advisories for April Fools Day that every joke should be preceded by a disclaimer, “No, what I’m about to say is not really true. I’m just kidding.”
Or, the CPSC could lay off, and in the absence of any factual basis for fear of any holiday, just advise people to have fun. After all, fun, in moderate doses, is good for cardiovascular health. Please consult your family physician before trying fun.