Friday, October 30, 2009

Health Care and All Hallows Eve

It's that time of year again when kids look forward to indulging in candy and sweets - and parents begin to fret about the damage all that sugar does to their children's teeth as reported by The Medical News. But the Ontario Dental Association (ODA) says that with a few simple oral health-care tips and practices, kids and parents alike can enjoy Halloween. Remember, tooth decay is not caused by sugar alone. It comes from not brushing or flossing regularly and letting food sit on teeth for long periods of time. During this period of increased sugar consumption, parents can mitigate the potential damaging effects of Halloween candy by incorporating healthy habits into your child's everyday oral health-care routine.

Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead, according to Library of Congress Folk Life Center (LOC). The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), according to the LOC. It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons--all part of the dark and dread. Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers. As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.

The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely, according to the LOC. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day--a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises. All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The folk continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe'en--an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year's Day in contemporary dress. Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows.

Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead, according to the LOC. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day. Today Halloween is becoming once again and adult holiday or masquerade, like mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinningly carved, candlelit jack o'lanterns, re- enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendency. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.

According to, Trick or Treat has been thought to have come from a European custom called "souling". Beggars would go from village to village begging for "soul cakes" made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers could guarantee a soul's passage to heaven. Witches and witchcraft are dominant themes of the holiday. Witches generally believe themselves to be followers of an ancient religion, which goes back far beyond Christianity, and which is properly called 'wicca'. Witches are really just one side of a modern revival of paganism - the following of pre-Christian nature religions, the attempt to return to worshipping ancient Norse, Greek or Celtic gods and goddesses.

Halloween has its merits as a fun time for many; but health care, especially dental care, should be considered along with the holiday itself. Healthy habits allow kids to have fun while providing peace-of-mind for parents. Following these tips at Halloween, and all year round, will help you and your family have good oral health for life.

Eating sweets is fine when done in moderation and for a short period of time, e.g. days, not weeks, according to The Medical News. Keep candy in a sealed container and establish times when your child can have a treat. Give your child sweets just after mealtimes, as the amount of saliva produced at this time will help protect your child's teeth. Have your child brush their teeth twice a day and floss once a day, and again after eating sugary treats. If your child doesn't have access to a toothbrush while away from home, give them sugarless gum to help get their saliva flowing. Hard candy, such as lollipops, and sticky sweets, such as toffee, can be more damaging because they remain in the mouth for a longer time. Limit these treats to once a week or get your child to trade them in by offering them stickers. Alternate some healthy snacks, such as vegetables, fruits, yogurts and cheeses, with Halloween treats.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the following tips for staying safe and healthy for Halloween should be observed:

S--Swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible.
A--Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.
F--Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see you.
E--Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them. Limit the amount of treats you eat.

H--Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you.
A--Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it before bedtime to prevent skin and eye irritation.
L--Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.
L--Lower your risk for serious eye injury by not wearing decorative contact lenses.
O--Only walk on sidewalks or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.
W--Wear well-fitting masks, costumes, and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips, and falls.
E--Eat only factory-wrapped treats. Avoid eating homemade treats unless you know the cook well.
E--Enter homes only if you're with a trusted adult. Otherwise, stay outside.
N--Never walk near lit candles or luminaries. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.