Does she work to make Halloween educational or meaningful (maybe delve into the history of Halloweeen or talk about the pros and cons of “scary”) or just accept it as a mostly meaningless but fun holiday?
Does she make cute homemade costumes to accommodate her kids’ dearest wishes or shy away from the whole dressing-up thing, worrying that it’s a waste of time and effort and doesn’t really advance her kids’ most important needs?
Does she make lovely homemade treats, embrace the candy, or strive to keep her kids away from all the sugar?
Does she plan fun parties and/or run her kids around to every Halloween celebration out there, ensuring they don’t miss out on any of the fun, or does she keep her kids away from the craziness and do some simple family activities at home?
I know wonderful mothers who handle Halloween in a host of different ways and I think that what really matters is that we take a little time to think about what we really want Halloween to be for us and for our kids and then plan accordingly.
After years of trial and error with the various aspects of Halloween, here are some things we’ve found work well for our family:
In our family, we talk a bit about the history of Halloween each year (that it used to be “All Hallow’s Eve” where people would do pranks and get all the “bad” out of themselves in preparation for “All Saints Day” on November 1st). Plus Halloween has spurred some important talks about “fun scary” vs. “bad scary.”
But ultimately, I think Halloween is mostly about plain old fun and doesn’t need to be deeply meaningful. At Easter and Christmas, we really talk about the “reason for the season” and share beautiful moments as we get into giving and think about specific aspects of our faith. At Thanksgiving, we’ve got several traditions that focus us on gratitude. But at Halloween, we just dress up and eat candy and have a good old time for the most part. To me, Halloween is a time to let the kid inside us out for a while, pretend to be something we’re not for a day, eat more candy than we should, and just plain have a good time.
I grew up with a mom who sent us down to the dress-up drawer full of random old clothes to create our own Halloween costumes. We got creative and it all worked out fine.
But I remember sometimes wishing that my mom, like some of my friends’ moms, was a little more interested in making super-cool Halloween costumes.
So when I became a mom, I was determined to support my kids’ Halloween costume dreams. I was pretty proud of the theme-based Halloween costumes we did for a few years and the kids love looking back at those pictures and remembering how cool their costumes were (they were actually pretty simple but hey, I made a real effort and the kids were thrilled).
As the kids got older, while I offered to help them make whatever costume they really wanted, my husband and I decided that the kids would need to use their own money for costume accessories or supplies. When they needed to put in the work and the money for costumes, it was interesting to see how simple their costume needs became! Now the kids are excited to recycle old costumes, adding in a few new accessories to spice things up. (Check out the article, “Do-it-Yourself Halloween” to see how my sister really let her kids do their own thing with costumes – and how excited they were about the interesting results!)
If you look at this series of photos, you’ll see a lot of similar elements reused. Plus the kids found that it worked great to borrow and trade costumes and pieces of costumes from other families and shop after-Halloween sales for great stuff to use the next year. We’re stuck in a bit of a pirate, ninja, princess or fairy, rock star, and super hero rut. But everyone’s happy!
Sure, maybe I’d look more impressive to other moms if my kids’ costumes were cooler. But I say if my kids are happy with their costumes, so am I.
While costumes weren’t a big deal to my parents, pumpkins were a very big deal. We’d pick out our pumpkins the first Monday in October, let them sit as decorations on the front porch for a week or two, then have a grand carving fest and my dad would give every pumpkin an award when we were through – “the funniest,” “the cutest,” “the scariest” and so forth. Designing a unique face for the pumpkin, pulling out pumpkin guts, roasting pumpkin seeds, and displaying the lit-up jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night was always important to me – so now it’s pretty important to my kids. We don’t do a lot of arts and crafts around here (I don’t have the patience, drive or creativity for it I’m afraid) but once a year, we make a big fat mess and spend real time creating jack-o-lanterns that we all feel proud of. (Those little pumpkin carving saws really work and they’re very safe for kids – I highly recommend them.)
I have a friend who proudly showed me the pre-painted pumpkins her kids had picked out to decorate their front porch. The pumpkin-carving-purist in me was initally aghast. They were not only not carving pumpkins, they weren’t even going to paint them themselves! But as she explained that her kids didn’t enjoy carving pumpkins when they did it last year, her husband thought pumpkin carving was stupid, and her kids just fell in love with these pre-painted pumpkins and were so excited to adorn their porch with them, I saw that her pumpkin choice was every bit as valid as mine. She was doing what made Halloween fun for her family. More power to her!
My kids don’t generally eat much candy at all. I’m pretty into healthy cooking and we really limit sweets around here. Halloween used to really stress me out – all that sugar being handed to my babies right and left! But over the years, I’ve seen that extra sugar at holidays has not sent our family down a slippery slope towards ongoing poor eating habits and has certainly added to my kids’ happiness. I’ve loosened up considerably when it comes to my kids’ candy intake during holidays. And the following two ideas have helped me walk the fine line between accepting Halloween as a no-holds-bared sugar fest and keeping my kids’ sugar intake somewhat below the total-melt-down-and-terrible- tummy-ache limit.
1. Fun and heathly meals to help offset all that sugar: We have pumpkin pancakes for breakfast on Halloween and serve up some delicious (and very healthy) “Ghoul Goulash” (black bean soup topped with pumpkin-orange cheese and a ghostly dollop of sour cream) for dinner before heading out for parties and trick-or-treating on Halloween night (check out my blog here for the recipes). The kids seem to handle their sugar a bit better (and eat less of it) when they’ve had some nice healthy meals first.
2. The Halloween Fairy: A few years ago, someone told me about this wonderful fairy who gathers up the candy that kids choose to leave in a bag on on their front porch the day after Halloween (you know, the candy they were handed that they don’t particularly like but would eat anyway if it were lying around) and leaves dollar-store-type puzzles and games and fun stuff in its place. I love how that fairy helps us get rid of some of the sugar my kids don’t really want or need!
I used to try to hit all the Halloween festivities – the school parade, the neighborhood pot-luck, the church trunk-or-treat, parties hosted by friends, the mall trick-or-treating, you name it. After all the effort to put the costumes together, I wanted everyone to see them! And I didn’t want my kids to miss out on any fun.
But over time, I realized that sticking close to home and doing a few simple activities with people we really care about trumps running all over the place and celebrating with strangers. Now we skip the mall and the local trunk-or-treat and help to host our own neighborhood party on our own terms. We eat black bean soup and play games then parade around the neighborhood before doing a couple blocks’ worth of trick-or-treating and coming home to sort our loot and get to bed.
Books and Movies
During October, our family loves to read sort-of-scary books and watch sort-of-scary movies. We have a short stack of fun books we pull out each year – The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything, The Littlest Pumpkin, and What Was I Scared Of? are some favorite fun books that offer some good discussion points. And a couple of our favorite family movies for Halloween are Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
As I said at the beginning, different things work for different families and different stages of different families. There’s no one right answer (and this post is called “a” deliberate mother’s guide, not “the” deliberate mother’s guide). But as we learn from experience and share what works for us, it’s a beautiful thing. Please share your own ideas in the comments below so we can all make this Halloween the best yet.
QUESTION: What works for your family at Halloween? What are some of your favorite traditions, books, movies, etc.? What isn’t working and maybe needs to be changed?
CHALLENGE: Take a few minutes to decide what you really want to get out of Halloween this year – then make it happen!
Images provided by the author.