A Deliberate Mother’s Guide to Simple Halloween Fun

How does a deliberate mother handle Halloween?

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:

Meaning 

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.

Costumes

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.

My sister and brother ready to trick-or-treat

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).

Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and Captain Hook

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.

Pumpkins

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!

Sugar

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!

Parties

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.

Conclusion

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.

Comments

  1. bjahlstrom says

    The problem I have with how Halloween has developed over the years is that it is such a BIG holiday now! When I was a kid, we had a parade at school, then dressed up and went trick-or-treating in the evening for candy, and that was it. Now, everyone is hosting themed parties, and there are tons of extra activities that seem to (for me) add stress to what should be just a fun, no-stress holiday. I long to simplify this holiday. It should just be about fun dress-ups and candy.

    • says

      Lots of great ideas further down for teens. Check them out! And my older kids love making a “spook ally” in our unfinished rock basement for the little kids in the neighborhood. I’ve found that older kids love to be involved in making things fun and special for little kids. But of course, they also want to have their own fun.

  2. Lisa Hawkins says

    I have 2 teenagers also. You can let them decorate the front yard/porch for the trick-or-treaters and have them pass out candy. Give the teens a couple of “big candy bars” to hand out to whoever they think has the scariest, funniest, most unique etc…Also, Halloween night we have a special Halloween feast. We all make Halloween themed foods to eat and invite friends over to share in the feast before everybody heads out for the night.

  3. Heather says

    What a wonderful article to read and ponder the most important things we are doing. I love the good ideas and experience. I too love to be creative and sew costumes but we have a family of 4 boys so to save time and money we pass the costumes down and each year I sew a new one for the oldest. This year my oldest is seven and is really interested in sewing so I think we will have fun sewing together and he’ll feel proud of something he’s worked hard to make himself! I too love the idea of not going to every activity and making sure fun family time is our priority with out rushing to and fro. My husband is gone a lot with work and this is a time he can be with us so I hope I can create time that’s meaningful to our family. Including the pumpkin carving of course but I think the awards idea adds the perfect touch! Thanks for the fun ideas!

  4. Donna says

    I love that you posted that there is not “one” way. I think so often to feel like we are good mothers, we feel we need to participate and do everything. Now with so much posting on facebook about “look at how cool I am, I made these great costumes myself” or “look at this fun party we had/went to”, it is easy to feel unnecessary pressure and it is easy to feel less than others. I so appreciate your approach in learning what we want each holiday to look like and mean to our own families. I would love to sew my own costumes, but I know I don’t have the bandwith for that right now, but I know that my children are still pleased with their costumes that we put together. Personalization is the key, sticking with what works for our families, and being free to not worry about what everyone else seems to be doing. My children are still pretty young (preschool and K), so we are just beginning some of our traditions. Last year we started by decorating our table with a fun Halloween theme and then had the Pumpkin pancakes for dinner. We also did “Switch Witch” which is similar to the Halloween Fairy idea. It was great and got the candy out of house to benefit ALL of us! Thanks for sharing your idea Saren- I always feel better and ready to try and do new things when I read your site.

    • says

      Thanks for your kind words, Donna. And for sure, there’s no one “right” way. It’s so important for every family to figure out what really works for them and then keep to what they really love and enjoy despite what anyone else is doing.

  5. Renee says

    Thanks for all the “food for thought”. My boys are 4 and 2.5, so we are just starting to really think about what we want at Halloween in our family. This year our plan is to attend our church’s Fall Festival, dress up for preschool, and maybe trick-or-treat at just a few neighbors’ houses. We’re going to a pumpkin patch next week so I’m sure we’ll get pumpkins and carve them. Our activities will be spread out and more Fall season oriented rather than just Halloween. I just want the kids to have fun and make great memories.

    I haven’t decided yet about the candy! That and the scariness (especially scary decorations in the neighborhood) are the most difficult parts for me to deal with.

    • says

      The scariness is tricky. Some people put out such gory decorations and I don’t quite get why. Plus there are some pretty scary decorations right in the grocery store that can be hard to avoid. I’ve found that when we do encounter scary decorations, it can be a great time to talk to my kids about what’s real and what’s not real and think together about what we like and don’t like about various decorations.

  6. Erin says

    Thank you for this post. I’ve gone back and fourth concerning this subjest a few years now. I think it is another oppertunity to share the love of Christ with your neighbours and have a fun night eating candy while you do it!

    • says

      Erin: I know some people shun Halloween since it does have sort of dubious origins or because it’s not particularly meaningful or uplifting. But I’m with you, it’s a chance to share love with our neighbors and our children by just having some good old fashioned fun together.

  7. SHELLEY says

    I pay my kids a coin (depending on the size of the candy) for every candy they give to me. Then they use the money as they wish. The candy fairy is a great idea.

    I’ve heard multiple dentists say that SOUR candy does the most damage to teeth and chocolate is the safest, and it’s actually better to eat a few pieces of candy quickly than to suck on one piece for a half an hour and expose the teeth to acid- forming bacteria feeding on the sugar.

    I feed my my kids a very nutritious dinner before trick or treating and a healthy snack before they eat treats, so the desire for candy is reduced, and they give more candy away.

  8. Chantel says

    We host a murder for the teens and their friends for Halloween in lieu of trick-or-treat type activities. The kids look forward to it all year. It’s especially helpful that the teen crowd kindly accommodates little helpers who are too young to participate in the sleuthing. Some great websites provide party materials appropriate for all ages, and I love knowing where all those sweet teens are.

    Holidays are not mother-of-the-year contests for me, but when I allow my kids to have fun and share with their friends, I get kudos from the ones who really count. I have no idea what the other moms think.

  9. says

    I read a post last year about kids doing experiments with their candies (which melt the quickest in water/vinegar, etc). I wish I had bookmarked it because it had a lot of great ideas!

    As far as costumes go, my SIL has taken my oldest out this year and last and she buys a costume for him. They really enjoy these “dates”, and he uses his costume to play in all year long!

  10. Kristen says

    A few of our neighbors get together and have a night of pumpkin carving – we set up tables and have all the tools. It’s really fun to have all the kids carving together! Then we set them all up and light them – what a cool moment! We also have a potluck and our neighbor sets up their bounce house – it’s a great night to gather together before Halloween.

  11. says

    Love it!
    I have pinned this for my followers of all things parenting!
    I would like to add
    Safety on Halloween
    Reflectors on costumes
    Parents accompany small children
    Stay away from groups of teens dressed up
    If a front light is off it may be a pedophile’s home,
    Leave all houses with lights off in front alone!
    Then relax with your kids and have a blast, Halloween is a happy time
    Love the ” Halloween Fairy” think my gran kids my find out about her this year!

  12. Larua says

    The Halloween Fairy visits our house and it really helps to decrease the amount of sweets, esp the ones with artifical colors which we put a severe limit on since it affects our children’s behavior profoundly. The kids love the small gifts and money the fairy leaves for them. We started having a Halloween party last year and the kids are excited about the one this year. It is a fun time for all their friends to get together and play and eat treats. We carve pumpkins – each child designs their own – and roast the seeds. I like the pumpkin pancake idea (which we do on Thanksgiving already) and the “ghoul goulash” – I might try that one this year! Thanks.

  13. Suzanne Christensen says

    Yay for pumpkin carving and seed roasting! That’s probably my favorite Halloween tradition. Also letting my boys put up our few decorations- they play a cd of fun music and put up fake cobwebs. We like to do a dinner with cousins before going out to trick or treat- and make homemade root beer. I don’t like all the blood and gore stuff or skimpy costumes that Halloween has turned into. We tend to stick with autumn themed and science activities.

    I like reading “fun scary” stories- we have bunch of Halloween books that we go through each year. There’s also neat books in the “Let’s Read and Find Out” science series about the body- bones, blood, bats, pumpkins, etc. Magic School Bus has a book on sound that has a “spooky” feel to it.

    I fall themed science type activities during the month of October. For the older boys we recently had a bunch of friends over and using a balloon launcher we launched leftover garden produce and pumpkins into the fields nearby (helps to live in the “country”). When they were younger we had a science park day where we did silly experiments with lots of other young families (baking soda and vinegar- with food coloring, mentos in coke, etc.)

    We use the candy for all sorts of fun after Halloween. We do candy science experiments (for ideas like removing the “S” on skittles, dissolving candy in different solutions, etc.) It gives some the candy a purpose besides eating and it’s a little creepy what some of the candy does- like how huge a gummy bear grows in water!

    I have also heard of donating candy to soldiers- there are many organizations to go through (search: Candy for Soldiers and lots comes up)

    Candy Experiments online
    http://www.candyexperiments.com/
    http://www.science20.com/science_motherhood/top_10_scientific_uses_leftover_halloween_candy
    http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/science-experiments-using-candy/
    http://mamasmiles.com/fun-science-candy-experiments/

  14. Janna says

    We decided to save the dressing up in costumes for another holiday – New Year’s. Now our family hosts an annual New Year’s Eve Party where the kids and adults come in costume. We play games, have costume competitions and eat lots of goodies. It is fun! On Halloween, we host a night of prayer and praise. The kids like to help plan for this event. They get into choosing songs, Scriptures to be read and topics to pray for. I realize that many families don’t mind celebrating Halloween, but for those who do, you can deliberately choose other good options.

  15. Kathryn says

    Thanks for writing this. We are in Australia where Halloween is not big. I do a local neighborhood Halloween party each year for our son and the local kids so they can experience it. It is a fun night. It’s been a hard few weeks and months so Halloween is exactly what is needed around here, cheers, Kathryn.

  16. Amy says

    Hey Saren, I loved seeing the pics form St George. Here in our house we do a candy exchange the day after Halloween. For a small toy the kids can exchange me for their candy.. we do this at Easter too. Then all exchanged candy is taken to the local homeless shelter. For customer, I am willing to buy new but have on many occasions exchanged with other families. I would rather trade than buy. Hope everything is well for all of you up north. :)

  17. Robyn says

    I always serve tomato soup (blood) and homemade Mac n cheese (brains). My friends and family always laugh at my ghastly theme of brains and blood for dinner. Plus it’s a solid healthy meal before the sugar rush!

  18. Rylee Sundquist says

    The Halloween Fairy is a wonderful idea! The way some friends of mine deal with the sugar overload, and what our family has adopted, is the Thankfulness Box. The candy goes into a basket on top of the fridge, and the Thankfulness Box goes on the counter with a stack of small scrap paper next to it. Each day the kids get to write out or, if they can’t yet write draw a picture, of something they are thankful for. They put their slip in the box and get one piece of candy. You do this each day until Thanksgiving when you read all of the slips of paper and throw out the leftover candy.

    • Carrine says

      I have been trying to decide what to do about all the candy…my kids come home with a lot! I really like this idea. I usually do a Thankful Tree on the wall a little later in November…I think I will get it ready for November 1st and have them write what they are thankful for on the leaves beginning right after Halloween! Thanks for the great idea!

  19. jeejouis says

    Thank you for the book ideas! We’re always looking for new seasonal books.

    Our Halloween celebrations have evolved. We go to a local pumpkin patch on October 1st to get the large pumpkins that will decorate our porch throughout the month. If that doesn’t work we go on Columbus Day. We carve the pumpkins two or three days before Halloween. I’m not sure how long this will last as the kids haven’t had much staying power during the process in the past.

    We decorate the house in simple, simple, simple paper art and crepe-paper decorations that remind me of those we had when I was a kid that my mom bought from the thrift store. Some of my decorations this year are those that we had when I was little because my mom asked me to store them while she is on a mission this year. One year, when I was feeling patient enough to be crafty, I pulled out the construction paper and asked the children to make some decorations for our house. They loved this and made some awesome spiders and jack o’lanterns that I’ve kept and hung up again this year.

    Halloween night we eat a dinner of Sour Cream Chili Bake (or Frito Pie) and eggnog before trick-or-treating. After visiting the neighbors and asking for treats, the kids come home, select five pieces of candy and pour the rest in a bowl for the Switch Witch to take. My husband puts the bowl on the porch after all the ghouls and goblins are in bed. Until then we all put on pajamas and watch a short Halloween movie together (Charlie Brown, Winnie the Pooh, Ichabod Crane)while eating popcorn.

    The next morning the Switch Witch has left either one gift for the family (board game or video) or several very small gifts for each of our kids in the bowl in place of the treats.

  20. says

    I enjoyed this post! I personally am not really into the “scary” aspects of Halloween so I try to keep it fun and festive. I totally agree with other commenters on the “overboard” nature of Halloween today. It’s too much! I think creating costumes and carving pumpkins can be great creative and learning experiences for kids. As far as the candy, I don’t sweat it too much…they eat a lot of it on Halloween and then it tapers off. They still have candy left over from last Halloween that needs to be thrown away.

  21. Chris says

    Sneaky Trick: After the fairy has come to our house, she sorts though the treats and pulls out simmilar chocolate candies which she hides in her freezer. She must leave a note for St. Nick that they are there, because those treats always seem to find a way into our stockings Christmas morning! Sneaky fairy!

  22. Nancy says

    A tradition we are going to start after my son’s 4th grade class did this last year is trick or treating for UNICEF. You carry around a small box you can order on their website and after you ask for candy you ask them if they have any spare change for UNICEF. He made about $30 and his 4th grade about $2000.

  23. Heather says

    I pull out a bunch of candy to put in cookies later on in the year. We also decorate a gingerbread house at Christmastime so I take candy our for that as well. The kids are happy with the arrangement too.

  24. Diana says

    When my daughter was 7 she organized a food drive along with Trick-or-Treating. We’re doing it again this year. She made a flier that we handed out a week ahead of time along the planned route. Then, dressed up in costume, she hauls a wagon to collect the loot. She also collects candy but getting canned goods makes it all more purposeful. This year a few friends are getting in on it, too. We donate them to the local community services organization. She gets a big high from the thank-you, too.

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