For many people, Halloween is just one day. For my family … well, where’s the fun in that? We like our holidays, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve read any of my other articles. Our holiday season runs from the first falling leaf of autumn through the last snowflake falling in the spring. We like to have any excuse to celebrate that we can! Halloween, for us, starts on October first.
October, in our little chunk of the Midwest, can be somewhat mercurial. One day it might be warm, the next day cool. To get into the fall spirit, even if it’s 80 degrees outside, I light scented wax tarts throughout my home. These little slices of heaven give my house the fresh smells of apples and clove-y oranges and s’mores … all the scents of the season. Smell has an amazing effect on our powers of recall, and we associate pleasant smells with happy times. My husband then gets into the groove by dragging out our enormous inflatable lawn decorations. Now, yes, I understand, many people find these to be tacky at best, atrocious at worst. And I’ll admit, they do give a home a bit of a comical air. But really … what’s not to love about a giant inflatable ghost waving in the breeze next to your front door?
Decorations are certainly a good start towards getting our Halloween going. I begin to dig in the basement for all of our packed-away goodies, from the little witch and goblin votive holders to the electric pumpkins in the windows. At this point, our three children begin to get into the spirit. It might not be quite as exciting as Christmas (and believe me, I go ALL out for Christmas!), but this dragging out of the decorations is still pretty thrilling, and it gets the kids revved up for our next regular tradition: cookie baking.
Cookie baking is often associated with Christmas, but in my family, we don’t believe cookies should be relegated to just one holiday. We have cat, ghost, owl, peaked hat, and pumpkin cookie cutters all just waiting for us to roll out our dough. Since I have boys, I make extra, and then throw in some cupcakes for good measure. We all get into the swing of it, me making the dough, my oldest son rolling it out, my middle son cutting the shapes, and my youngest dabbling on sprinkles. My husband, always ready to sacrifice for a good cause, stands at the ready to perform taste tests.
At some point during the month, usually about midway through, we make a pilgrimage to a local farm to pick our pumpkins. This isn’t just any farm, either. Eckert’s Orchards has not only pumpkins to pick, but animals to pet, rides to ride, restaurant and custard shop … it’s fun for the whole family. We make another pilgrimage there to pick apples.
We make our applesauce first, with all the apples we’ve acquired, by peeling, dicing, and coring, then simmering in the crockpot and smashing when soft. The house smells divine after just a short period of time – no tarts needed! Other apples are disposed of in pies, breads, muffins, and, of course, eaten as-is. Our pumpkins will meet a different fate.
Our pumpkins we gut to turn into a jack-o-lantern. Each child has picked his own pumpkin, and my husband and I have also picked out a pumpkin. Five pumpkins, in a row, needing gutted. We have great fun getting slimy and disgusting in pumpkin goo, then drawing where we want out pumpkins cut. Cutting is daddy’s job, and once we get to that point, I pick up all the pumpkin goo and head into the house, where the goo is sorted from the seeds. The seeds are then soaked, to get rid of the remaining pumpkin flesh, and dried.
The next morning, we split the seeds into two piles: one will become savory seeds, the other will become sweet seeds. Savories will be tossed with olive oil, seasoned salt, a dash of worcestershire, and a tiny pinch of cayenne before being baked to crispy perfection. The sweets are tossed with a splash of melted butter and a cinnamon-sugar mixture prior to baking. The eating frenzy follows.
With all this eating, it’s a good thing we have a nice long walk while trick-or-treating. Our town hosts a trick-or-treat on main street, where all the merchants organize and turn their businesses into haunted houses or offer treats to the children. The boys are thrilled that they are able to get dressed up and get free stuff, and my husband and I love that it’s a good, safe place where we can go and have fun. The boys get some candy, but they are just as likely to collect stickers, pencils, little footballs and bouncy balls, and mini Play Doh containers. They get to enjoy performances by the staff of Radio Disney, go on a hayride, see fire trucks and ambulances, get popcorn from the historic theater, and eat hotdogs or burgers at the end.
Finally, on Halloween night, we’ve opted out of trick-or-treating with the neighbors – we do not have sidewalks, and we decided one night of goody-gathering was sufficient – so we have a quiet little Halloween party instead. We’ve had Halloween parties since we first got married, only instead of having friends over now, we simply celebrate with our children. I create a scary smorgas board of devilish delights with horrible names such as troll toes, spider eggs, and monster fingers, and we eat until we drop, then we watch silly scary movies until everyone’s exhausted.
The day after Halloween … we start to plan Thanksgiving!