Aah, the goblins and ghouls, witches and…Power Rangers? Yes, the tradition of Halloween is alive and well in my quaint Midwestern town with its children all alight, out-and-about for a frightfully fun night. I have always enjoyed the darker side of this magnificent holiday, but it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I discovered its imaginative, playful side. Growing up as I did, in a family full of Southern tradition, we never really did much for Halloween other than trick-or-treating. My parents, who grew up during the depression, put more emphasis on family holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. But in recent years it seems Halloween has become so popular I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make family time out of this wonderfully colorful season. In the process, it has become one of my favorite times of the year.
Once my girls were old enough to enjoy trick-or-treating, I started adding activities which have since become yearly traditions. But it’s not about just going through the motions and calling these activities ritual. It goes much deeper in that we find fun and meaning in each thing we do, coming together as a family, and enjoying the season for all its beauty. It’s amazing how much wonder a child expresses at the most simple tasks, like picking a pumpkin or an apple. I can’t imagine how much I would have missed in my life had it not been for these basic things.
Once summer begins to fade into fall, we look forward to picking apples at an orchard in a town south of here. We don’t just pick them to consume them all ourselves however, although this too is a delight; we use them for different Halloween events that we take part in. First, we donate some to the school where my oldest daughter attends to use in the apple bobbing pail for the Halloween party that is held annually. I also use them to make caramel apples for her girls youth club at church in celebration of the season. Yummy! While at the orchard we also take advantage of their pie pantry and restaurant which serves the best home cooked hamburger I’ve ever tasted. It’s a trip made only once a year so we stock up before we leave!
In early October the family makes a trip to a local farm where there is a pumpkin patch and several fields of various gourds. We love searching through the fields for those perfect pumpkins to represent each of us on carving night. Dad gets the huge pumpkin, I the large, and the girls the two smaller ones. I then add to the mix pumpkins in a variety of colors and textures as well as gourds to decorate with. Finally, we choose a bale of hay and some corn stalks to add to our front stoop.
Although it may seem simple to me, picking out costumes with my girls has proven to be a trip all its own. The decision for them certainly is a big one, and finding one that I agree to gets harder every year. I am reminded of my own childhood costume, which was always a variation on the same character, a gypsy. It was the cheapest and easiest thing my mom could come up with and she always had a flowing gown and robe to suit the bill. Add some makeup and hippie jewelry and voila! I on the other hand have two girls who are total opposite. My oldest only wants to dress in boy costumes and my youngest in flimsy, frilly fairy things. Problem is, it gets really cold here in October and so I am left to judge their choices on the basis of warmth! We aren’t always successful at our first stop, and by the time we’re done, a hot cocoa is always in order!
Having a fun Halloween season always includes a trip to our local island haunt. There is a small peninsula which juts out into the lake here and is home to a small historic village. During the Halloween season it is transformed by the city into a fun place for kids to get a safe scare. The evening starts out with a gathering in the common area complete with sweet treats and cocoa. A large bonfire is lit and everyone mingles. Soon the storyteller appears and begins to spin tales of ghosts and witches. There are mild frights from the sidelines while everyone huddles close. I’ve heard that things get wilder as the night gets later, but after 9 p.m., there are no kiddies allowed. Maybe someday I’ll stay behind for a look at the darker side. As for now, it’s off to bed with my little ones.
What Halloween season would be complete without some wickedly delightful decorating? We begin by pulling out decorations from years past to see what new things we may need. All the nick-nacks that are prominently placed in our home are dolled up or put away to make room for more seasonal items. I include lots of candles in many frightful styles especially ones that make the house smell like pumpkin and candy corn. We then move to the outside where our front stoop is decorated with the pumpkins, gourds, hay, and cornstalks from the pumpkin patch. We add lights and some more Halloween specific items such as black cats and witches to the mix. The only thing we don’t do is carve the pumpkins; that comes later.
Later in October, around the same time we visit the Island, we make another trip to the pumpkin patch although this time it’s not to pick fruit. They have a wonderful corn maze which is open earlier in the fall, but closer to Halloween they add a scary twist calling it the Haunted Maze. The kids cling close and laugh with delight when some monster jumps out to scare them. Again, this is a kid maze so the scares are not too brutal. Once completed, we have cider and donuts in the barn.
This is an activity with a night all its own as it takes a good amount of time to carve the intricate designs my older daughter always seems to pick. On the night before Halloween, we begin by going online and searching for the patterns we will use. There are no simple triangle eyes and toothless grins for my girls! Once chosen we begin the tedious task of removing the seeds and carving. Once completed, the seeds get washed and prepared in a salt water bath for crisping in the oven. Another wonderful tradition – pumpkin seeds!
Sweets are always welcome in our home and every holiday is a reason to bake them! This particular holiday brings the family together to prepare caramel apples, and various other cookies, brownies, and desserts, all decked out in their ghoulish best! The girls at the girls club are the benefactors of the caramel apples during their meeting before the 31st and teachers always get a special bag of goodies. The rest stays at home for the family and any other unexpected guests who may drop by.
School Halloween Party
Of course each year the PTA at my oldest daughter’s school sponsors a family Halloween party. They throw a frightfully fun bash complete with monster music and tons of old school party activities, including bobbing for the apples we provide. Kids and parents all dress in their most creative costumes then line up in categories to be judged for best dressed. I think these parties are as much fun for the parents as they are for the kids!
What would Halloween be without the icing on the cake, that great candy grab known as trick-or-treat! The culmination of all the season’s preparations is so fun, so simple, and so completely awesome for the kids. All the fun they’ve had thus far can’t compare to that huge plastic pumpkin full to the brim with chocolate and suckers. They bring it home and dump it out to be sorted through (it is 2008 after all), trading off all the stuff they don’t like, and returning their stash to that sacred orange orb. There it will stay, but only for a short while as Halloween is the one time of the year when it’s okay to overindulge. I may even join them as I reminisce about the month that has come and gone and begin planning for the next big thing, Thanksgiving.