Halloween is just around the corner, and my kids have already planned out expensive and ornate costumes only available online or in specialty stores. Tickets are on sale for elaborate theme park Halloween events with all the bells and whistles and price tag, too.
What happened to good old hay rides, neighborhood haunted houses and parties, and homemade costumes? When I was younger, we greatly anticipated these simple activities in preparation for our night of trick-or-treating.
To those spoiled with changing seasons, a Florida fall may seem somewhat boring. It’s rare to witness changing colors of the leaves, but when we feel the first crispness in the air, moods begin to change. As a kid, the first hint of cooler weather meant just a few weeks until Halloween, which would set off the pace for the anxiously awaited holiday season. It was a simple time with simple family traditions, creating lifetime memories to pass down.
I remember all four of us kids piling up in my mom’s station wagon and going to the church pumpkin patch. We would spend an hour finding the perfect melon that would be worthy of the frightening grimace we sketched and carefully templated with pencil on the back of a brown paper grocery bag. As soon as the sun went down and the kitchen was cleaned up from dinner, my dad would lay down newspaper on the counter and pull out the largest carving knife we had.
In pajamas, we all sat on the other side of the counter leaning in on barstools eagerly awaiting the first cut into the pumpkin. Carefully chiseling around the crown, our father artfully pulled the stem to reveal a perfect pumpkin top. This meant it was time for us to all stick our hands in the guts of the pumpkin and pull out all the wet seeds and slimy pulp.
To a kid, this was awesome. In no time, we had orange sludge all over the counter while one of us carefully extracted the seeds into a bowl. The best part of the night was yet to come.
While my dad finished cleaning out the inside of the pumpkin with a deep spoon, hollowing it out until the inside was smooth and light peach, my mom was busy rinsing and drying all the white pumpkin seeds. Laying them out on a cookie sheet and sprinkling them with oil and tons of salt, our mouths would water smelling them toasting in the oven.
Planning for costumes was something that usually started weeks ahead. Sometimes we would buy accessories, but for the most part we made our own with materials we had around the house.
One year I was a holiday present, walking around with my arms stuck out of two holes in a gift-wrapped cardboard box. I didn’t account for it being cold that year, and it was a tight fit with a heavy coat on. I couldn’t even bend my arms. Another year I was a punk rock space baby sporting tights, a garbage bag dress with glow in the dark accents, fluorescent spray painted hair and a pacifier hanging around my neck (it was an '80s thing!). Our dad would chase us around the house in his creepy mask that smelled as musky as its age.
Halloween night we would set out with our friends to hit up the neighboring blocks, collecting candy in pillowcases so heavy by the end of the night that we were dragging them on the floor. We would all simultaneously dump out the goods into a heaping pile of Smarties, Rolos, miniature candy bars, suckers and everything else sure to rot out our teeth and wind us up. After a quick inspection, we were cleared to dive in.
It was simple time back then, and we were easy to please. It seems like each year, holidays become more and more commercialized. I want to take this year down a notch with my kids and go back to some of these holiday basics and neighborhood celebrations. I’m hoping I can get buy-in from the kids to create at least semi-homemade costumes. “Your attire will no doubt be one of a kind,” I promised.
I went into the garage and pulled out several fancy Halloween buckets for the kids to choose for trick-or-treating this year. We have acquired quite a collection. My son smiled at me and said, “Nah, I want to use the biggest pillowcase we have this year.”
Find costume ideas, pumpkin patch information and more in our Halloween guide.