It started as a response to fear. In October of fifteen years ago, the nation was still reeling from the shock of terrorist activity in New York and Pennsylvania. Parents were worried about letting their children out of the house for school, much less for such trivial things as trick-or-treating. Should they allow fear of the unknown to dictate their actions, or take a stand? Was keeping a sense of normalcy for their children important enough to risk allowing them out for time-honored traditions?
Many groups sponsored events as alternates to the usual activities. Schools and church groups offered “Autumn/Harvest Celebrations” on the night of October 31st to sway parents and children to safer venues than roaming the streets. Some of these included “trunk-or-treating” in lit parking lots where large groups theoretically meant security.
It was in this atmosphere that my family chose to host a gathering of family as an alternate to allowing our children to go out. We had decided that being cautious did not mean we could not have fun with our loved ones. To our delight, it also became one of the best Halloweens we had ever celebrated.
We lived in a small apartment at the time, but we used candlelight and a set of Halloween lights to the exclusion of all other sources to generate a spooky atmosphere. Skeletons hung from doors, and bats from the ceiling. We carved our own pumpkins, and set up the entire place to accommodate a group of various ages with games and fun.
Costumes were mandatory for anyone children, and encouraged for adults. We played CDs of spooky sounds and seasonal playlists. Watching my husband dance in the kitchen (the only portion of the apartment without carpet) to “Monster Mash” surrounded by small “monsters” was one of the highlights of the night.
We served treats straight from women’s magazines like mummy dogs and candy corn fudge. Craft projects quieted the rambunctious cousins for a short time, before adults were pressed into service to hand out candy at every odd corner and doorway in the apartment. By the time everyone was stuffed and reasonably worn out enough to enjoy a spooky story; we had realized we were having far more fun than just walking door to door.
That night was so successful we decided to make it our own tradition. Eventually we moved to a bigger place, and were able to host a larger gathering, with separate activities for younger children and adults. And though the gathering place and the guests changed, what remained the same was the fact that it was always a family activity, from decorating the house to choosing “spooky” dishes to make, from arguing over favorite candy to creating a cemetery in the front yard.
Our kids are grown now, and are usually too busy with work or school to celebrate Halloween. We still spend time with each other when we can, and share a rich bond over the shared experiences of their childhoods. After all, that was the entire point-to be together, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
I hope you and yours have a very Happy Halloween.