Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. —Ellen Goodman
When it comes to holidays, I like to go full-out! I love traditions…the habits and rituals that create memories (both good and bad, but especially MEANINGFUL) and serve to connect families and friends to the past, present and the future. Equally as important, I enjoy sharing where, why and how the traditions came about. So for the last month, my family has endured all of my favorite stories about Halloweens past. I share these little gems, not just for myself (okay, maybe just for myself) but also as a way to join together my childhood experiences, a little history, some faith/religion and finally…to secretly instill some expectations and wisdom upon my kiddos. And you thought I just hung out in my kitchen baking cookies all day 🙂
Seriously, I think one of the most effective tools in parenting (and a number of other categories) is the personal testimony. That’s why I like telling Sean and Casey all about my Halloween adventures–successes and epic fails (age appropriate, of course.) Everything from what costumes we donned (not ashamed to admit that I was Bat Girl more than once) to trick or treating in the neighborhood to visiting my great grandmother’s house (for peanuts and apples) to haunted houses and everything in between. We compare and contrast classroom parties, popular candy (then and now), real (and not so real) ghost stories all while asking questions and googling Halloween history. Together we’ve learned a lot! And the payoff comes when the kiddos are just as invested in the traditions as I am 🙂
I would say that I get my love of Halloween from my Dad. He was the first adult (outside of teachers) that I can remember dressing up for Halloween on a regular basis. Dad likes his costumes to be scary, and while that’s not my cup of tea, I have many memories of his gory masks and spooky get-ups. He would help us carve pumpkins and Mom would work on roasting the pumpkin seeds. At the time, pumpkin patches weren’t a part of our Halloween experience…but we looked forward to the carving nonetheless. We didn’t use fancy stencils or patterns and our primitive carving tools could have easily sent one of us to the ER (fortunately it never came to that!) Today, my family looks forward to our annual trip to “the patch” (which my son tells me doesn’t sound quite right) and choosing our own pumpkins from a giant field of orange and green. Over the years, I have amassed a great deal of pumpkin carving supplies and we make an event out of the whole thing…complete with spooky music courtesy of Pandora. This year we added hot dogs and s’mores to the occasion. It’s one of my favorite days of the year (and someday I will master those pumpkin seeds, too!)
The traditions go way beyond the pumpkin patch and the carving. We decorate the house, reminisce over old Halloween photos and spend countless hours discussing, shopping and creating Halloween costumes. The costumes have become one of our best-loved parts of the season. Fortunately, my kids aren’t into scary and with a little imagination and planning, they’ve managed to come up with some pretty creative costumes over the years. And while I’ve quietly lobbied for the “family” costume, I am afraid that ship has sailed. For some years, however, I was able to finagle the kiddos into coordinated costumes, but my luck eventually ran out there, too :(. Oh well. There’s plenty of fun in sharing stories about past costumes, who we went trick or treating with (family or friends,) where we were living at the time and surprisingly no one ever seems to mention the candy.
Typically we watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” once (sometimes twice) each October and I marvel at the questions the kids come up with. When they were younger, they needed help with the character’s names and who was related to whom. Now they ask why Lucy is so mean, how come Charlie Brown can’t get a break, and what Snoopy’s role as the Red Baron is really all about. This year I had to explain that bobbing for apples was a real thing and we discussed some of the reasons why that tradition didn’t carry on (gross.) We marvel at Schroeder’s piano playing skills, discuss party invite etiquette and basically feel bad for Linus.
As the children have grown older, Halloween has included a faith dialogue as well. We talk about the early history of the holiday…a time when pagan superstitions and overall fear fueled the observance. Picture a people who warily watched the seasons change and anxiously retreated into a time of the year when no crops grew, the weather was particularly harsh and their survival depended upon the work that had been done in the warmer months. Harvest really was a reason to celebrate as they prepared for months of cold and uncertainty. Can you imagine how they were compelled to turn to a number of gods for protection and provision? Warding off evil lent itself to carving scary faces on gourds and trees and displaying these items on their doorsteps. And what about trick or treating? A custom that spans ancient beliefs, religious practices and morphed into a “pseudo-war” between the haves and have-nots before becoming the family friendly outing that we now know.
It’s November 1st and costumes lie crumpled up on the floor, candy wrappers dot the tabletops, and tired looking eyes stare up at me. And while the whole Halloween adventure culminates in one day, I realize that it’s not the holiday itself that means so much to me–it’s actually the whole season. We’ve been gearing up, preparing for, talking about and making plans for a whole month. Through it all we’ve carved out special (additional!) time together…outside of mealtimes and the occasional quiet evening. We’ve cooked and baked together. We’ve shopped together. We’ve attended school parties together. We’ve enjoyed nature together. And it feels good. I know these seasons are fleeting. Before long, their Halloween plans won’t include me. The kids are growing up so fast and that probably scares me more than any creepy costume on Halloween. For now I hold onto the imagination and creativity of the season. I look forward to the cooler temperatures and the rustling of leaves and my mind wanders (unafraid) to the approaching season that seems to draw us closer (even if it only is for warmth 🙂 ) The traditions abound and yes, I can still taste the caramel apples that sweeten this already favored season.
There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch. ~Robert Brault