Listening to my 4 year old granddaughter repeat the old Halloween taunt…Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat…in all its variations was a cute reminder of Halloweens past. I looked it up to see when we started celebrating this strange holiday and found it was brought to America by the Scots-Irish at the end of the 19th century. It’s been around a long time, being celebrated in ways that haven’t changed so much. I see vintage Halloween decorations at antique shops and flea markets, vintage surely meaning before my time…


When I was little, we dressed up, mostly in homemade costumes. I remember witches, cowboys, gypsies, devils, wolfmen and vampires,ghosts and being a hobo. Does anyone even know what a hobo is these days? We had store-bought costumes that were silly plastic masks and some kind of cheap material to wear and Superman and Batman were popular then as now…


And we had our paper dolls to play with…


When my baby sister was maybe six months old, my Daddy carried her around…she was dressed in a pink snowsuit with a rubber monkey mask…to show the neighbors. I still remember how adorable that was. That may be the only time I remember Daddy going with us although I’m sure there were a few other times. Mostly we grabbed pillow cases and ran house to house as fast as we could, filling the case and then unloading it at home and going for more. Those were pretty safe times in the 50s. We’d bring the candy home and lay it out on the floor or the bed, organizing it by treat to see how we did. Some of the neighbors made popcorn balls or caramel apples for us and we had banana bites, root beer barrels, candy bars (real size ones – none of those little bitty bite-sizes), tootsie rolls, tootsie pops. There was no Halloween packaging although sometimes people bought little Halloween sacks and filled them with unwrapped candies like candy corn. I heard rumors of people giving dimes although I don’t remember getting them. We snacked from the candy we kept under the bed for days, weeks.


There were Halloween parties decorated with black and orange crepe paper, cardboard decorations or maybe those kind of paper decorations that fanned out into 3-D pumpkins or black cats. And pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. We bobbed for apples and munched on Rice Krispies treats or cookies. Houses were decorated with pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns and those cardboard decorations taped in windows. In high school, there were a few costume parties. Hayrides were popular, real hayrides on big wagons loaded with piles of hay. These were popular because it was a great make-out date, even on church hayrides. Think of laying in the lay with your boyfriend, snuggled up against the cold, bouncing along under a starlit night…

Halloween has evolved during my lifetime, an understatement to say the least. When my four kids were little, we had more decorations, there were more pumpkin patches and we made an annual trip to find our best pumpkins. The carving took place close to the day, putting them out on Halloween night. If we put them out too early, they got stolen or withered. We didn’t care who took them after Halloween, just not before! There were no fancy cutting tools or designs, just pumpkin faces you made up. Pumpkin contests and Halloween parties were a big deal at elementary school.

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My post-war generation threw Halloween parties for adults and kids alike. There weren’t too many, but, right after having our fourth child, we dressed as rabbits to laugh at ourselves in an age when birth control and zero population growth were the ideas of the moment. We didn’t plan to have four children, but there we were…my 6’4″ husband was a cute pink bunny and I was the prolific mommy bunny.

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Sometime when my kids were little, the stories of razor blades in candy and drugs slipped into treats began and we had to take more cautions. The dads went with the kids, standing in the street talking while the kids ran to familiar houses for treats. The freedom of being on your own like in the days of my childhood was gone. Sure, there were scary houses in every neighborhood back then, enhanced by our imaginations, but we weren’t in real danger. It was a scarier world now. My son and his friends were allowed to travel in groups by the time they were 9 or ten, but they had to check in often and we inspected their candy.

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In the early 90s, I opened a gift shop, about the time that Halloween was becoming a billion dollar industry. It became one of our biggest shopping seasons with decorations, specialty foods, and novelties exploding onto the market. The candy companies learned that packing items for the holiday made a big difference in sales and costumes became more sophisticated for all ages. Halloween was celebrated in bars, on airlines, in offices. Adults loved acting like kids, playing make-believe.

By the time I had grandchildren, Halloween was a big deal. In the age of political correctness, when people decided that this was a pagan holiday celebrating evil, Halloween parties changed to Fall Festivals in schools and churches. Only the name changed in the long run. We had our little goblins…

Marc & Jeff

Marc & Caroline - Halloween 2003

…the adults dressed up…


and the holiday continued to grow. And grow.

Yesterday, I was at a Halloween costume parade in the neighborhood, marveling at the costumes on all ages. There are a lot of super heroes and movie monsters and princesses and even the dogs have a costume contest. I had just looked through a brochure of different ways to make hot dogs look Halloweeny, food being one of the creative ways we celebrate these days. Television is full of Halloween movie festivals, Halloween episodes of your favorite show and scary movies are scarier than ever.

The holiday permeates our culture these days. It’s a celebration of harvest and fall colors and shorter days and cooler weather and imagination and creativity and acting like a kid and facing the scary things in life with a sense of humor.