Ask Jo: Halloween and Halloween Decorating

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days. Today’s question is about Halloween.

Darla writes:
Hi Jo!
I asked you in the past about your outlook on Christmas decorating, and you wrote a detailed post to explain.
So now I have to ask about your views on Halloween since you have mentioned several times that you are not interested in Halloween themed projects and decorating.
Not trying to be nosey…it’s just that you always have interesting thoughts and ideas on things.

Hmm…Let me think a second. Okay. Let’s start with an explanation. I don’t decorate for Halloween. I don’t really make many Halloween projects. There isn’t a witch hat quilt in my house. There aren’t spider webs. I decorate with pumpkins vs jack o lanterns.

I think it all started with me as a young kid. My parents were not into Halloween. My mom was of the belief it was a pagan holiday and not something we should be celebrating…so, I wasn’t exposed to it much. We were allowed to dress up and go to the school “costume” party…but not to a Halloween party.

We did not dress up as anything scary. Here are two of my older brothers and I. I wasn’t old enough for school (I’m in the middle) so I didn’t go to the school party. My brothers were old enough. Jim is a motorcycle guy…Jay is an old lady.

At our school, everyone went to school in the evening. We went to our classrooms and played some kid games. We ate lunch in the cafeteria and always got an orange drink in our cartons rather than milk. (this was a BIG deal) Then at the designated time we went as classes and paraded through the high school gym so all the parents could see all of our costumes. First, second and third prizes were given out in each classroom. Then we went home.

We lived in the country and didn’t do any traditional trick-or-treating at all.

It was what our family did so that’s what I did. I really didn’t know there was any other way to do Halloween.

One of the things I absolutely loved about dressing up was hanging out with my mom while we made out costumes. For a few weeks in advance, mom helped us put out costumes together. I remember one year my brother Jay was Mrs. Harper Valley PTA. He won first place that year. One year he was a box of Jello. Mom and Jay worked so hard on that costume. I was a baby one year. I was so impressed that mom came up with the idea of making a pacifier by cutting a circular piece of tag board, cutting a small hole in the center, inserting a balloon, and then only blowing it up just enough to make it look like a pacifier. That was my second grade costume.

My mom was so cool and full of amazing ideas for costumes and she was so good at working with us to make them come to life.

Fast forward to when I was old enough to make my own choices…I came to realize that I’m not a fan of Halloween. I don’t like to feel scared. I don’t like creepy things. Thoughts of zombies, bats, spiders, blood, gore, and ghosts, don’t make me feel good. They made me feel scared. They gave me bad dreams.

Back in 1980 when the original Friday the 13th movie came out, my sister-in-law took me to the show. I was 14. I hated it. I really hated it. I was so scared. I watched the exit sign through the entire movie and was still scared to death. I was not a horror movie fan and to this day. I do not watch anything scary.

So then I had kids…we always did something Halloween-ish but never a lot. At first, we lived in the country. It’s hard to go trick or treating in the country and we weren’t ones who went to a lot of houses of people we didn’t know. We’d go to 10 or so places all of the people we knew… grandparents and neighbors.

We always had candy in case we had trick-or-treaters but we rarely did.

I tried to create some of the same costume memories with my kids as my mom did with me and my brothers.

I know parents don’t have time nowadays but I think it’s sad that people don’t make costumes very often anymore. That was the biggest part of the fun for me.

Later we lived in town. Again…we never took the kids all over town. We just went around a block or two of our closer neighbors. That was enough. The kids had a ton of candy just from that. We gave out candy to people who came to our house.

There was often a parade in town and one of the local groups sponsored that. We also occasionally went to something hosted by a local 4-H group.

All of this…and all of our costumes were always something non-scary. We were always just a non-scary family. I continued to not like scary things and my kids, for the most part, followed suit.

Now as a grandma, I see some kids are scared. Carver, my grandson, was that way. As soon as he was able to make his wishes known he refused to go trick or treating. He didn’t like dressing up. He would come to my house and help hand out candy but he didn’t like Halloween. He was never a Halloween boy. Now, he’ll go and doesn’t mind but typically he just goes up and down my street. It’s enough and he comes back with plenty of candy.

Speaking of candy…I never understood why parents take the kids to so many houses and get so much candy when all they do for the next month is yell at the kids for eating too much candy-or have to hide the candy. I’ve always wondered, why go to so many houses in the first place if the candy is just going to start an argument.

I think sometimes I have too practical of a mindset. Speaking of a practical mindset. Typically the week after Halloween the kids and I would bake cookies or mini banana bread loaves and then the kids would go out and gift that to our neighbors who had given them candy.

As far as decorating goes…it was the post about this cross-stitch piece that prompted the question from Darla…

I skip Halloween decorating. I just go with fall and pumpkins and Thanksgiving. It works for me. I only have to decorate once. I don’t have to figure out how to decorate first for Fall, then Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas. I can just combine Fall and Thanksgiving and call it all good. HA! So I guess maybe the answer is that I’m lazy. HA!

The answer also is…I can have fun and decorate but I can do decorating that isn’t scary. Remember I have grandkids and before that, it was childcare kids in my home. I never want any little one in my home to feel scared like I did as a kid when I saw scary things. There are so many good feelings to feel…I would never pick scared as the feeling I want to feel. Life throws out enough scary things.

I am not against anything others do and celebrate…this is just me.

I would love to hear about your family your Halloween traditions. Please leave a comment.

29 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Halloween and Halloween Decorating”

  1. As a kid we participated in Halloween. My parents didn’t know better. I was usually a gypsy wearing one of my moms layered skirts and lots of costume jewelry necklaces and such. I never enjoyed going door to door for candy. It felt like begging to me or maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. I realized at college that I no longer had to participate and I quit doing so. After my kids were born my in-laws made a huge deal out of the whole thing that I participated for a few years. Then I asked my kids what Halloween meant to them and they said costumes and candy. I suggested a costume box for year-round fun and I’d let them each pick out a bag of candy to share with the family. They said good because they didn’t like going out begging for candy anymore than I had. Their costumes were never witches or horror types.
    One of my grandsons is very sensitive and doesn’t like the horror decorations. Several houses in his neighborhood decorate that way and he shuts his eyes to avoid seeing it.
    I don’t like fall colors, especially orange! I decorate with nore grape, golds, yellows, greens, and burgundy colors and do the same as you. The decorations come out in September until the weekend after Thanksgiving. If I use a pumpkin it is whole, never carved.
    The Halloween I remember most my bank’s employees dressed as Noah’s Ark animals. I forgot it was Halloween and took the kids with me. I was glad it wasn’t scary stuff.
    And I don’t watch horror movies! I’ve never understood the attraction. Thrill seeking? I’ll get mine elsewhere thank you very much.

  2. I, too, don’t decorate for Halloween.(Although my staircase is naturally decorated with cobwebs on the ceiling at this time of year, where I can’t reach!) For me, I think it’s just another way of getting people to spend money they don’t have (like Christmas!) When my daughter was younger, we would only visit neighbours we knew, or family, for trick or treating. I also don’t like scary stuff; I’ve never watched a horror movie! It’s such a thoughtful idea of delivering homemade cookies or mini banana bread to the same neighbours after Halloween.

  3. Maybe I’m the oddball, but I love Halloween! Possibly it’s related to the fact that it’s close to my birthday and it felt like MY holiday. I’ve always been an introvert but the ability to dress up and be someone else for just one day was exciting! Mom made my costumes and my favorite ones were Santa Claus and a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes (definitely not PC today). We were and still are rural so virtually no trick or treating but still enjoy decorating though I see no point at all in gore.

    I’ve always enjoyed scary movies and grew up watching the classics but largely avoid excessive gore. My daughter cannot tolerate violence or loud noises so we gravitate towards kid-friendly entertainment on the occasion that we watch movies.

    My Halloween decorations outnumber Christmas decorations by a long shot as I married into two different families with the mindset that Christmas is the “gimme” holiday and that just sucked the fun out of it for me. As a kid I may have received five presents max-one big present ($20 was a fortune growing up), two or three were clothes and the rest smaller gifts. Since becoming a mother I have shifted towards celebrating the traditions of our ancestors and I find that much more satisfying. My daughter was always terrified of Santa so most of my decorations are snowmen and I pick up tiny trees at the thrift store and decorate them with button garland and homemade ornaments. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but as you say, this is me.

  4. So similar to how I feel. Grew up making most costumes, as did many in my small hometown. My favorite was a polar bear that had black fabric added a different year and became a panda. I dislike scary and creepy. Too much horror in the real world, don’t need to see it on TV. We carved pumpkins and roasted the seeds. Didn’t decorate much, just a few paper decorations, mostly old greeting cards. Now I live in a town where one street gets shut down for Halloween trick or treat because of the thousands who come here from miles around. Some homeowners on those blocks go all out with elaborate displays. I may get a few pumpkins or mums but nothing else. I live one street over from the madness and might see 50 kids.

  5. My experience is much like yours, Jo. We did the trick or treat thing as kids, and mom would often make our costumes—one year my sister and I were pink poodles!! Never anything scary.
    Then when I had kids I always made their costumes…one year my oldest daughter was a witch, but a cute one not a scary one. And later my second daughter was a teletubby, and that costume was soooo cute! She looked adorable.
    I always saw it as just a chance for the kids to dress up and have fun—they definitely didn’t like going to houses with scary decorations though.
    Now that I’m a grandma, like you I decorate for fall, not for Halloween. Pumpkins, scarecrows, gourds….fall-themed quilts of course….and since we live out of town on a street with only nine houses (and all the neighborhood kids are not of trick or treat age anymore) we don’t even participate in trick or treat which is fine with me!

  6. Oh my gosh Jo, thank you for the wonderful memories of Halloween parties at our small town school. I had forgotten all about them but your post brings everything back, even the orange drink cartons! My sister and I dressed as Sonny and Cher one year and won first place. I might have to dig that picture out today. Like you, I decorate for fall but I do have one halloween quilt I keep in the living room. My other halloween quilt is in the donate pile for quilt guild Monday. I don’t care for it and regret the time and effort I put into it. It’s time to let it go. Thanks again for the memories.

  7. Love the giving of pumpkin bread to the neighbors. What a great idea. We grew up not doing scary, too. I think your reasons are sensible.

  8. I love Halloween! I think it is just a fun holiday. I am not into the scary things though. If my kids wanted me to make their Halloween costumes I would or we would buy one if that’s what they wanted. I enjoy baking Halloween treats and decorating my house. I don’t have many Halloween cross stitch projects, but I am working on it. I just made a couple of quilted Halloween pillows and table runners last month. I trick or treated with siblings and cousins when I was little. My boys usually went out with cousins or friends. I can understand not liking it though. It can be very commercialized. I just think that life can be hard sometimes so why not have an excuse to celebrate holidays when you can :).

  9. I mostly decorate for generic fall – leaves, pumpkins, gourds, etc. Add a few ghosts, black cats, and jack o’lanterns for Halloween, then swap those for turkeys for Thanksgiving. And Christmas things are not to be seen until the weekend after Thanksgiving. Depending on weather forecasts, DH might put up outside decorations a few days before Thanksgiving.

    My problem with holiday decorating – too much stuff that normally sits out to pack away and make room for holiday things. So in effect, I’m doing double the packing & unpacking of decorations. Ugh.

    My childhood Halloween was very much like yours, except for the part about it being a pagan holiday. We lived on a farm, had few neighbors, parents didn’t want to take us to town, etc. I hope this doesn’t start a kerfluffle, but I’ll take Halloween over the hyper-buy!Buy!!BUY!!! that Christmas is. I prefer any holiday where there’s no expectations of over the top decorations or going into debt buying piles of perfect gifts.

  10. I’ve never liked scary movies. Growing up, my brothers and I always went trick or treating with my cousins. Their mom and my mom would drive us around to the neighborhood with several houses. I lived in the city. I remember even getting homemade popcorn balls and apples, the good ole days!! Wouldn’t think of giving those out these days! I worked full time (we dressed up at work!) so I never made my kids’ costumes, but I have made many costumes for my grandkids. That was so fun! One requested his favorite snack as a costume, a Cheez-it. Just two big pieces of orange felt, arm holes, head hole, “salt” beads; he loved it. One other year, he wanted a Tony Stewart Home Depot racing jumpsuit costume. I was pretty proud of that one. I used to decorate my front porch when grandkids were younger. Now I just put out my pumpkin wall hangings, candy corn table topper, leaf wall hangings etc. The most Halloween-y one is paper-pieced black tree decorated with plastic spiders, snakes, skeletons. I made my daughter one of those too.

    1. Patricia Kendel

      I’m so relieved to hear that so many of you don’t like scary. I always thought it was just me because my regular life was scary. As an only child who wasn’t wanted and parents who slowly destroyed each other, life was scary enough. I like loving ❤️ people and happiness and I believe that life is hard enough when we are all trying to help each other. Especially with the way the world is these days. Love to each and every one of you and extra love to Jo, who is like a candle for us all.

  11. I don’t do Halloween either. Didn’t enjoy it as a kid. Dislike anything scary including movies. I always volunteered to be “room mother” for Valentines Day – kids were nice to each other and said thank you versus Halloween trying to be scary and rude.

  12. I think our mothers could have been related! I attended a small county, one-room school, and for Halloween we (all neighbors/families) had a party at the school at night. There was always a bonfire which the fathers took care of while inside the school there was a parade of the costumed kiddos. We usually dressed as old farmers or old ladies. We never did any trick or treating. I did make costumes for my children and they did trick or treating on our street. I decorate for fall as you do, not Halloween. When we lived in Rochester, MN, the kids would come home and dump their candies on table and sort out any that they didn’t like and would take to school next day and the schools gave it to the state hospital that was there at that time, but isn’t now.

  13. Halloween used to be a simple kid’s school party then trick/treat at night. Now stores are packed w/candy & decorations before Labor Day because it’s become an adult thing and I just read a BILLION dollars are spent for Halloween. In the convenience store I saw a bag of 20 individual whiskey shots to hand out for ADULTS. This is over the top. We fix up treat baggies and deliver to our neighbor kids then we go to a movie so our house is dark.
    We live in a city so that makes a difference.
    When our kids were growing up we lived in a small town of 500 and they knew everyone because they had a paper route. One year our daughter went with her friend and that Dad drove them around. When she came home, he had given both girls pillowcases. I was furious, our kid does not need that much candy.
    I hate those lawn blow up things – for all holidays. Noticed them in the store – expensive !
    I’m with Jo, my decorating is Fall and it’s up Labor Day to after Thanksgiving. I’m officially an old “fuddy – duddy”.

  14. I am not a fan of Halloween. I grew up on a farm. Trick or treating meant driving from house to house, but it was at supper and milking time so NO driver. I remember going with a friend 1 year, her mom drove us around. When my kids were little I dreaded trying to come up with costumes! My middle daughter loves Halloween, my older daughter and her husband host a fall gathering party at the end of October, guests can wear costumes if they choose.

  15. Halloween is a big thing in my family as it is my husband’s and daughter’s birthdays. When my children were young, we did trick or treating in our neighborhood, we lived in a neighborhood then. I made costumes or we bought one depending on what the kids wanted but nothing scary. That town had a Halloween Parade during school and all the schools marched including the High School band. It was great fun. My daughter was allowed to choose the theme for her birthday, and she only had a Halloween birthday twice. My husband said as a child growing up he never had a birthday party because his birthday was Halloween, so I made sure that never happened to her. Once we moved to Connecticut to a much more rural area the kids did a little Trick or Treating but most of the holiday revolved around parties that the kids attended. I do a little decorating for Halloween, but my favorite holiday of all is Thanksgiving. No gift giving, great food, time to spend with extended family, and especially time to be grateful for all we have, my kind of holiday.

  16. We were never big on Halloween growing up as we were out on a farm. Mom would have a little candy in the house in case we did have someone drop by (about every third year someone did). Pop would take us to town (population 100) and we would go to 8 to 10 houses. Grandma’s, a couple of the church ladies, and a few older friends of the folks who liked to see little ones dressed up. It was considered “polite” to raise your facemask so they could see you before you got your candy. I was so bashful it almost wasn’t worth getting candy for. 10 years later, my brothers and I took our little sisters to the same places and we got candy also. They would even send it out to the oldest brother driving the car. (“Hi Ricky! Sending some candy out for you too” with a wave and air kiss as they called from the house.) PTO put a party on at school with a parade; mostly only a mask or funny clothing costumes; hardly anyone ever had a full store bought costume. We live in a large metro area when my children were young and they loved dress up so I made costumes-daughter was always some sort of princess and son was an action figure. They got lots of candy off just a long block on 3 streets and would come home and sort out what they didn’t want and my husband would take it in for the youngsters in his squadron. Many were away from home for the first time and enjoyed getting any sort of sweets like that. We let our children eat all they wanted of the candy and after a couple of days they were tired of it and and were happy to send more into the squadron. I decorate for fall but we had Jack-o-lanterns when the kids were home. Now, our daughter brings the grandson out for trick or treating in our small town and our son joins us for an early supper. Christmas has always been about celebrating Christ’s birth. Santa brings a nice present, Mom and Dad give a few and we always pick names from the angle tree. Both of our children and the grandson have October or November birthdays so we make sure they don’t get lost in the holiday shuffle.

  17. Thank you for your explanation, Jo.
    I enjoyed reading your views. I admire the way you think things through and do what you feel is best for you and your family…instead of just mindlessly following along with what everyone else is doing.
    You have such an inner strength and are a true leader.

    Enjoy these lovely fall days!

  18. As a kid we never went to many homes since we lived in the country and had few neighbors, plus we never dressed as scary characters. When I had my own children, we also lived in the country and did few neighbors and again nothing scary. Our children decided they didn’t want to go trick or treating when they hit about 8 which was okay with me. I love decorating with fall items and colors but not Halloween themed items, makes the season last longer until it’s time for snow decorations.

  19. We had no money so we just dressed as hobos with old clothes. I’m not a fan of scary movies either. I used to decorate but it just took so much time. Halloween then Thanksgiving then Christmas! So now I just put out a few fall items and then some Christmas stuff with the tree.

  20. I love seeing all the little ones of the neighborhood dressed in costume. We don’t give candy. I buy small pkts of crayons and small color books to give out. The older kids get snack bags of pretzels and pencils.
    We do decorate for Halloween but fun stuff not scary–more harvest with corn stalks, pumpkins and gourds guarded by boy and girl scarecrows.

  21. I’m like you – I don’t do scary! I hate scary, horror movies and books. I’m actually a big chicken! I always enjoyed the challenge of making creative costumes for my kids when they were little and then for my granddaughters. None were scary, though. My son is now 45, but when he was about 10, he was the Phantom of the Opera. Everyone thought he was Dracula. LOL! If I do any Halloween decorating, it’s just the cute kind. When I was little, my dad was an avid model airplane builder. I wanted to build something with him, so for some reason, I got a Mummy kit. It was so realistic looking that it scared the crap out of me (it sat on my dresser) so I had to throw it away! LOL!

  22. I have always made Halloween costumes …first for our four kids and now 11 grandchildren. I think the most costumes I made in one year was 6…that was kind of stressful!!!! This year I only have three (Winnie the poo and two piglets ..that family has twins) to make. My grandkids are getting older. So I decided to make one for our dog as well…Sherlock Holmes ….there’s going to b a party at doggie daycare . I don’t like scary either so the costumes have been characters like the little mermaid to food…Oreo, pizza, candy bars…. I decorate fall and sone Halloween and then thanksgiving. I really like the new oranges and the rich colors of rust and greens. Lots of pumpkins outside with mums. Happy Fall/Halloween!!

  23. Judith Fairchild

    I agree about not celebrating the scary stuff. I don’t do Halloween at all. It’s just not right for me. Autumn scenery celebrating the goodness of the harvest and enjoying it. Oh Yes,!

  24. My family didn’t have negative opinions about halloween, so I don’t either. I do love all the bright fabrics that are considered halloween. I believe ALL holidays
    nowadays are over commercialized. I used to make carmel apples and cookies for all the neighborhood kids- so fun. Unfortunately many years ago now, some sick people handed out harmful treats so most kids aren’t allowed to have anything not commercially wrapped. The schools all have safe parties for the children as do the malls where the merchants give treats to kids accompanied by their parent. I think the young children still enjoy it.

  25. Never a fan of Halloween, we don’t decorate with anything but pumpkins and fall colors to celebrate the bounty of harvest. My dad was a farmer, so I am fond of this time of year and remember how relieved and grateful we all were if Dad had a good crop. I’ve seen so many kids who suffer from nightmares, even into adulthood, from watching horror movies, and I think they also desensitize us to violence and death. I try to work toward a peaceful and happy fall, rather than get into the gore and scary stuff. We grew up rarely trick-or-treating, and only went to a couple of neighbors houses (we lived the country), where we were given a homemade treat, like popcorn balls. I guess I’m dating myself! We made homemade costumes, though they weren’t as imaginative as those your mom made! As we hand out treats, it’s fun to see the homemade, sweet costumes.
    Have a lovely, bountiful fall, Jo!

  26. Like you, growing up on an Iowa farm didn’t leave much to do on Halloween. We didn’t do anything at school either. My daughter liked to dress up and we took her around the neighborhoods where we lived and she had fun. I’ve never decorated the house for Halloween or Autumn or Thanksgiving. Since becoming a quilter, I absolutely LOVE all the great Halloween fabrics, especially black cats, spiders, bats and witches. I try to make a small, usually off-beat and humorous Halloween wall quilts and hang them on my front door for a couple weeks. No candy-seekers at my house as it is very isolated and I keep it dark. Most people don’t even know there IS a house at my dead-end street! I like it that way!! Feels more like living in the country than in town.

  27. I’m sad to tell you, Jo, that this particular post prompted me to unsubscribe from your emails. I have followed you for years. I won’t be inappropriate and unkind, but this post made me feel that you are very judgmental about those of us who decorate a bit for Halloween and took our kids out trick or treating. As far as it being a pagan holiday, my faith celebrates the saints on the next day, All Saints Day. It saddened me to make me think that I would be seen as teaching my kids pagan beliefs. Nothing could be further than the truth. I have followed you for years. Sorry to have a parting of the ways. I wish you the best in your health journey.

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