Depending on where you live and who you know, people have various Halloween traditions. When I was a kid in Highlands Ranch, the customs were pretty straight-forward: We carved pumpkins, dressed up and went trick-or-treating. Sometimes we went to a party. Sometimes my dad would take us to a spook house (as he called it; they have terrifying names now like “The Asylum,” or “Primitive Fear: The Apocalypse”). My husband lived in New Jersey for a while and he had to trick-or-treat at his own risk: kids in those parts would get creamed with shaving cream by skulking ghouls. They would put an aerosol cap on top of the can so they could spray the shaving cream twenty feet. Nothing like the stench of Barbasol to complete a fairy princess and ballerina costume. I guess it was pretty fun if you were in a group and armed—ready to square off with another gang of cream-slingers. Plus, the consequences of being creamed were next to nil; shaving cream brushes off with little effort when it dries. What wasn’t fun was when some goons would use Nair instead. Scaremongering also seemed to be a custom in the 80s and 90s no matter where you were. The media’s unrelenting misinformation about Halloween poisonings and their resulting urban myths gave us something to “really” fear on Halloween. Back then, if any kind old lady was out of touch enough to offer something homemade like cookies, caramel apples, or hot cider, she might as well have been the Witch in the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. Unfortunately, she’d probably be met with the same suspicion by some today.
Fear gave rise to the “custom” of inspecting the treats. Last time I checked, I didn’t die from Halloween candy, but I still inspect wrappers for signs of tampering. Maybe this custom gave rise to the Switch Witch. Know this one? You can convince your kid to give up all their candy in exchange for money or a gift from the Switch Witch. That way, parents don’t have to deal with confection inspection (or spazzed out sugar kids for two weeks straight). One custom I could definitely do without is bobbing for apples. One year, my mom took my sister and me to a Halloween party at a fast food joint. We got there a little late because of trick-or-treating. I saw a wet-headed Spider-man and a vampire cheering on a headless Hulk. My mom said, “Oh look, girls they’re bobbing for apples!” Hulk’s head suddenly appeared with an apple hanging from its teeth. At first, I was game, then I saw the water. It was grayish blue with a white snot floating on the surface. Yeah. So I put my head in there—just kidding. GRODY TO THE MAX (was probably what I said). I guess it’s fine if you’re the first person.
A mysterious custom I learned about when I first moved to Genesee was the “Phantom Ghost.” (Yes, the name’s redundant, whatever.) So there’s this ghost or phantom or both that deposits treats and a note on your doorstep, then ding dong ditches you. The note tells you to make two copies of the note, get two treats, then ding dong ditch two of your neighbors. Pretty spooky, huh? Wait. Wouldn’t that mean that there’s really no ghost? What the? I’m gonna go out on limb here and say it’s probably a child who does it; I don’t know.
My family has our own Halloween tradition of going to a pumpkin patch to pick pumpkins. This is always a fun day. We go to Rock Creek Farm in Broomfield. (Get it, BROOM—field, Halloweeny, huh?) We walk up and down the field, prodding orange orbs until we find the perfect shape and ripeness for our jack-o-lanterns. Then we get lost in their corn maze for about an hour. We top it off with a scenic autumn hayride. We typically carve the pumpkins a couple nights before Halloween. When they are done, I put them by the hearth, illuminate them with candles, and turn out all the lights. We vote on which one is the scariest, the grossest, the prettiest, the most abstract, etc. I don’t know how it happens, but EVERY ONE OF US wins in a category! Oh, happy day. Then, with our walls glowing in jack-o-lantern light and the air filling with the sweet scent of candle-cooked pumpkin flesh, we put on a “scary” family movie. We typically watch Harry Potter, but last year we chose “Nosferatu”—that 1922 silent movie about Count Dracula. I was surprised the boys watched the whole thing—let’s just say there was some complaining during it. But their parents’ dramatic subtitle readings must have helped keep their attention. I have a feeling that movie won’t fly this year. We sort of tricked them into watching it; we told them it was REALLY scary. They thought it was really bizarre and too… silent and black and white. Maybe we’ll do “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) this year—that one has sound. You can’t go wrong with Cary Grant, and two freaky old ladies who euthanize lonely old men with poisoned elderberry wine and bury them in their basement. “Hey boys! Wanna watch…never mind.” We’ll probably just watch Harry Potter.
Speaking of pumpkins, there’s a custom that really bums me out—it’s right up there with egging and TPing houses after the goblins are safely in bed. It’s that one custom a band named itself after: Smashing Pumpkins. It’s bad enough if you forget to bring your jack-o-lantern in, and it gets prematurely munched on by an elk or squirrel, but smashed? By a person? Just for fun? Well, I say to those hooligans, “You might have just smashed a pumpkin that got voted ‘prettiest pumpkin’ by a six-year-old to make his mom feel special. Hope it was worth it.” Or something like that. At least they can’t smash the love behind it.
Halloween, with all its quirks and kinks, is for the most part good times. My youngest has been asking about it ever since school started back in AUGUST. “Is this the season that Halloween’s in? Can we buy a spooky book? Can we go the Halloween section? Can we get zombie arms for our graveyard? Can I decorate my room with ghosts and spider webs?” Halloween traditions are exciting! I’m so glad it doesn’t involve Nair here.