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Remembering Halloween Traditions Across Generations


Lots of $$$ choices at Pottery Barn Kids


Published in ChicagoNow, October 23, 2014


I’m having a hard time remembering much about Halloween from my childhood. Perhaps that’s because I’m trying to dredge up memories from 60 years ago. So, I asked my mother what costumes I wore for Halloween and she informed me that it really wasn’t a big deal when I was a kid. In fact, she didn’t think I trick or treated until we moved to the suburbs in the 50s.


I do remember my younger brothers dressing up as …hobos. How’s that for politically incorrect and a total throw back to a different era? I doubt kids today have ever heard that word, which is a good thing. My mother would make mustaches for them with blackened cork and tie a bandana filled with newspaper to a stick. I’m pretty sure I went with them as babysitter, which was no costume at all. I did host one Halloween party as a teen and remember dressing as a doll. No comments please. These were different times.

By the time I had three kids of my own, Halloween was a holiday that required costumes and trick or treating. Luckily for me, the costumes didn’t have to be elaborate. Plastic ones were all the rage. I think my son went as a generic Chicago Bears player for multiple years. Just a jersey and helmet – so simple. My daughters were figure skaters and, being a practical mom, they could repurpose costumes from prior ice shows.


We decorated our house by carving one pumpkin and putting it in the front window, lit with a candle. My kids got to wear their costumes to school, at least when they were younger. And they went trick or treating to neighbors’ homes. That was it. The whole thing took up a day to choose the costume (except for my son – he didn’t even have to think about it) and a day to carve the pumpkin.


Fast forward to my grandkids’ generation. Halloween is a huge deal. Costumes need to be considered a month ahead and ordered online if there is not an acceptable one at Target. Plastic is out, and my grandsons would never be happy being a generic anything. For the boys this year, we will have two Supermen, one Darth Vader, and one Cookie Monster. The girls are a bit higher maintenance about this. Of course, we will have one Elsa but also a parrot, a Harry Potter character, and an Angry Bird. My kids don’t spend a fortune on these (they easily could), but the planning consumes a lot of time.


Then there is the issue of decorating the house and carving the pumpkin. Driving down one of my daughter’s blocks, I see every house decked out with spider webs, spiders, skeletons, a few witches (LOL – that’s politically incorrect), ghosts, scarecrows, graves, and other creepy stuff. The Halloween-Industrial complex must be in seventh heaven. And one pumpkin is no longer enough. Each home is graced with several and some are decorated with spray paint, elaborate designs, and intricate carvings. Apparently, you can Google this or look on Pinterest or YouTube for thousands of ideas.

Trick or treating used to be pretty simple. You got a lot of candy and you ate it. The only controversy was if your parents let you horde it or made you eat it quickly to get it over with. But now it’s hard to decide if it’s safe to take candy from folks you don’t know. And you rarely see kids going from house to house without parents accompanying them. So even this aspect of Halloween has become more complicated.


There’s a part of me that loves the new Halloween traditions. Every year, I want photos of my grandkids in their costumes. They look so cute. But part of me wishes Halloween were less demanding of my kids’ limited time. And another part of me wishes that Halloween, like every major holiday, were a bit less commercialized and costly.

Do I sound like the Halloween Grinch here?




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by Laurie Levy
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