It’s coming up for one of the best nights of the year: Halloween. Parents everywhere will be busy trying to put together costumes for excited children wanting to turn into ghosts, witches and even walking skeletons. The supermarkets are crammed with pumpkins of all shapes (don’t try to tell me they’re all perfectly round!) and sizes as well as millions of bags of sweets, the nights are drawing in and lots of us are looking forward to the big night and a bit of harmless trick or treating.
Sadly though, for me this year things have changed. And they’ve been changing for the last couple of years, to the point where this year might be our final year of trick or treating and Halloween fun.
The simple fact is my children are getting to an age where they don’t want a family Halloween anymore. My youngest is 13 and while I’m yet to hear his plans, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he’s feeling far too old to be going round our area, dressed up like a zombie and knocking on doors in order to get a bucket load of sweets. My eldest, now 16 and an A-Level student don’t you know, definitely won’t be with us and has already driven us to distraction with her plans and demands for a Halloween dress to customise for a party with her friends. So there’ll be no spending time with the family then!
It took me a little while to get into the whole Halloween thing as a parent. As children, my sister and me weren’t allowed out trick or treating. I’m not entirely sure why – although I do have a sketchy memory of my dad grumbling about it being ‘begging’ – but while friends may have been out ‘terrorising’ the neighbourhood, I was sat indoors dreading the inevitable knocks on the door that may have friends or just one night only spooky visitors that my parents would send packing with not even a sniff of a sweet.
In some small defence of my parents however, I could point to the fact that this was the 70s and 80s where Halloween and trick or treating was not the commercial behemoth that it has since become. In the UK, we left that to the Americans and watched ET go out trick or treating with Elliot and his pals with a mixture of fascination and befuddlement. So perhaps Halloween was just another night in front of the telly for my parents.
Consequently, I carried a bit of this attitude into my own parenting. It was wife that started the ball rolling where Halloween was concerned, taking our two out for a brief wander around the closest parts of the neighbourhood to scare some friendly folk into giving them sweets. I stayed behind, probably making the excuse that dishes needed to be done or something else enormously mundane.
The next year, it became a bigger deal as they were both old enough to stay up a little later. Out they went with mum to find a whole new trick or treating world where some of our community had gone all out to create amazing scenes in gardens and sometimes in entire streets. Again, I stayed at home, but this time only to answer the door to any of our own scary visitors. And that was when the spirit of the whole thing grabbed me. The combination of my own kids’ excitement – and how cute they looked – and that of the visitors to my door had me almost hooked!
From then, it grew and grew. I joined in the trick or treating, cajoling the kids to go and knock on doors and glowing with pride at people’s reactions to how good they looked or their mock fear at these two terrifyingly cute monsters! Year upon year, prompted by my fantastic fun-loving wife, we decorated the house and the garden, leaving ever growing buckets of sweets outside the door for anyone who might call while we were out.
I’d estimate that we’ve spent a small fortune on costumes, sweets and decorations over the years. I’ve even managed to allow myself to be talked into dressing up on a few occasions when we’ve held our own family parties. But, if you’re reading this and you know me, no, I’ve never ever ventured out on to the streets in a Halloween costume. You already knew this without me having to tell you!
It’s fair to say that for me there’s been a complete transformation in terms of my approach to Halloween and I’ve gone from being an out of place Grinch to a somewhat awkward, but enthusiastic(ish) zombie. I’ve taken a huge amount of joy from watching my kids – and my wife – throw themselves into the whole trick or treat thing for years now. Even last year, when my daughter decided that she was too old and it was too cold for such frivolity, we went out with my son and his two friends, trudging around the streets for hours, admiring the amazing decorations and gathering more and more sweets as we went. It was pouring with rain and yet we still had a brilliant time! In fact, the rain meant that we were almost the only ones out on our estate, meaning triple helpings of sweets and chocolate! I don’t think I’ve ever seen those lads happier!
This year promises to be a much quieter affair. And having only just got into the swing of all things Halloween, that makes me feel quite sad. I no longer have the cute, carefree kids that would dress up as a character, fully made up and stride up to door after door to scream “trick or treat!” like their very lives depended on it. A bit of the sense of fun has now gone. I expect that we’ll still go out trick or treating with my son, but it won’t be the same. And by this time next year, maybe it’ll be at a complete end.
So, I’m left feeling a little mournful about the past. It’s getting to that stage of my children’s lives where they’re beginning to leave certain things behind. Halloween now and probably things like our traditional egg hunt at Easter next. I can see why people might be tempted by the thought of just having another child, even if there’s no way that I’d make such a decision!
Obviously, what’s happening in our family is inevitable for every parent and their children. You can’t stop them growing up, after all. I’m glad that I softened my stance on Halloween though, because it means that I have memories that are impossible to forget. Maybe one day I’ll take my grandchildren out trick or treating. But for now, I imagine we’ll just have to make the most of the upcoming one, while we still can!