According to mom after mom, those infamous "big name" holidays—you know which ones we mean—are sometimes more headache than highlight. The pressure! The presents! The out-of-town guests or out-of-town travel, the cooking and cleaning, the expense!
But Halloween—that's a different story: In a recent poll, Motherboard Moms told us it's super family fun. In fact, more than two-thirds of them are involved in celebrating with their families. Here's what they said they love about this popular fall holiday.
A Halloween-night meal can be as simple as you want it—in fact, as simple as Neptune Township, New Jersey, mom Patty Manuel's family tradition: She serves grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup before heading out to trick-or-treat. Or "dress up" dinner in honor of the spooky night. It's as easy as piping mashed potatoes into ghost shapes on top of chili or stew or making a skull and crossbones out of bacon and eggs. Or dab the ends of chicken strips with ketchup and you can have a meal of creepy "fingers"! Yum!
Just don't order pizza, cautions Debbie Eiel of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, who learned the hard way that it won't save time. "The pizza guy said 45 minutes, but we waited two hours—and he still never showed up!"
You don't have to be a costumed youngster to appreciate all the sweet treats that go along with Halloween—and indulgences like candy corn or itty-bitty chocolate bars don't feel sinful at all (hey, it's only once a year!). Whether it's the wickedness associated with the holiday (don't witches live in candy houses, after all?) or the simple glee of making gruesome but delicious confections (edible eyeballs and spiders and worms, oh my!), Halloween is one time even the most health-conscious moms can give in to their sweet, er, fangs without any guilt at all.
Motherboard Moms are full of great ideas for Halloween sweets. One Mom told us: "My sister makes graveyards for dessert. They are chocolate pudding in a clear cup, topped with crumbled Oreos (for dirt) with miniature pumpkins and—the best part—a Milano cookie with chocolate on it that reads R.I.P.!"
Go on, string fake webs all over your porch, hang ghosts from the trees, cut out scary silhouettes and tape them in the windows, or create a cemetery in your front yard! Halloween's one time you can really go over the top (with your kids' help if you want, or even on your own) with homemade and store-bought decorations. It doesn't matter if your decor is elegant or tacky—the creepier the better! "I love decorating both the inside and the outside of the house," a Motherboard Mom told us. "You always know you're approaching a fun house when the outside is decorated."
Costumes, of course, are a perfect chance to see just how imaginative you and your kids can get. For families who like the challenge of making their own, it can be as simple or as complex as you want. Nick Lehner Shein of Rochester, New York, made a robot costume for her son, Julian, "that kicked butt, if I do say so myself" (LED lights from the hardware store were involved!). Shein says you can also have a great time pulling a costume together from stuff you've already got around the house—like a bobby-soxer costume from last year for her daughter, Prudence.
If stitching and stapling isn't your thing, simply walk down the aisle of your nearest store for ready-made costumes. "We look for weeks before we find the right costumes," one Motherboard Mom told us. "Sometimes we start out wanting to be one thing and we end up being something completely different. But it all works," she says. Part of the fun is deciding!
"Halloween keeps us young!" one Motherboard Mom told us, and it does seem that this generation of parents is really into the spooky holiday: Nearly half of Motherboard Moms say that they're more involved in the celebration than their parents were. In fact, parents seem to love to make it a party. "My mom and I collaborate on a joint party every year with scary menu items, games like Halloween Pictionary and pin the nose on the pumpkin, and prizes for the scariest and most original costumes," one Motherboard Mom said. "This will be my daughter's first Halloween and we're super excited."
If you're throwing a fete of your own, burn a mix of "spooky" music to get everyone in the mood. Post trick-or-treating, screen multiple movies—a campy 1930s horror flick (or good old Charlie Brown) early on, and something really scary after the little ones have gone home or gone to sleep. The best Halloween movie treat? Spiced popcorn or caramel corn in decorated cones.
"What I love best about Halloween is all the little things we do every year, stuff that's unique to our family, not part of some big commercial idea about what the holiday should be like," says Colorado Springs mom Dylan Nelson. "We started with just the basics—costume, trick-or-treating, candy eating—but now we've got a whole series of activities and special events my kids totally look forward to—from roasting pumpkin seeds to making a scary straw man for our porch—that we came up with gradually over the years! Nothing we do is fancy, elaborate, or expensive, but it's all uniquely ours, and I know my kids will treasure these memories their whole lives," she says.
"You don't have to invite family, or throw a party, or make a big production out of anything," says Helena Shorter of Maplewood, New Jersey. Stay home in your pajamas, answer the doorbell, and hand out candy you've been nibbling on all night. What could be simpler?
"Some Halloweens I go all out and other years I just don't have the time or creativity to pull it all together," says mom Debbie Eiel. "What's great about Halloween is that we can tailor the whole holiday to fit whatever our family feels like doing that particular year—there's no expectation that everything will be one certain way." Indeed, Halloween might just be the most flexible holiday of the whole year—and that's a virtual guarantee that you can have spooky funt—whether your decorating style is festooning your door with black and orange crepe paper or creating an artful still life with witchy shoes.