Happy Halloween, here comes the dark


The eldest’s vampire pumpkin in action

So yesterday was Halloween. As parents, Mr. Tucker and I put a LOT of effort into making holidays special for the kids. Since we also don’t want to spend a lot of money doing it, we often find a small amount of money goes a long way in making big memories when combined with creativity. Hopefully, as the kids get older they will appreciate the memories and come to expect our low-key community holidays. Here are a few ways to do it differently.

1 – The pumpkin patch:

This season Facebook was inundated with families out at expensive pumpkin patches. Hay rides, elaborate mazes, shows, play areas all come together to make an expensive excursion. When I was younger these places had reasonable prices and were a good deal for families, now their prices rival amusement park fees with even kid entrances being $20 per person. All of this plus you have to drive ½ hour + out of the city to get there and you get stuck only being able to eat the food they sell on-site.

Alternatively, we hit a small pumpkin patch within city limits. It is just a small pick-your-own place with a small play area for kids and some hay bales for them to run around on. Cost? Free, or more realistically, the $5-$10 you will pay for a pumpkin. We ended up with one huge pumpkin, local apple cider, beets, and a bunch of small & decorative pumpkins for less than $20. We had already received a pumpkin in our CSA basket so we could have skipped it altogether (or just purchased one pumpkin) but we find the excitement of the trip to the pumpkin patch is money well spent. Since this money also goes to support a local farmer, I consider it a good deal.

We often dedicate one family night to decorating our pile of squashes. I will mull the apple cider in a crockpot with seasonings, we listen to spooky music and the kids decorate their pumpkins. One of the benefits of having a husband who went to art school is that often he can bust out amazing pumpkins to carve. The kids will help but mostly they like to use paint and craft stuff on the smaller pumpkins.

2 – Costumes

Dress-up costumes are one of those toys that I consider a good investment any time of year. My kids & their friends are constantly playing dress-up so we get a lot of value out of those toys. We often get gifts of props and other costumes as well – my favourite haul being the leftover props from a wedding photo booth. My mother is also the post-holiday ninja who will often pick up wonderful, sturdy costumes for $10 or less. I have also scrounged up props from various used materials and one year I even made a wig out of some leftover yarn. Since our dress-up box is huge due to all of the above factors, the kids have often just used costumes we already had.

In fact, this is the first year that we have spent ANY money on costumes for the kids. The eldest wanted a particular costume this year and was willing to pay for it herself with her earned allowance. Given this, I offered to go half with her on the costume if she raised her half. She met her goal. The bonus of having her raise her own money for the costume is that she is incredibly gentle with it and made sure to take good care of it. It didn’t land in the dress-up box this morning, it was carefully hung in the closet with the wig wrapped up properly in its bag. She told me she wants to keep it nice for next year when she plans to wear it again. For me it was money well spent because not only did I get to teach the eldest about saving to reach a goal, I also got the bonus lesson of having her respect her purchase more because she had to work for it.

This is all the effort I can actually put into carving: paint, thumbtacks, old vampire teeth from Halloween’s past

3 – Community

From the time our children were little we managed to amass a great group of neighbourhood friends who had kids in the same age range of our kids. So because of that we have been lucky enough to celebrate holidays together in our community. Every Halloween, for example, one neighbour has a Halloween potluck where we all get together to eat dinner (and the parents have a few well-needed drinks) before heading out as a group to trick-or-treat. Since historically Halloween has been on a weeknight and I am usually working at this time of year, being able to bring a sharing dish and quickly feed the hungry masses has been a godsend. Besides, the kids love to show off their costumes to one another and it’s always more fun to trick-or-treat with your friends. The parents also get to enjoy some much-needed catching up since we rarely see each other once the cold weather sets in and we no longer congregate in the park.

I made these totally badass Frankenstein Rice Krispie treat monsters for the potluck

4 – Making memories & finishing touches

Of course, all of the above serves to do the one thing we want for all our kids: wonderful childhood memories. Those memories don’t have to come a high price tag with a lot of running around, either. Our movie nights just change to Halloween-themed movies, and instead of stuffing candy in our kid’s lunches, I drag some shortbread dough out of the freezer and cook up some Halloween-themed cookies. Grab a few Halloween Ziploc bags & themed cookie cutters from the dollarstore (I wash my bags so they last forever & I managed to snag 18 Wilton cookie cutters for $3) and you have a fun, inexpensive treat for your kids with a huge WOW factor and relatively little effort. The majority of the fun in any holiday is the anticipation, so little treats during the month of October is a nice lead-up for kids whose excitement builds (and is contagious for adults, too!). It doesn’t need to be bought, either.

I decorated these with icing after but keeping a quick shortbread recipe in the freezer means you can roll out & bake some cookies for any special occasion.

So now that it is over for another year and the clocks have changed back an hour, I will give myself a couple of weeks of respite before gearing up for the Christmas season. We host the community Christmas cookie decorating party in December where the kids decorate their cookies for Santa, so I am sure to talk about that more as the weeks go on. Until then, we’ll hunker down and keep warm in our cozy house with lovely fires, big mugs of tea, and after-dinner card games by candlelight.