The Evolution Of Halloween
Through the years October has become our favorite month. We celebrate all month long, rolling Jack’s birthday into Halloween – a 31-day festival of family fun. We decorate cookies, carve pumpkins, pick out costumes, hit every pumpkin patch within driving distance, and culminate with some trick-or-treating. We’ve taken small steps through the years, working our way up from simple observance to full-on celebration.
Jack’s first Halloween was a pretty low-key affair; we had just brought him back to Los Angeles, a teensy tiny thing. He was only two weeks old, so while his Daddy worked, the two of us just hung out and bonded, him in his (way too big) Halloween onesie.
We didn’t do much for his second Halloween. Jack was still an only child (although Lennon was on his way), and he had just turned one. We took a stroll around the neighborhood but there wasn’t much to see. The area where we lived in Los Angeles was full of singles, and they were more interested in heading out to the festival in West Hollywood than staying home and passing out candy.
For Jack’s third Halloween, we finally got our act together. He and Lennon donned costumes and we all headed over to The Grove outdoor mall in Hollywood for late afternoon toddler trick-or-treating. Neither boy had any idea what we were doing or why, and were honestly more excited about the trip to the Farmer’s Market afterward for dinner.
This is Jack as Harry Potter. The costume is meant for a seven-year-old. Back then he looked more like a ridiculously adorable Son of Death than a boy wizard.
Jack’s fourth Halloween was a little more productive. Both boys went as Thomas trains (Jack as Thomas, Lennon as James), and at least Jack understood there was candy at stake. Once again we went to The Grove, and, alas, once again the post-trick-or-treating trip to the Farmer’s Market was the highlight of their evening.
We like costumes with some room to grow.
For Jack’s fifth Halloween, our last in Los Angeles, we pulled out all the stops. We celebrated on the 30th, because our new neighborhood in Hollywood was no better for trick-or-treating than the last. Since we weren’t going door-to-door, our little ones wouldn’t know the difference anyway. The day started at Jack’s preschool, where they had a costume parade and trick-or-treating.
Jack in his preschool costume parade. My boys decided to mix things up and swap costumes – Jack was James and Lennon was Thomas. They were happy and I saved money. Winners all around.
After a break to regroup, we took the party to Disney’s California Adventure for Mickey’s Halloween Treat. Every year they transform the park into a Halloween wonderland and have trick-or-treating in the evenings the whole month of October. It was a lot of fun, but kind of overwhelming for the kids, since they were sleepy and had already had a big day.
The boys stayed in the stroller the whole time, but Disney was ready for them. All of the trick-or-treat stops were stroller-friendly, and the candy was flowing (even for Mom, Dad and baby). We took home a serious haul, and could have easily doubled or tripled our loot if we’d stayed longer. (Another plug for Mickey’s Halloween Treat – almost every treat stop offered a kid-friendly alternative of carrot sticks, fruit or crackers. Disney always thinks of everything, and we’d be going back every year if we still lived in Southern California.)
A long, hard day of collecting candy, but somebody had to do it.
Our first year in Canada was different for a lot of reasons. Mainly, we now had three Halloween-aware children. As oblivious as Jack was at 20 months, Kieran was tuned in to all things Halloween. He was obsessed with pumpkins, adored dressing up in costumes and attached the descriptor “Halloween” to everything he loves (ie: Halloween star, Halloween sticker, Halloween bicycle).
Furthermore, we lived in a new place. I don’t just mean a new country, I mean a new neighborhood and community chock full of young children and holiday-loving people. Jack and Lennon spent the month of October watching our neighbors decorating their homes with increasing fervor, dubbing each new effort a “Halloween house.” Our neighborhood rivaled Disney for decorations, and that’s no joke. These particular Canadians take their spooking seriously.
When the hallowed day arrived after a month-long buildup of trips to the pumpkin patches (real ones, not just gourds in a converted Beverly Hills parking lot), decorating cookies and pumpkins and watching every Halloween special broadcast, the boys were ready. As with every Halloween, though, there is the bad that comes with the very, very good. That, of course, is the long wait from breakfast to go time..
It’s hard enough explaining to a toddler and a young child that no, we can not go hit up the neighbors for candy at 10am. Little people are not known for their patience. Enter autism, and the day gets hours and hours longer. We told Jack that trick-or-treating happens after dinner. We probably should have clarified “when it gets dark.” He wanted dinner at noon.
Once we cleared up that misconception, we had to fill the day. We put on our “daytime” costumes and went out for a drive, the Halloween equivalent of the Christmas Eve Christmas light tour so many of us take each year.
Conductor Jack, ready to wait.
We drove around, looked at the glorious Halloween splendour of the neighborhood, and then headed to a playground to blow off some steam with the hopes that the boys would be tired enough for a much-needed nap.
Yeah, that didn’t work.
Dusk finally arrived, and when we would usually be finishing up dinner and starting the bedtime routine, we put on our costumes and headed out the door. Under-slept and amped up, the boys were primed to hit the streets.
Thomas and Sheriff Woody. Ready.
All three boys did a great job. They went up to every door, said “trick or treat” and “thank you,” and required very little assistance from us (although much to Kieran’s chagrin we gave him a lift up and down all the stairs in the interest of expediency). They collected a haul of treats to rival the booty we got at Disney, and were quite excited to have their two or three daily allotted pieces from the family candy bowl.
At one point in the evening, standing in line with my big boys waiting to get to a particularly popular house, I took a moment to reflect on our Halloween journey. There was once a time when I wasn’t sure Jack would ever play dress-up in an earnest fashion. I couldn’t conceive of him “pretending” to be someone he’s not. Not only did he become Woody that year (to the point of asking each of us, “what’s my name? Woody!”), he was a conductor at school the Friday before, and assumes any number of characters he’s created on a nightly basis while playing with his toys.
I used to doubt we’d be able to do traditional trick-or-treating. Our trips to The Grove were quick and Jack collected his candy with much trepidation. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the stimulation of scores of other children in costume, an onslaught of decorations or talking to strangers house after house after house. Not only did Jack handle every part of the trick-or-treating process, he did it with gusto. He charged up to every doorstep and sang out “trick or treat” with glee. He kept his costume on the entire time and outlasted both of his brothers in the candy collection.
I am fascinated by Jack’s evolution, by my family’s evolution. I love looking back at where we were to see how far we’ve come, and I can only imagine where we’ll be in another two or three years. Who knows, maybe next year Jack will actually want to carve a pumpkin himself instead of making me dig out all of the “guts” while he watches and offers helpful pointers.**
As our night wore on, exhaustion claimed my children one by one. First Kieran, then Lennon climbed into the stroller. Jack was the last man standing, but eventually even he threw in the towel. We were in the home stretch, just a few blocks from home. As we walked up the path to a house, Jack stopped and looked at me. He looked at the neighbor, sitting on her stoop with a bowl of candy.
“I’m tired. I want to go home.”
“I understand that honey, we’re on our way home. Let’s just do a few more houses on the way.” I won’t lie, I was reliving my childhood here and walking past perfectly good chocolate is just not done.
“I have enough candy.” Say what? Is this my child?
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” He looked at the woman with the bowl of candy. “I have enough candy.” She looked at him, and looked at me. I shrugged.
“Jack, this nice lady would like to give you some candy. Do you think you might want to say ‘trick-or-treat’ just one more time since we’re already here?” He thought it over, grinned, and held out his bag.
“Sure! Trick or treat!!”
That’s my boy.
**Update: At now seven years old, Jack insists on carving his pumpkin all by himself. It has, so far, taken him three days, but I have high hopes it’ll be done in time for Halloween tonight.