One of my favourite holidays has always been Halloween. There are no gifts to buy, no pressure to put on a huge feast — just the opportunity to dress up as someone else and get lots of candy. So when I had kids, I hoped they would love the holiday as much as I did. But I soon learned that the decorations and costumes associated with Halloween could be pretty scary for young children. I remember taking my little ones to a party store filled with costumes and my youngest bursting into tears because she was afraid (and she had just been looking at the presidential masks!). Suddenly, I realized I would have to figure out how I could make this celebration fun for younger children.
I eventually came up with the idea of a Halloween party, a tradition I kept up for more than 10 years until my children were into their teens. And not just any party, but one that starts with decorating the house at least three weeks before Halloween (thus building excitement) and providing kids with yet another opportunity to show off their costumes. After all, Halloween night can be chilly and oftentimes the elaborate costumes are covered up by fall coats.
If you decide to throw this kind of party, it can replace the actual trick-or-treating or you can hold it a few days before Halloween night. Whatever you decide, here are my time-tested ideas for throwing a successful Halloween bash.
Choose your decorations carefully
Over the years, I’ve noticed that Halloween decorations have become far more sinister and gory than I ever witnessed as a child. Worse yet, there are more and more young adults wearing frightening masks and costumes. To me, this could be the perfect recipe for a week’s worth of bad dreams. Instead, make your home into a happy haven by looking for cheerful decorations at your local dollar store or at Walmart. I search out ghosts that are Casper-like and smiling, happy Jack o’ Lanterns and bats in great colours like purple and orange. As for skeletons? Only if they are glittery and have a pleasant expression.
Build excitement by putting up decorations (inside and out) right after Thanksgiving. Children really love anticipating the holiday and it ensures your house will be festive for the party.
Plan an easy but festive meal
I try to have an orange food theme for my Halloween parties. This means macaroni and cheese, carrot sticks and orange peppers sliced and served with dip (when little, my kids loved a mixture of ketchup and mayo, but you can use French dressing too) melon slices and orange juice.
Organize a few games
For the 3- to 6-year-old set, I set up a game called The Mummy Wrap, in which you create two teams and then select one child from each group to be the “Mummy.” Hand each team a roll of toilet paper and have them work together to wrap the Mummy. First group to completely wrap their Mummy wins. You can also try Eyeball Golf by purchasing plastic golf clubs at the Dollar store (one year they had run out, so I bought little hockey sticks, which worked just fine). Also pick up some eyeball ping-pong balls (yes, they exist!) and have kids try to putt them into a cup or to a spot marked on the floor with tape. You can also put a fresh spin on a classic by trying to Pin the Wart on the Witch. If you are feeling crafty, you can always purchase mini pumpkins and have the guests use paints, glue and glitter to make Halloween masterpieces.
Make costumes optional
Do tell your guests that they are welcome to come in costume — or not. For some reason, little ones sometimes decide at the last minute that they don’t want to wear their costumes. However, keep a special hat or some face paint around just in case a guest changes his or her mind (yet again) and suddenly wants a disguise! And a note to parents who are going to a Halloween party with their kids; if your child doesn’t want to dress up, pack the costume anyway as he or she may have a change of heart after settling in at the party.