My first experience with trick-or-treating didn't happen until 2016, when I accompanied my young nieces during the beloved Halloween ritual. Instead of going door to door, we went campsite to campsite at a nearby campground where each camper greeted us with smiles and festive buckets brimming with individually wrapped candies. It was a family affair in every sense of the word - my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and even some of my cousins were there, along with other local families we'd never met. Since then, my family has celebrated Halloween every year. My cousin even started hosting an annual Halloween party a couple of years ago, complete with costumes, great food, and group trick-or-treating in her neighborhood.
But due to my parents' religious beliefs - along with those of our church's - Halloween wasn't always a time of celebration for me and mine. Don't get me wrong - autumn has always been special to me, and my family and I have celebrated the end of summer for as long as I can remember, but our fall traditions never included Halloween specifically.
My parents hosted an enormously popular annual "Harvest Party" potluck throughout my childhood, (and well into my twenties) and it was consistently the highlight of my autumns growing up. Despite our family's tight budget, my parents never failed to make it spectacular and they always invited dozens of guests. My siblings and I would help my mom decorate the house and yard with scarecrows and straw bales and lovely fall floral arrangements.
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In later years, when my parents' views on Halloween started changing, we even created Jack-o'-lantern centerpieces out of pumpkins we carved ourselves. Every guest was encouraged to show up to the party in costume, and the night was always full of fun activities, too - like hayrides and hide-and-seek tag and bobbing for apples. Plus, the food was incredible. My mom made chili every year, and we always had spiced apple cider and hot coffee to keep us warm throughout the night.
Still, as a kid, I always felt like I was missing out when Halloween rolled around and I wasn't allowed to celebrate it or go trick-or-treating. It's part of the reason why Halloween is so special to me as an adult, and it's definitely why I start celebrating spooky season at the beginning of September. Every fall, I feel like I'm making up for an entire childhood of missed Halloweens. Perhaps more importantly, I feel like I'm honoring and nurturing my inner child by enjoying a holiday I yearned to celebrate as a kid even though I was taught to fear and disavow it. Treats, fall weather, and spooky decorations aside, for me, that's what makes Halloween so magical - it's one of those holidays that will always bring out my inner child. In modern times at least, Halloween is about prioritizing play - from the costumes to the candy to the glowing Jack-o'-lanterns.
I still enjoy carving pumpkins and dressing up on Halloween, but in the past decade, I've developed a handful of my own personal Halloween traditions that I enjoy all autumn long - and they never fail to fill me with joy, even in 2020.
Halloween decorations typically adorn my home within the first week of September, and I start lighting fall-inspired candles around the same time. I treat myself to lots of candle-lit baths, complete with spiced teas, bath soaks, and the soundtrack for It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.
By mid-September my Pinterest feed transforms into a cozy autumnal wonderland where every suggested recipe is some kind of soup or cider, and I start consuming pumpkin spice coffee, cookies, and every other tasty food item flavored with pumpkin spice as soon as the goodies become available. I re-watch my favorite Halloween-themed movies - like It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and Practical Magic - throughout September and October, adding new-to-me spooky gems to my watchlist every year. I revisit witchy TV shows from my childhood as well - like Sabrina the Teenage Witch - and I re-watch Halloween-themed episodes from shows I've grown to love as an adult, like Supernatural and American Dad.
When October 31 finally comes, I always make sure I have plenty of treats to enjoy, including my favorites from childhood: Kit Kat bars and M&M's. Whether I'm attending my cousin's Halloween party or staying in, I pick up a bag of candy to share with my nieces and any other trick-or-treaters who may stop by.
Halloween is destined to look and feel different in 2020, of course, but I'm just as excited about celebrating it as I've ever been. I don't know about you, but I feel the need to prioritize play more than ever, and it fills me with joy to have something to look forward to in these dark times. Sure, I'm disappointed I won't get to watch my nieces trick-or-treat this year - but all things considered, I couldn't be more grateful to be alive and well for another magical Halloween.