10 Fun Halloween Traditions (That Aren't Just Buying Stuff)

by - Saturday, October 20, 2018

Every holiday comes with an aggressive push from stores and the people around us that it is time to shop. Halloween is not an exception. Even the questions we ask each other often center on what we will buy instead of what we will do."What are you going to be?" often really just means "Which costume are you going to buy?" It can be overwhelming! 

I am trying to raise my kids a different way, because I believe our overconsumerism is costing us the environment, their future, and honestly just the fun of being a kid. I want them to equate holidays with celebrations and memories, instead of the ultimate goal always being to accumulate stuff. You don’t have to be a parent to feel this way; I want it for my own life too.

I don't think of Halloween as a big consumer holiday, but my Target would like to differ. Now there are about a billion decorations, costumes, and crafts for sale. I hear the question of what to buy for your trick or treaters all the time (if you want to be eco-friendly, I have the answer right here).  Choosing a Halloween costume is really just a visit to the store (and a super wasteful one- those are cheap plastic fibers wrapped in cheap plastic packaging).

All of that is fine, and I am not going to say we won't go buy a pumpkin (or a costume) this year, but what if you are trying to celebrate holidays without making it all about stuff?

If you are ready to have a Halloween that leaves consumerism at Target, here are my best ideas for traditions and activities worth remembering.

1. Go Visit a Farm or a Pumpkin Patch

If you live in most corners of the United States, there is probably a farm within an hour or two drive that has apple-picking, pumpkin-picking, hay rides, corn mazes, pumpkin canons, or who knows what else. With a little bit of research, you can set an easy new tradition, support a local business, and really commit to your fall outdoorsiness.

I think the pumpkin patch or farm can get a bad reputation because it is just so instagrammable, like you just go for the cute pictures with the pumpkins. And obviously, it isn’t a very accurate representation of how much fun you can have there.  But you don’t have to treat it that way (and can pick a quieter place), and if you have kids, they will almost definitely have a good time. We went many times before we had kids, and it was still really cute and fun, and we could climb on the hay pyramid without even worrying someone could fall off.

We know that appreciation for the natural world comes with being in the natural world. Some of these places feel a lot more like Disneyland than nature, but that dirt is real. That air is real. Opening up a cob of corn (or hitting your brother in the head with it) is all real. This may not be the most outdoorsy thing you do all fall, but it can still be fun, silly, and builds that connection between outdoor spaces and fun traditions. Throw in big bouncy areas and corn mazes, and you can beat out anything in a store. This is a classic for a reason! Pick one with busy-ness in mind, or try a couple! 

2. Decorate a Pumpkin

Decorating a pumpkin is a super fun activity to do together, and you can use all materials you already have in your house! I know, I know, you have to buy the pumpkin (unless you grew it!) but at least it keeps that consumerism to a minimum?

I personally love a carved pumpkin, but let’s not kid ourselves; an activity with that many knives isn’t really for everyone. My kids used to draw the faces on for us, and then they were off to do something else while we cut. Now, they love to design and cut out pumpkins. 

If you have little little ones and want to do something more their speed (or you just like doing something different) we are in the age of pinterest, and tons of ideas are out there.

We have done painted pumpkins, which look great even if your kid is not really on the top of their artistic game yet (we can't all be Yayoi Kusama). My only advice is to avoid plastic stuff, which includes glitter. It can be fun, but that is just adding more plastic trash to the Earth (and if you really want scary, go read about all the things plastic is doing to our bodies).

If you have more sophisticated painters, check out this post of ideas from A Pumpkin and a Princess and get inspired!

3. Make your Own Costumes

The best way to avoid the waste of those Target and Walmart costumes? Make your own! Think about something fun you want to be, raid a secondhand store to get inspired or find supplies, or even make it completely from scratch! If you have kids, you could even come up for ways to involve them in their own costume-making. It doesn’t have to be anything super fancy or clever, but the pride of coming up with something and then executing it is SUCH a good feeling. You could even turn it into a costume making party and spend the day eating fall treats, watching scary movies, and putting your ideas together. Your kids will remember that way more than a trip to Walmart.

Blank on ideas? Try Pinterest. Also, buzzfeed has a mind-boggling collection of Halloween costume posts. If all you have is jeans and a ripped up t shirt, someone on the interwebs can tell you what to be.

Just start early. And set realistic expectations. And avoid masks, because masks are almost always really creepy.

4. Host a Scary Movie Night

I have a friend whose family watches scary movies as their Thanksgiving tradition. How hilarious and weirdly accurate is that? If you want to be a little more on the nose, you could do this for Halloween.

You could commit to a specific theme (“witches,” “classic monster movies,” “oh that’s freaking gross,” or “teen girls survive the patriarchy in the form of aggressive, disfigured white male”) or just play your favorites. This could take so many forms, and if you really wanted to commit, you could throw in some gross or spooky movie snacks too.

If hosting at home isn’t your style, check out what your local movie theaters are doing for Halloween. We have a movie theater in Seattle that plays Hocus Pocus every year. You might find something really fun to try out.

fall leaves cookies

5. Bake Halloween Treats (Maybe for your Neighbors?)

Bonus points if you use the guts of the pumpkin for this!

One of the BEST things about Halloween is that people really commit to the theme, and there are so many fun things to try with it. I am obsessed with all the genius Halloween treat ideas that are out there, and I already had a blast making skeleton cookies with my kids (they were not good, but we had fun making them). You could come up with your own treat traditions and pick your favorite recipes to make every year.

But the question arises quickly- do you actually need more treats around this sugary holiday?

The other best thing about Halloween is that it gives you an excuse to walk around the neighborhood and chat (albeit briefly) with all of the people who live near you. There aren’t that many events in a year that really provide that level of neighbor mingling- our neighborhood even has a special event at the park nearby, so we start there and visit everyone on our way home. I love getting to see all those faces and feeling like everyone knows each other a little bit better.

So, while you are doing the rounds, What if you turned the tables and brought a treat for them as well?

going boo-ing

Another option is to go "booing" which is a big tradition in some parts of the country. You leave a bag with some sort of treat (notice the sign says gathered, not bought, so you could make something) on two neighbors' porch, and then they pay the fun favor forward to more neighbors! It's all supposed to be anonymous, but be sure to put something on the bag to signal you know them and the contents of the bag are safe.

6. Play in the Leaves

I have such good memories of playing in leaves as a kid (even as a teen). Even if you are a pack of adults, why not go rake some up (offer to help neighbors if needed) and play. Just throw them at each other and jump in the pile (and then finish helping your neighbor if you went that route, or you look like a real jerk).

7. Go to Something New

I am willing to bet that somewhere near you, there is something going on for Halloween or in the days leading up to it. Check the museums, aquariums, and zoos near you; they often have a pumpkin bash or "boo zoo" with all sorts of fun and strange events. If you don't scare easily, zombie walks can be really cool and weird (and you could dance like you are in the "Thriller" video, therefore living out my dream). Danny Elfman music is touring the US, playing Beetlejuice and Nightmare Before Christmas music all over the country. Churches have Halloween alternatives or fall festivals.

Don't tell me that nothing happens where you live if you aren't getting out and enjoying these things (in fact, see if you can't get involved! Even better!). Even the smallest towns I have lived in (we are talking under a thousand people here) had a super popular haunted house. You definitely have something near you, so start there!

On Halloween day, most neighborhoods have Trick or Treating, but check and see what else is going on. Lots of communities have costume contests or get togethers to kick off the night. Our neighborhood park is always overflowing with kids and people doing the "Halloween Walk." Be sure to check- you can go to these things for free, and it can be the highlight of the day!

And if all else fails, go to a haunted house. I have only done it once, and it is solidly not my thing. If I want to be terrified, I will read articles about climate change. That said, if you think it is fun, you go right ahead.

8. Be the Favorite House for Trick or Treaters

I came up with a list of treats to hand out on Halloween, and my favorites on there are things you can make yourself. Wouldn’t it be so kickass to give all of your trick or treaters a magic wand this year? All you need are pencils or chopsticks, hot glue, and paint.

I also love the idea to do painted rocks as your treat for the year. Kids love small things they can choose, and making them could become a really fun tradition. Go on a search for good rocks. Paint those rocks (like monsters or aliens or magical stuff) and put a date on the bottom. So simple, but that could be the memory that sticks out for your kid.

9. Celebrate All Saints Day

The day after Halloween is All Saints Day. Celebrated by Catholics and some Protestants, this religious day has very different connotations depending on denomination. If you are a Christian and want to try adding it into your celebration, do research on how your church celebrates it and maybe go to an All Saints service. Halloween tends to focus on the darkness, but what I love about All Saints Day is that it focuses on the love between those on Earth and those in Heaven. Celebrating both gives you the opportunity to talk about the darkness and the light around mortality.

If you have kids, you can discuss what being a saint means (again, very different answers depending on who you ask!). You can read about saints or about heaven, and you can even name your favorites or your name saint if you have one. I personally like the idea of just having a simple potluck to celebrate.

Another idea is to reverse Trick or Treat and take helpful items to shut ins, the homeless, or other people who need them. I like this as a counter balance to Halloween's accumulation of candy.

10. Make Decorations

Yes! Whether you like spooky, gory, magical, or just cute, you can make tons of Halloween decorations for your house and have tons of fun doing it. My older son is almost 4, and he was so excited to decorate this year. It can be so easy (and fun) to just buy everything you need, but consider which things you could do yourself. Here are a few of my favorite decoration ideas:

milk jug luminaries
from DIY Make It
I love these luminaries that use recycled milk jugs from DIY Make It. So Simple, and you get to recycle!
halloween hanging ghosts craft
from Pars Caeli
These Halloween ghosts from pars caeli look super simple to do while still having a lot of impact. If you are on a limited budget, this could be a great option.

halloween construction paper bats
from Marvelous Mommy
My favorite decorations are these bats just made out of simple construction paper. You can find plenty of variations, but my favorite are from Marvelous Mommy.

halloween monster door diy
from Good to Know
My last favorite are these monster doors from Good to Know- so fun, and you could make yours out of whatever leftover party or craft supplies you have in your house.

There are seemingly infinite options out there, but if you want to start somewhere, I love this post of recycled projects from Guff.

10 Fun Halloween Traditions (That Aren't Just Buying Stuff)

How do you celebrate Halloween? What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

10 Fun Halloween Traditions (That Aren't Just Buying Stuff)

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