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Tis the Season: Remembering Scary Halloweens

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I can still remember years past: decking our halls with rows of festive decorations, and my brother and I singing along to the holiday music. I even remember the smell of Mom’s cooking wafting from the kitchen as we cheerfully sang and hung streamers. All around us, nostalgia filled the air. Sounds just like the perfect Christmas, right?

Wrong. This was Halloween, and this was our time of year.

Our decorations ranged from glowing jack-o-lanterns to daunting spiderwebs to ghostly ghouls hanging effortlessly from our ceiling. Everyday incandescent light bulbs were replaced with the eerie purple glow of black lights. We sang so cheerfully to the tune of “Monster Mash” or some other Halloween classic. Mom’s cooking took the form of party platters, ready to be devoured by guests like the undead would devour the living.

It sounds so strange to throw such a party for a seemingly silly holiday, yet in my family there is always a method to our madness.

My birthday is on October 29th, and so is my mother’s. Halloween babies? No, not quite, but that is still well within the typical holiday shadow-casting range. So, that is how it went, year after year, costume after costume. I’m not complaining though. In fact, one of my fondest memories came from planning my own elaborate Halloween-themed birthday party.

The first time I really took ownership of my birthday party was age eleven, going on twelve, and naturally, the most important thing to me in that moment was pulling off the best birthday party of the year. Halloween gave me a killer leg up in the form of an easy and convenient costume theme, but so much had to be done before I even dreamed of that.

First came the invitations. I remember sorting through my mom’s Windows 95 clip-art, attempting to piece together the perfect spine-chilling party invitation. I even remember having a self-made trademark on the back of each invitation. I used a silhouette of a witch and broomstick, and small but resonating words “Made with Mooney Magic” trailing flawlessly behind the witch, and if it were the gust of wind carrying her from one side of the paper to the other. Once every letter, font, and picture was in its place, I took masses of these personal masterpieces to school, and passed them out to everyone with a pulse.

Then, I waited. I waited for the RSVPs, the phone calls, the yeses and the nos. Each time I heard someone confirm his or her attendance, my heart would leap. Days went by after that, and the decorating began.

Because of the popularity of this holiday in my house, it is safe to say that our collection of Halloween décor could have dominated the Christmas decorations present in my family’s home. Pumpkins, streamers, spider webs, and strings of black lights all found their place throughout thehouse. But remember, this was he time to go big, so big is what I found.

While driving through town one evening, my mom and I heard an advertisement for “oversized balloon creatures” on sale at a local party shop. Curious, we stopped in to see what we could find. The term “oversized” was a severe understatement for what we encountered. Then, we found it. Four feet in diameter, it was the largest, most horrifying, most inflated spider I have ever seen in my life! I was eleven. It was my birthday. I had to have it.

Days went buy and more plans were made, but there was still just one thing missing: my costume. Unlike most of my friends at the time, I was determined to come up with a fun and original idea for my costume (which was probably reinforced by my mother, who wanted to save money by making a costume). So, with some hot glue, an old dance leotard, and some brightly colored red, green, and purple pieces of felt cut into diamonds, I became the party jester. My mom even found some fantastic metallic gold curly-toed slippers, and a grand, multicolored hat adorned with jingling bells at the end of each point to top it all off. I painted my face every color of the rainbow, and giddily hopped around my home, doing whatever it was I thought jesters did.

Finally, with my hat on my head, the gargantuan spider delivered and in place, and all of my planning complete, the day arrived. Time after time the doorbell would ring, and I would answer with a squeal as my friends entered the house, dressed to the nines in over-the-top costumes. Mummies, vampires, Spice Girls, even hippies and Cinderellas all flowed into my house. The excited chatter over all the costumes could have kept us busy for hours, but of course my mother in all of her wisdom had other plans.

We collectively ventured into our backyard, where a gamut of games overwhelmed all of us with seemingly unending excitement. We swung at a piñata, took turns pinning the nose on the pumpkin (a homemade favorite), and bobbed for apples. Some of us played Red-Rover while others jumped and dove into the giant piles of crunchy fallen leaves. We concluded our games with candy prizes and headed inside for food.

I remember the display looked like something out of a ghoulish nightmare. We had a huge table covered by a black tablecloth and cobwebs, and in the midst of all that wonderful finger food, a cauldron bubbled and fog from dry ice inside it lingered creepily along the table, eventually falling to the floor.

We all joyfully partook in the food, talking and carrying on about everything and anything. After this, presents were opened, candles were blown out, and the party seemed to be winding down. This was my favorite part.

In the time it took parents to periodically pick up their children, we came up with our own post-games entertainment. The sun had set, and we shut the lights off, and let the glow of strobe lights, black lights, and jack-o-lanterns illuminate the house. From this, we created our own personal haunted house with a single goal in mind: scare the victims. We all took turns hiding and jumping out at each other, each person hoping to scare the pants off the other. It was the best. The suspense, adrenaline, and perhaps even real fear that filled me were the perfect conclusions to a wonderfully eerie day.

Thinking back on Halloween parties like those I had as a kid, I miss the times when Halloween was scary – not in a lingering nightmarish way, but it was so easy to jump out of my own skin at the sound of a simple thump, and enjoy every spine-tingling minute.

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About Frances Mooney