Halloween is a favorite holiday around here. My family has always celebrated this day with verve, even though it did not exist in Italy. In fact, Italians in Italy have only recently discovered Halloween. But we embraced all American traditions upon arrival. As landscapers (at least many of the original family members in the United States call that their profession) decorating with pumpkins and cabbages and mums became par for the course. In addition, we look for any excuse to gather round a table, eat, drink, and be merry.
Once my cousins began having kids, I began hosting Halloween blowouts. We had disco balls, costumes, and mummy games. We wrecked the house with toilet paper and battled it out with apple pie contests. Somebody’s pie ended up on the floor and there were accusations of cheating. Needless to say, we never did that again. But we always made up and dug into Nonno’s pasta.
When my son and niece and nephew were born, the festivities took on new meaning for me. Now, this was tradition. We had to make them apart of the celebration. Today, we all take pictures in front of our house in the elaborate Halloween display my landscaper father creates each year. There are giant pumpkins, hay chairs for the photo subjects, and scarecrows, ghosts, and goblins hanging around. The neighborhood kids also jump into the scene while trick or treating. Parents proudly snap photos.
These moments are fleeting. Our children are young for but a minute. Then, it’s over. I’m choosing to savor every second. I miss it already.
Halloween party ideas are my responsibility in this family. Ever since I returned home from four years at college in Washington, D.C., I have been hosting a Halloween party for the kids in the family. First, it was for my cousin’s babies. Now, we all gather for my son, niece, and nephew.
What’s beautiful about this tradition is the older kids still participate. In fact, one of them is studying abroad, and he waxed nostalgic in text messages after viewing images from the 2017 shindig he had to miss. Sometimes, I come up with an entire theme. Once it was a Halloween disco, replete with bright lights. Another time it was “Happy Owl-O-Ween.” We’ve painted pumpkins in our worst clothes. And we’ve dressed up in our Halloween finest (all sorts of costumes). Every year is a little different.
Once in a while, I’m at a loss for time. Still, I do my best to make things special and memorable. To be honest, 2017 was one of those busy years. But I still think I pulled off a pretty great fete. You still have time to do the same. So, discover my easy ideas for celebrating Halloween in a pinch:
Spider Web Cake
This party was also a chance for the family to celebrate my son’s birthday. He had already had a Spider-Man themed party with his friends. I used many of the decorations and ideas twice. I made this rainbow cookie cake from scratch, but you could buy a plain chocolate frosted cake from the grocery store or bakery. Then, you get a pre-packaged pastry bag of icing in white. Draw a tiny circle at the center. Then, draw a larger circle around it. Keep drawing circles until you reach close to the edge of the cake. Finally, take a skewer or one tine of a fork and drag it from the edge of the most inner circle to the edge of the most outer. Repeat that step six to eight times to achieve the look of a web. You can add plastic spiders and sprinkles like I did if you so desire.
Normally, I would suggest making a cake from scratch. It’s generally healthier and tastes better. But when time is of the essence, I find no shame in turning to boxed cake mixes. For these cupcakes, I actually divided the batter in half. I added yellow food coloring to one half, and yellow and red food coloring to the other half (to make orange). Then I layered the two batters for a candy corn effect. After the cupcakes baked and cooled, I topped them with homemade white vanilla icing. Finally I stuck into the top plastic skeletons from the dollar store, which I had washed with soap and water and dried beforehand.
Ice Cream Station
One of the reasons all my cousins keep coming to my Halloween party is the homemade ice cream. I make pumpkin ice cream only for this party, and the folks love it. I usually make one other flavor. In 2017, I opted for Halloween Oreos cookies and cream. Both were delicious if I do say so myself. But before I even get to serving the ice cream, I make a station for the relevant goodies. I picked up sugar cones and used my Cricut Explore Air to cut out sleeves for them in black-and-white printed paper. I also include Halloween sprinkles from craft supply stores, such as Michael’s. Sometimes, you can even find them at the grocery store. Little cups, ice cream spoons, and other assorted toppings all make for a nice touch. Don’t forget the ice cream scoops.
Spider Punch Bowl
My punch bowl is constantly getting dressed up. It has been a turkey for Thanksgiving, a Toy Story alien replete with green punch, and a jack-o-lantern. Because my son loves all things Spider-Man, I went for a spider this time around. I took black pipe cleaners, bent them into shape, and taped them to the side of the bowl with a clear packaging tape. Then, I used that same tape to adhere the big google eyes that I always use in these circumstances. Finally, I cut out (free hand) a smiley face from the same black-and-white paper I used for the ice cream cones. When the party is over, I carefully pull the items off and discard the tape. I reuse everything except the paper mouths and beaks. For the drink to give it that dark color, I used strongly brewed iced tea. Really, anything goes.
In the past, I’ve used orange balloons and used a black marker to make jack-o-lantern faces. In 2017, I used white balloons to make ghosts. You can’t see them in the photo, but some were traditional with three dark ovals for two eyes and a “boo” mouth. My son wanted me to get creative, so some of these have lady eyelashes and other details. As always, you are limited only by your imagination. I had balloon holders and sticks (purchased at Oriental Trading’s site). So, I made a bouquet, put it in a clear vase filled with candy corn, and added a scarecrow pick and some spider-web bows.
On this site, I’ve often discussed the Mummy Game, where you split up in teams and use toilet paper to wrap one person like a mummy. Then, the team that completes the task the fastest wins. In our family, no one really ever wins. But we do get lots of awesome photos. At the end, one cousin always starts toilet papering the house and people start jumping in toilet paper as if we’re in our own ticket-tape parade. Another cousin, of course, gripes that we’re wasting perfectly good toilet paper. He has a point that is why I buy the cheap stuff for this game.
In the past, we’ve also broken into teams for a different kind of costume contest. My mom would put together a bag for each team filled with everyday items, such as a mop head or a garbage bag and a wand or headpiece. Then, the team has 20 minutes to dress up one person using only those items and whatever they have on. This game also never really had winners, but made for fantastic photos and greater memories.
For the first time in 2017, I decided to get web-slinging into the game lineup. It served two purposes – my son’s devotion to Spider-Man and the spider web theme of the Halloween party. So, I bought cans of silly string at the dollar store and let the kids web-sling on each other in our backyard. The teenagers were just as involved in this game as the little ones. My son stayed dressed as Spider-Man the entire time.
My annual Halloween parties have become the stuff of legend. I have been hosting them ever since I returned from college and my cousins started having babies. Now that I have a son of my own, they have become a bigger deal to me. The one year we were in Italy, the Italians celebrated boo-tifully. Even if it ends up just being my son, niece, and nephew, we make sure to put a Halloween spin on everything from the food to the decorations. The best part is that you can do it, even at the last minute. Here are some suggestions, gathered from the many Halloween parties we’ve had over the years:
Ok, it’s not so much frightening as it is friggin’ cute. Who hasn’t done the mummy dogs (hot dogs with puff pastry strips wrapped around it to look like a mummy)? Those are always winners. An array of fruit made to form a jack-o-lantern is a healthier option that has become popular in recent years. I serve pumpkin soup and pumpkin ice cream every year. Still, I can’t help but cater to the sweet tooth. It is Halloween, after all. The pumpkin-shaped cake I recently made for my sister-in-law’s birthday and the spider web cupcakes above are among my favorites. Another time I gave out Reese’s Pieces Halloween Cookie Bars, replete with eyes, as favors. Really, there’s nothing to them. To boot, they are Instagram worthy. They don’t taste bad either. Yum!
2. Balloons and Decorations
You can go the easy route with balloons and opt for orange and black or white or purple and black, all of which are typical for Halloween. Or you can kick things up a notch. Back in Italy, I used a black marker to draw jack-o-lantern faces on orange balloons. More recently, I took a green balloon and turned it into a witch. Using my Cricut, I cut out the details of her face and attached them with double-sided tape. I also made a small witch’s hat and attached orange crepe paper for hair. (You can’t really see the hat or the hair because my niece was holding it in the skeleton photo prop, which is another nice decor element if you’re so inclined.) I don’t usually stop at balloons. I have made garland and banners (see the pumpkins on the staircase in the above photo), taped paper monsters to the inside of my china closet, and replaced normal bulbs with black light and draped black fabric on which I stenciled neon-colored Halloween images.
3. Fun and Games
One of my favorite parts of Halloween is playing games. Back in the old days (about 15 years ago), we would break up into groups and hand out bags with random stuff in them (garbage bags, twist ties, a mop and some Halloween make up, for instance). Each group would use the content of its bags to dress up one of the grown ups for Halloween. Homeless clown was one of the best creations, I recall. But dads dressed as princess never failed to entertain. Another long-time favorite that has been carried on through today is the Mummy Game. We break into groups again. And the kids wrap one of the bigger kids with toilet paper to make a mummy. You’re supposed to do this with timers and see who does it the fastest. But that usually goes out the window. Five seconds after the mummy is complete, I have to rush to get a photo because the kids love to unwind the thing and throw the toilet paper all over the place. Once a long while ago (back when I was a kid) we actually bobbed for apples. Ick, so unsanitary! However, I would like to tie apples or doughnuts to string and have the kids try to eat them without using their hands. Maybe next year.
So, you’ve procrastinated, and you don’t have a Halloween costume yet. Fear not. With some paper (or felt if you’re so inclined), you can still come up with something for your child – or you. And it can be cool to boot. Promise. Here are some options:
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
My son and nephew are huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (TMNT) fans. Over the summer, you might recall, we went to the Liberty Science Center to see the traveling TMNT exhibit. In honor of the occasion, we made these paper costumes, and they are really quite simple. All I did was take to my Cricut Design Space online and use shapes to design the masks and shells. I used two circles, which I formed into ovals for the eyes. Cut out a space with another smaller circle. (I tweaked it after trying a sample on the kids). I used smaller ovals for the bandana and its “knot.” And cutting out a triangle allowed me to make space for the nose. After I cut out the pieces in the card stock, I glued everything together, and let it all dry. Finally, I measured the length of elastic on each child’s head, cut it to size, and then stapled it to the mask. I was careful to staple upside right, so the staple’s flat side rested against their heads. For the shells, I made two large ovals. Then, I used an array of shapes to make the back side more turtle-like. The kids glued those pieces down themselves. I used some old ribbon to attach the two shell pieces, so the kids could actually wear them on their shoulders. You could do all of this with scissors and/or felt instead of the Cricut and/or paper. I’ve also thought about doing this costume with a green sweat suit that would allow you to actually sew felt or fabric pieces on to it
These superhero masks are as easy as the TMNT ones. I used the exact same concept but did not include the bandana portion. Again, I stapled the elastic as I did with the previous example. This was a thinner mask, so it was more likely to rip. My advice for all of these masks would be to either use felt, which is just as easy to handle and cut as paper (with or without the Cricut) or laminate the mask and simply cut out the eyes and excess lamination. You could do the same for the turtle shells. Now, I have not made a cape yet. (We had one that someone gave to my son as a gift.) But you can simply buy a large piece of fabric or felt, cut out the shape of a cape, and adhere velcro or ribbon to keep it on.
My mom had a lot to do with this costume. We bought really large pieces of brown and yellow felt. (It was the cheapest, but any color would suffice.) Then, she made a wing pattern that was a semi-circle spanning the width of our open arms. She made a scalloped edge across the bottom and layered the yellow, so that it showed on the bottom of the brown. She used remnants of floral fabric from long ago to make the owl’s belly. She just cut out rows of semi-circles and adhered them to a piece of brown felt cut like a shield. She used ribbon to attach the “shield to the wings (much like the TMNT shells). She also sewed elastic to make a wristband of sorts, so we could slip our hands into the wings. We bought cheap brown tees on Amazon.com, and we safety pinned the wings strategically to the shirt to keep them in place. I bought cheap plastic glasses at the dollar store and glued on some brown feathers and that yellow beak. That’s all. You could totally do this with paper, too.
All you need to become a dinosaur is a felt tail and paper crown. Now, I cut the tail and its spiny, white topper freehand. My mom sewed the spine to the one side of felt and then sewed the two pieces of felt together on three sides before stuffing it and sewing it closed. We Then sewed elastic to it (measured to each kid’s waist), so they could wear the tail like a belt. Easy-peasy if you know how to sew the most basic of things. Finally, I made a paper crown using the Cricut, but this could be done with scissors. Again, I used shapes, namely a large rectangle for the base, a narrower rectangle for the top, and triangles for its spikes. I attached all of it with scotch tape, but you could hide it more than I did. Hint. Hint.
My sister-in-law’s birthday is at the end of October, which means our birthday dinner usually offers some sort of sign of Halloween or fall. This year, I made her a cake in the shape of a pumpkin. I thought it was going to be a fail, and I would not be able to share it with you, dear reader. My back-up plan was $15 to go buy a cake at the supermarket. Instead, however, I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of making this cake, not to mention how pretty the finished product looked. So, here’s how you can make one of your own in time for your Halloween celebration:
2 Boxed cake mixes in your favorite flavor (or your favorite from-scratch birthday cake recipe doubled)
Eggs, oil, and water (in the amount indicated on the box) or whatever you need for the from-scratch recipe
Icing (2 of packaged the packaged kind or from scratch if you prefer)
Red and yellow food coloring
Flat-top ice cream cones
Green icing writing pen
Oven-safe bowl for baking
You can consult Betty Crocker for its instructions, which I used as a guide. I chose boxed carrot cake mixes because that’s a favorite of the birthday girl. Then, I picked up two packages of cream cheese icing. I made the two cake batters and baked each one in my Pyrex bowl, which I had buttered and floured beforehand. After 20 minutes of cooling, I gently pulled each one out of the bowl using a spatula. Then, I let them cool overnight.
The next morning, I cut the top off each cake (just a little bit of it) to make a flat surface. Some people put the cakes in the fridge or freezer at this point to keep the crumbs in place when icing the cake. I didn’t bother. I put all the icing in a bowl and started adding red and yellow food coloring until I reached a desirable shade of orange.
Then, I put two pieces of wax paper that just barely touched each other on top of one of my cake pedestals. I placed the bottom cake on it flat side up.
I first put some of the icing on top of the flat surface of the bottom cake. I then placed the other cake flat-side down on the icing and made sure the two cakes aligned properly. I also put wooden skewers through the cake and cut them flush with the cake’s surface just to keep everything in place.
Then, I iced the cake. It was messy at first. Once the cake was pretty well covered with the peachy icing, I used a cake spatula and swiped in an upward motion to make it look more pumpkin like. As you can see, it was hardly perfect. But I liked the natural look of it (or at least that’s what I told myself).
Now, it was time for the details. I put the ice cream cone on top in the center and somewhat askew. Then, I added swirls of green with the icing pen I bought at the supermarket to make it look like vines.
Finally, I used a large, flat spatula to carefully lift the whole cake from the wax paper covered pedestal to the cardboard tray for bakers that I had picked up at Michael’s. I could have simply pulled the two pieces of wax paper out from the under the cake. But I like to torture myself. Seriously, I wanted to have room for the spider web with my sister-in-law’s name on it. (I made that with a foam spider web I had from a previous Halloween and Cricut-cut letters on orange glitter card stock.) The last step was adhering the spider web using two little dabs of green icing to the back and adding more vines to the bottom of the tray.
The fireplace mantel can’t be naked for any holiday, including Halloween. That’s why I was so attracted to some of the felt garlands I’ve seen in catalogs, such as Sur La Table. Just like with the skeleton photo prop, I did not want to spend upward of $35 for something I could make myself for less money. And I could customize it. I actually made the garland in the photos above with my son, niece, and nephew in mind. Each ghost and skull represents one of them. The girls (skull with the bow and ghost with heart eyes are my niece) and the more masculine ghosts and skulls represent the boys. Don’t worry if you aren’t a great sewer, you can still pull this off. (I’m pretty terrible, but it hasn’t been stopping me lately, and I think it still looks nice.)
Here’s how to make the felt Halloween ghost and skull garland:
Gather your materials.
Felt (I used black and white blocks of felt I had leftover from a previous project)
Accessories (I used remnants of the black glitter iron-on sans sticky backing for the ghost’s eyes, a piece of stiff felt for the bow, and an adhesive gem to spruce up the garland)
One long ribbon (I chose black to keep in the Halloween spirit)
Make a pattern.
I used my Cricut machine to cut out the felt. I scanned the Cricut system for graphics that I liked. I knew I wanted a ghost and possibly a skeleton. The girl and boy skull caught my eye, and I liked the shape of the ghost. I had the machine cut out those graphics (3 of each, again to make sure there was one of each for my niece, nephew, and son). You can just print out the shapes you want, pin them to the felt, and cut accordingly with a scissor.
Sew the pieces together.
The first step I took was to sew the accessories (eyes and mouths) on the ghosts. Then, I sewed the front of the ghost to the back of it on three sides. I stuffed the ghost before sewing the final side closed. I then sewed the individual skulls before sewing each piece of the garland to the long ribbon. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you could sew the pieces together by hand or try using fabric glue.
That’s all it took. I intended to stuff the skulls and make them puffy like the ghosts. But I was having trouble with my sewing machine. The thread in the bobbin kept getting knotted and stuck and it would slow down the whole project. So, I decided it would be just as nice like this. But you might want to make all the elements stuffed like the one from the catalog. Of course, you could opt for jack-o-lanterns, witch’s hats, black cats, ghouls, goblins, or monsters.
Photo props give parties that little extra spark. They make the event festive and enhance the theme. Most of all, they give people an excuse to round up folks and take pictures to document the occasion, which is nice for hosts and guests alike. That’s why I’m drawn to all things photo prop. While I didn’t have the usual blow out Halloween party this year, I did want to make the house look festive for the kids. So, I started looking for a new photo prop, a different one than we’ve had all the other years.
Most of the time I invested a few dollars into a plastic poster board with holes in it for people’s heads. Don’t get me wrong. They’ve been cute and have served their purpose quite nicely. I have reused them for years in a row, and I even gave my Italian relatives one to keep. But I wanted something extra special this year, precisely because we weren’t doing our traditional gathering and so the photos look distinct.
Then, I saw it, a vision of Halloween with the perfect balance of spooky and sassy. In the Home Decorators catalog, I found a cloth photo prop. It was basically a white sheet with two black skeletons holding hands and two holes where the heads should be. It was simple in its color scheme and unadorned background. I loved it, but there was no way I was paying $40 for it. I immediately realized I could make my own for much cheaper, and so I did. Here’s how:
Cheap, white fabric – I found this remnant on a clearance rack at JoAnn Fabric and Craft Store. You could also use an old white or pale colored sheet. Fraying and holes just boost the spook factor, so don’t sweat them.
Iron-on paper in black glitter (you could also use plain black or another color, especially if you are using a different color background)
Pencil or chalk
Card stock in orange glitter
Iron and a hard surface (such as an ironing board)
The width of the remnant was perfect for my Halloween project, but I had to trim the bottom, so people wouldn’t be tripping on it and it would hang properly from the doorway. You might need to do more or less trimming than I did; it all depends on the original size of your fabric. Check where you plan to hang it and measure and cut accordingly.
Cut out the hole for the head.
I opted to make one skeleton as opposed to two because my remnant was narrow and it would be significantly cheaper. I would have had to buy a bigger piece of fabric and two sheets of iron-on transfer paper. This project was so the kids could have a little fun, not so I could break the bank. To cut out the hole for the head, I hung the trimmed fabric from the very place I intended to put it. A few pieces of packing tape did the job, by the way. Next, I stood in front of the fabric with my nose touching it. I took the pencil and I traced around my head. Then, I took scissors and cut the circle where I had traced my head. I was careful to cut just around the outer edge of the circle, so my trace marks would be cut out.
Make the skeleton and crown.
With the Cricut. This is simple enough. You can find a skeleton image in Design Space, the Cricut software, have the machine do the cutting, and follow the directions for ironing it on. The same is true for the crown. This is, indeed, how I did it. But you could also do this without a cutting machine. Using a razor blade and scissors, you can cut out the image yourself on iron on paper or even fabric (if you’re willing to sew). I would aim to use a larger-boned skeleton template if that’s the route you’re going because those intricate cuts can be a pain when you’re doing them by hand.
Adhere the skeleton and crown to the fabric.
Iron the fabric on the highest possible setting. Shut off the steam setting on the iron when you are ready to iron on the skeleton. Careful how you place the various pieces. Be sure to follow the instructions for properly ironing on the material. Put the iron directly on the iron-on for 30 sections. Then, use a piece of transfer paper or a white linen cloth over the iron on and slowly smooth the iron over the patch until it seems to be adhering to the fabric. Wait for it to cool down before you start pulling away the sticky paper. If you do it too soon, you can rip pieces of the iron-on off before they have stuck onto the fabric. I didn’t have another sheet of iron on paper in a different color, but I wanted a crown because I thought it would be cute. Using the Cricut again, I cut the crown out of orange glitter card stock and just sewed it to the fabric (with a sewing machine). Fabric glue probably would have worked too.
Voila’ you’re ready to put the photo prop on display and start taking those spooky pictures. What do you think? Share it on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter if you think this is a cool idea.
That first crisp fall day brings with it hope. There’s something about breaking through the heat and the jewel-toned rainbow of leaves freeing themselves from the prison of branches. It’s a new school year with its fresh faces eager to learn. It’s the empty cornucopia, little by little, getting filled with bounty. It’s shorter days and cozy nights. And October is fall’s sweet spot, a time when it’s still possible to reinvent yourself and spend an entire day outdoors without either melting or freezing. That is the precise moment when the farms beckon you. For us that means heading to Alstede Farms in Chester, N.J.
New Jersey, the Garden State, is the perfect place to be at this most wonderful time of year. (You can learn more about different Jersey farms in my book, Fun with the Kids New Jersey). Visitors and natives alike have a plethora of places to go to take in the wonders of Mother Nature. While we have enjoyed a number of New Jersey farms over the years, we keep going back to Alstede because there is so much to do that every visit seems like the first one.
Here, kids can get up close and personal with farm animals. My son had a full-fledged conversation with a turkey, and peeked at a hen either laying on eggs or simply digging a hole for her weary body to find rest on our most recent visit. We saw kissing donkeys, playful goats, and working horses. My son and his cousins went on pony rides and seemed to float in air in the bounce house. They got giddy and waved at Nonna from the mini hay ride for the little ones.
Of course, the whole family hopped in the back hay-ridden bed of the big boy tractor pull, which offered the chance to glimpse at geese frolicking in a fountain and rows and rows of corn stalks. You can see tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and weepy sunflowers, all of which you can pick and bring home. (You pay by the weight of your haul.) In the fall, you’ll also see sleeping peach trees and whatever is left of the raspberries. It wouldn’t be a fall fest without music, photo props all over the grounds, and the ability for every kid to pick his own pumpkin to bring home. It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
For my son, the pumpkin is like the Christmas tree. He oohs and aahs every time the Jack-o-Lantern lights up in the dark of night. While he has ignited his devotion to the season and his love of milkshakes and apple cider doughnuts at the Alstede Farms store, I don’t see that as the magical part of our annual visits. What is most remarkable about our trips to the farms is his discovery of nature and devotion to life. This exchange tipped me off.
Me: “What was your favorite part of today?”
Baby Boy: “Seeing the pumpkin beans [he means seeds], and the caterpillar.”
All that fun stuff and this was his response? What? Then, I thought about it. Amid the pumpkins, including that broken one revealing its seeds, we found a caterpillar covered in dust and camouflaging with the ground. As it burrowed into the ground, my nephew was about to step on it. My son cried real tears and furiously yelled at his cousin. Luckily, my niece had stepped in and kept her brother from killing the caterpillar. My son said, “Don’t kill him, don’t kill him. He lives here.” I keep telling him not to kill insects outside because we need them and the outdoors is their home. This was a small victory for mom, but a victory nonetheless.
A few days earlier, his class went on a field trip to Green Meadows Farm in Hazlet, N.J. There, his teachers tell me he was unafraid to pet chickens and try his hand at milking a cow. Certainly, the farms alone are not responsible for his reverence for animals and nature. My sister, the zookeeper, had something to do with it. His nonno, the landscaper, had something to do with it. His zio, the professional foodie, had something to do with it. All the Italians in our family, who cook from scratch and maintain their perfect little gardens, had something to do with it. We, his mom and papa, who have made preserving his life and helping him understand the responsibility of his place in the world, have something to do with it.
It is with that spirit that we will continue to head to farms and gardens and pick vegetables that we bring home and cook with our own two hand. We will always love animals and appreciate what they deliver – milk, food, love, and the life cycle. And we will try to do our part to save this planet that gives us so much. We shall try, at least, to reap what we sow.
Either Ischia, Italy heeded my call for a festive and traditional Halloween celebration or the country is just becoming totally Americanized. When I walked onto Ischia’s main street on Oct. 31, there were kids dressed up and shouting “scherzetti o dolcetti” (Italian for “trick or treat”) all around me. So, some of the costumes were just orange T-shirts. So what? There was still free candy. And I spotted a devil, a couple of witches, and moms sporting alien antennas and cat’s ears. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as epic as American Halloween and there were no school parades of kids in costume or grand, Halloween-themed parties (except for ours). But it was way more than I expected. Italy surprised me.
I was thrilled to have found the spirit of Halloween in the most unexpected of places. My father knew nothing of Halloween when he moved to the United States in 1960 and until recently the holiday had no meaning here. The kids dressed up and ate what we would call funnel cake for Carnevale (Fat Tuesday) in February or March. Now, Halloween – thanks to popular American movies and TV shows – has arrived in Italy. My nieces dressed like vampires and my son was a dragon who fit right in celebrating his holiday abroad. The smaller world means we have fewer differences between us but that also means we have fewer differences. It could take away from the unique experiences one has when she goes abroad. And if everyone becomes American, how much fun would that be? Not much, in my opinion. But I was more than willing to overlook this yesterday. I was just grateful to have fellow trick or treaters helping to build the excitement for my little guy — and keep him from ripping off his costume, which is what he was doing for about 30 minutes until I bribed him with exactly four M&Ms. Yes, you can judge me now. In my defense, he actually ate no other candy the entire day or evening. Honest.
Of course, I still had to force my Halloween traditions on the in-laws, so we had to have a party. Take note of all the DIY decorations. I haven’t used so many markers and construction paper since the first grade. Baby Boy helped. Here’s how the festa went:
I’m a big fan of Halloween games. My mom sent Baby Boy a witch’s hat ring toss game, which he enjoyed while the adults ate dinner. For years, in the States, my cousins and I played the Mummy Game, where you break up into teams. Each team dresses one of its players like a mummy using toilet paper. The fastest team to create a live mummy wins. Yes, yes, I forced my adult relatives to oblige.
My husband and his nephew – the mummies – would not let me post their silly pictures online. But they were hilarious and you could tell how much fun they had from the looks on their faces (you could see through the TP, trust me). Yes, they are major party poopers Still, Baby Boy stuck with tradition, too, by jumping around and throwing the TP after the game was over. He got things started by de-mummifying his father.
I cooked everything for the party myself. The menu consisted of butternut squash soup (we had to special order the butternut squash and it’s green on the outside and bright orange on the inside but shaped like its American namesake), sausage and peppers, and Caesar salad. To top the soup, I cut pumpkins out of white sandwich bread, brushed olive oil on them, and sprinkled them with Parmigiano cheese before toasting them in the oven. Cupcakes, of course, made for the perfect dessert for this kid-friendly party. And I also made popcorn (a favorite with my nieces and nephew) and homemade honey roasted peanuts again. Delish!
Yes, the cupcakes are 100 percent from scratch, and I drew spider webs on the vanilla ones. Mamma had fun on Halloween, too.