Ideas for a not-so-scary Halloween party
It was 40 years ago when the movie “Halloween” unleashed buckets of blood, slashers and serial killers onto America’s darkened streets, changing the way we celebrate fright night.
The playful ghosts, witches on broomsticks, smiling jack-o’-lanterns and black cats long emblematic of Halloween gave way to Freddy Kruegers, Michael Meyers, ravenous zombies and an ever-increasing competition for guts and gore. Haunted houses were replaced by houses of horror.
But some people are dialing back to a quainter holiday, where Halloween might stir up a few fun shivers but not a massive heart attack.
Sheana Davis and her husband, Ben Sessions, decided to start a new tradition this year - the “Not Scary Halloween Party,” a multi-generational block party where everyone on their street in Boyes Hot Springs is welcome to stop by for old-fashioned fun and games and nobody has to worry about seeing dead people, save for a friendly skeleton or two.
Davis said it’s the way she celebrated Halloween back when her now-grown daughter was a child.
“She was not a scary fan. No scary movies and no scary costumes,” she said. So Davis, a chef and cheesemaker, went for more benign amusements.
And this year she wants to revive that tradition for the many kids who, in the past year, have moved onto her street.
She’ll bake a big lasagna for kids and their parents and treats like dirt worm cupcakes (Gummi worms coming out of crushed Oreos), Halloween Marshmallow Spiders and Mummy Brie.
As for decorations, there will be lots of pumpkins and squash, cinnamon broomsticks, orange and purple string lights and “Happy Halloween” signs. After going out on a fruitless search for G-rated Halloween decorations, Davis ran into friends who had given up on their annual party tradition and handed over a whole treasure trove of old decorations they no longer needed..
Although a lot of fussy parents worried about germs have abandoned bobbing for apples, Davis plans to fill a tub with shallow water so kids can get a grip on their apples by pushing them to the bottom without drowning.
She’s not alone in her yearning for a simpler Halloween. Retailers like World Market are selling whole lines of retro-style Halloween decor mindful of the 1950s and earlier, featuring owls, witches, black cats, bats, spiders and smiling skeletons. The Beistle Co., which has been making party supplies for more than a century, has brought out from its vaults reproductions of early Halloween party items, like crepe paper centerpieces first sold in 1929, back cat cutouts and a pumpkin Fortune Telling Game.
“It’s not overly cutesy also not extra creepy gory. It’s spooky, classic, nostalgic and timeless,” said collector Jenn Fisher of the appeal of vintage Halloween collectibles. In addition to her own collection of old-timey Halloween memorabilia like tin litho noisemakers, she maintains a Vintage Halloween website out of her Arizona home featuring history, lore, party tips and retro merchandise for sale.
In the early and mid-20th century Halloween decorations and cards had sinister but somehow whimsical graphics and could be no scarier than a witch’s cauldron, an old house under a full harvest moon, a barren tree with twisty branches. They were cardboard cutouts, crepe paper and papier-mache.
Every year Fisher throws a Nancy Drew party, where the theme is mystery and not murder. Remember the girl sleuth in the old days went after jewel thieves, smugglers, kidnappers and mobsters, not serial killers.
Halloween, coming at the end of harvest, has been an ever-changing holiday, starting with the earliest Celtic Samhain festivals marking that time of the year when the boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead were blurred, allowing the dead to return to earth.
In Colonial times a distinctively American version of the old-fashioned harvest and spirit celebrations began taking shape, with play parties and public events to mark the harvest that included sharing ghost stories, telling fortunes, singing, dancing and mischief-making, according to the History Channel website, history.com. The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably harkens back to the early “All Souls’ Day” parades in England when the poor would beg for food and be given “soul cakes” in return for prayers for their dead relatives. By the late 1800s, there was a move in America to make Halloween more about friendly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft.
Ellyn Pelikan is 73, but still celebrates Halloween much as she did as a child in the 1950s and as a young mother in the late 1960s and 1970s. And some of the Victorian traditions she carries on came down to her from her mother, who was born in 1910.