Best Halloween Costumes – Homemade or Store bought?

With the change of seasons, shorter days and presumably colder weather I feel a spike in nostalgia. I try to live in the present and embrace life but these past few days I can’t help but think back on some memories, especially ones involving past Halloweens.

One Halloween I came home from a friend’s house in 6th grade and told my parents I had a great time at the party. We all wore costumes, dunked for apples, had a jack-o-lantern making contest and then used the Ouija board to have a seance.

My mom, who had not really been paying attention to the tales of my escapades immediately jumped up in horror and told me never to touch one of those boards. She said they were evil. She said the Devil controlled them.

Mom was what you would call a born again Christian. While some parents in the 70’s were cocktailing and learning how to disco dance, our house was hosting bible studies, pre-cana counseling and youth groups.

In 1976 my mom spent the summer in the hospital very sick with ulcerated colitis. She almost died. She had “the laying on of hands” done while in the hospital and suddenly was healed. The doctors could not explain it. My dad could not explain it.

Mom spent the rest of her life sharing her story and praising God. She visited churches and prayer groups all over. She spoke publicly at conferences and to bible studies. She felt blessed and was grateful for her life.

Mom has been gone now for three years. Sometimes she visits me in my dreams. My siblings and I share signs that she is still with us just maybe in another dimension that we can’t see.

I did visit a psychic or two after my husband Mike died and I became a widow. Mom never went to one but she seemed OK with what I shared from those visits. Maybe we all agreed that we can still communicate with loved ones on the other side or at least get signs from them letting us know they are OK.

As I watch houses become decorated with pumpkins, and more recently blow up witches, ghosts and spiders, I miss those exciting days when my kids were little. Deciding on costumes for my boys, listening to them sing silly Halloween songs, and walking with the neighbors around the streets at dusk as the kids ran from house to house with us admonishing them to “say thank you” are vividly burned into my memories.

For a few years we were even included in the party circuit and dressed as a couple to go to adult parties. Mike, having been a prison guard, often went as a prisoner while I wore his old Department of Corrections shirt and aviator glasses, along with a short skirt and boots. Can’t find that old photo but oh, those were the days!

I was intrigued to learn more about the origins of Halloween.

Halloween is linked to the Celtic festival ‘summer’s end’. From the middle ages this date marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter. It was also seen as a time when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned, meaning that ‘spirits’ or ‘fairies’ could easily come into this world.

It was believed to keep the spirits happy and ensure their livestock survived the winter, the people needed to leave offerings of food and drink outside. Places were set at the dinner table in the belief that the souls of the dead return home one night of the year. In Ireland, after saying prayers fo the souls of the dead, games would begin. The games often foretold one’s future regarding death and marriage.

Bonfires were lit and special rituals developed around them. In Wales, bonfires were lit to prevent the souls of the dead from falling to earth and to keep the devil away.

Trick or treating is a custom that started in the 15th century with soul cakes. Poor children would go door to door collecting soul cakes in exchange for praying for the dead, especially the souls’ of the givers relatives.

The custom of wearing costumes may have been based on the Christian belief that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities.

Maybe mom was onto something as she worried about us playing with Ouija boards around Halloween. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a time in which the boundary between the afterlife and life on Earth is blurred. Legend tells that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, in which the spirits of deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. The next day, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy and frolic among the living.

And what about the Jack-o-Lantern? The story goes that Jack encounters the Devil and tricks him into climbing a tree. Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that the Devil can never claim his soul, but after a life of sin, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies.

Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out. Since then, Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest. (according to wikipedia)

Apparently people used to carve the turnip but we Americans started the practice of carving the pumpkin – much easier.

One of my favorite memories when my kids were little was pumpkin picking giant pumpkins in our own backyard. My dad would have been a farmer if not a Chemistry teacher, and his gardens were amazing. He loved all the flower gardens around the yard which won many awards in the county fair, but the veggies in the vegetable garden were the best. He even carved the biggest one into a Jack-o-lantern, not an easy chore for sure!

Dad getting ready to carve the Jack-o-lantern from his garden
The finished Jack-o-lantern got a place of honor in my son’s kindergarten classroom

Sometimes the boys had store bought costumes like Darth Vader and Harry Potter. Other times I tried to make it myself. One year Buddy wanted to be a ghost and I did my best with a white sheet and some white coloring on his face.

Spiderman and a ghost

When Pokemon cards were first popular, I took a card to KINKOs copy store and enlarged the card. It was a tedious task to enlarge the card 500 percent. Then I cut out and glued the parts to poster board and made him a Pokemon card. He got a lot of attention from the kids that year! He even tried to look like the scary Charizard dragon that he represented.

Creating homemade costumes came naturally to me as my mom was the original creator of outfits. She sure knew her way around the sewing machine and created all types of clothes for us over the years.

Her most creative design I wore trick-or-treating when I was six years old. The costume dress had a fancy blue gown on one side and assorted rags on the other. My hairstyle consisted of one side a pretty bun, the other side knotted with rags and fireplace ashes.

Did you guess my costume? Reply in the comments if you think you know it.

What is your opinion? Are the favorite costumes those homemade attempts or did you love something you bought somewhere? And what are your favorite Halloween memories?

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4 thoughts on “Best Halloween Costumes – Homemade or Store bought?

  1. I love reading your writing Kristin! I am guessing your costume was the transformation of Cinderella. Cinders first and elegance… how clever of your mom! XOXO
    If my guess is wrong I’ll eat my shorts! LOL

    1. Yay!! You got it Deb! I hope I can find that photo. Yup, my mom was definitely creative 🥰Thanks for reading.

  2. I didn’t know that story about the Jack-o-Lantern. Agreed, it’s much easier to carve a big old pumpkin than it is a teeny tiny turnip! I have such fond memories of Halloween from growing up. My mom would always make our costumes. I have three sisters and I’m the second youngest, so there were definitely a lot of hand-me-downs or matching outfits. Looks like you’ve done quite well over the years with your boys’ costumes. The hand-made ones are always my favourite!

    1. Thanks for reading and I agree the home made ones are a favorite and more memorable. Moms sure used to be talented with those sewing machines – a gift I never quite embraced. Happy Halloween 🎃

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