How do I pop my Halloween cherry?

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This is my first “cold season” in the Northern Hemisphere, and I’m excited and nervous about Halloween. As an Aussie in Canada my experience covers dressing up spooky, but not much else. I would love some advice about the practical things I can do to enjoy it with friends and any visiting kids. Things like:

  • How does one carve a pumpkin?
  • How can I make our house cute and spooky, not tacky, on a budget?
  • What is acceptable to give trick or treaters?
  • What are some cool “tricks” I could set up?

Thanks so much! -Janey

Oh, I love this question. Welcome to Halloween, my friend. Here is some advice for each of your questions, then I’d LOVE for the Homies to chime in…

How to carve a pumpkin. And you MUST carve a pumpkin.

This is me carving a circular opening in the top of my pumpkin.
This is me carving a circular opening in the top of my pumpkin.
Step One: Buy a pumpkin carving set. You don’t have to, but I sure do love them.

Step Two: Cut a circular opening in the top of your pumpkin. Please see the photo to the right as a reference.

Step Three: Scoop out the guts. (That’s where the pumpkin scooper in your pumpkin carving kit comes in super handy.) This is super-messy and super-fun. Make sure you do it in a mess-friendly spot. Note the trashbag that I’m sitting on in the photo to the right.

Step Four: Carve any kind of design you want! Take a look at this pumpkin carving contest for some inspiration as to how crazy you can get with your designs.

Step Five: Stick a candle inside your pumpkin and flickering spookiness.

How to properly decorate your home on a budget

Your recently-carved pumpkins could really pull most of the weight here. But if you want to do more decorating check out some of these ideas:

Make a creepy, glowing lights out of glow sticks.

Make a holiday wreath out of a ceiling medallion.

image1Offbeat Homie Jessica is in a temporary housing situation with her family for Halloween. So they made a spooky Halloween village out of recycled tissue and paper towel rolls!

My latest creation for my 22-month-old daughter — The Halloween Village/Land! Complete with six characters (Demon Duck, Yellow Owl-ish, Lil Devil, Pumpkin Pal, Bat Friends, and Black Cat Stachio), four tall trees, and the playgrounds decorated with leftover cut-out confetti.

Five silly-easy Halloween crafts that you could do over the weekend.

Source: via Lynn on Pinterest
Source: via Lynn on Pinterest

Hack Halloween: Add dread to a space with gauzy cheesecloth shapes.

Or get some spooky decor lessons on this post: Creating a creepy year-round house that doesn’t feel “Halloweeny.”

What to give to trick-or-treaters

Photo courtesy Matt Bites.

You’re turn, Halloween Homies! How would you instruct a newbie to enjoy their first Halloween?

Comments on How do I pop my Halloween cherry?

  1. This wont apply in some countries, im in the UK, where autumn is at the same time as halloween. I did something similair to those paper bat decorations, for a party. We had black paper bat cut outs, but also lots of really beautiful autumn leaves, all stuck on the wall/DJ booth. Bit more nature themed, to recognise the end of summer etc, but also looks awesome on the wall or on the mantle/tables etc. Kinda like using holly/berries at christmas for solstice.
    Also paper lanterns can be made easily, cheaply and with kids, just get them to draw the ‘spooky’ shapes onto the paper/card before you cut them out, then they create ‘spooky’ shadows 🙂

    • When my daughter was little and we didn’t want the mess or arguing about who was big enough to use a knife for pumpkin carving, we made paper bag lanterns instead. She drew silly and spooky faces on paper lunch bags, we filled the bottom inch or two with sand, and put a tea light inside.

      Having a few simple decorations outside and leaving the porch light on is also a fairly universal sign for “trick or treaters welcome.”

      Have fun!

  2. For step 2 of pumpkin carving, make sure to cut on an angle, not straight down. Otherwise, the top can’t be re-placed on the carved pumpkin, it will just fall right in.

    If using a candle, make sure to cut a notch in the lid so the smoke can escape. Or leave the top off, or just a little battery powered flickering tealight.

    • I actually cut the bottom out instead of the top, so my fingers don’t get singed when lighting the candle (for smaller pumpkins, I drill a small chimney on top afterward)

    • Couldn’t agree more. Also, you can chop off some of the bottom of you pumpkin “lid” so it’s not as clos to the candle’s flame. However, I do recommend the electric tealights since it allowes you to use the pumpkin’s flesh for cooking once you’re done (depending on when you carve it of course). Don’t do that if using a real candle!! The fumes will have contaminated the pumpkin’s flesh.

      • But you’ve already scooped out the flesh, so it doesn’t matter what candle you use! I make soup with the pumpkin flesh I scoop out (I really get as much as I can so it’s not wasted) and then I can keep the carved pumpkin until it starts to go spookily mouldy! >:D

  3. When cutting the circular part at the top of your pumpkin, make sure you cut at an inward angle (your knife should angle toward the stem) or the top part will fall right back in when you try to put it on.

    I was never allowed to eat anything that wasn’t wrapped by the manufacturers, so I’d skip anything homemade unless you know your neighbors very well and don’t expect to get too many other kids.

    • And rather than a circle you can cut a zig-zag shape (make sure it’s still big enough to fit your hand in to scoop out the insides) so even if it dries up and shrinks a bit the top still shouldn’t fall in.

  4. I would make sure that you have at least one type of treat to give out that is safe for allergic kids, i.e. nut and peanut free (even though Reese’s cups are awesome). One of my neighbours, who happens to be my daughter’s friend, has a nut/peanut/sesame allergy so I’m always mindful of this. My understanding is that many kids just learn to ask if something is safe, and it’s good to have a clear answer for them. In past years I’ve also had a sign hanging from the bowl of treats that has a peanut with a red circle and a bar across it so maybe allergic kids know I’ve got something safe.

    Also: more pumpkin-carving ideas! (use a thin, flexible knife to do the “shaving” you see in many of those)

  5. 1. Unless you know the kids/parents coming to your house, buy wrapped/packaged goodies to give out or give out non-food items. I would much rather bake cookies and give those out, but with allergies and fear over kids being poisoned – I kid you not – it’s just safer not.

    2. Spooky music and dramatic lighting are easy and cool. This makes a HUGE difference for Halloween. Replace a regular bulb with green or red and you have instant mood lighting. Or hang fabric in front of your windows if you can’t do that. Even creepy laughter playing is spooky. I remember the scariest house I encountered as a little kid just had the people sitting out at a table in the driveway with green lights and scary music. I knew the people and my dad STILL had to go up with me.

    3. Porch lights and/or lit pumpkins are the sign you’re home and participating. Not everyone is willing to deal with trick or treaters and not everyone is home. So ensuring that your outside light is on or setting out your pumpkins all lit up tells kids you’re home and open for business. This sucks for me as our porch light is motion sensor. I spend a lot of time going to trigger it during the night.

    4. Fun tricks include having someone triggering a rocking chair (could be behind with their arms in the dummy, could be on a string or something). Bowls of foods that look icky – you can find all sorts of ideas on the internet like peeled grapes kids can stick their hands in, etc. Anything that suddenly comes to life is creepy. Motion sensors can do a lot of fun things. All depends on how much time and energy and money you want to put into tricks.

  6. Oh my goodness, Halloween is my favorite time of year. Some things you could consider also doing are going to a haunted house, seeing if there are any real ghost tours in your town, or just staying home and having a scary movie marathon while you hand candy out.

    As far as tricks, I am not the mischievous kind, but having something pop out at people is always fun. Maybe get one of those bowls with the motion-sensor hand that pops up when kids reach in to get candy? Or something motion activated on your porch for when people walk by? No matter what you do, just have fun!

  7. My neighbors had the best method for scarring both children and adults. One person would be dressed as a scarecrow sitting in a chair as part of a fall display with pumpkins and such. The clothes were very baggy, she wore a plastic pumpkin around her head, a straw hat, and she was fully committed to the costume because she stuffed straw up her sleeves, around her neck etc. – you could not tell she was human. The other people would be standing there in normal costumes holding a bowl of candy. They had a code word: Your costumes are SUPER. When she said the code word, the scarecrow would reach out her arms, stand up, etc. and scare the crap out of everybody. It was great.

  8. As a Kiwi in Canada, let me say welcome! Halloween is one of my favourite holidays, and even though I’ve lived here over 10 years I still get all giddy about it. So here is my advice…

    * If you have a Dollarama near you, check them out for Halloween decorations. Some of their stuff might be tacky, but I find overall if you can hit it early enough they actually have some seriously cool stuff. Definitely the best price for those bags of fake cobwebs that are *technically* reusable, but for reals who is going to try to untangle it all and get all the dirt and twigs etc that inevitably get caught in it? I just buy it new every year.
    My parents’ Halloween decorations for the outside of the house have been almost entirely Dollarama purchases for a number of years, with just a few pieces of more quality stuff.
    * On that note, Winners/Homesense also has GREAT Halloween stuff for decent prices. Again, you’re more likely to find better stuff earlier in October.
    * Walmart usually has some amount of stuff, although I find it tends to be mainly a couple aisles of costumes and another aisle of those giant inflatable outdoor decorations.
    * For pumpkin carving, I usually draw my design on with a marker before I cut it. Some people print out designs and then trace them on.
    * I definitely second what people have said re: giving treats out that are sealed. Peanut-free options might be nice too, although there aren’t a ton that are.
    * For non-food options, books (spooky or otherwise) would be a cool thing to give out.
    * Not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but leave your porch lights on if you want trick or treaters, turn ’em off after you’re out of candy.
    * As a good trick…dress up as a scarecrow (with hat to hide your face) and pretend to be another Halloween decoration among your other stuff. Then when kids get close, you can leap up and scare them.

    • I also learned a few years ago that if it’s late and those stores are out of good Halloween decorations, try Micheal’s Arts and Crafts. They still had tons when I was in the same situation.

  9. yay roasting the seeds!!! that is really the only thing i care about during pumpkin carving.

    a little oil, a little sugar, and a bunch of spices- so good!

  10. A fun extra step when carving pumpkins is to roast the seeds. Separate the seeds from the mushy orange plup, put them on a baking sheet with some oil. Roast them at 275-300 F until they start to brown. Let them cool a bit before eating. Roasted pumpkins seeds are one of the best parts of carving pumpkins, in my opinion.

    You can also roast the seeds of other winter squashes that you might be cooking. If they look similar to pumpkin seeds, you can cook them pretty much the same way and they taste pretty much the same.

  11. Do not give out raisins.

    Depending on the endurance level of the kids in the neighborhood, some of them may have been out for quite a while. Small bottles of water, cans of soda, or juice boxes may be quite welcome treats by then.

    One of the old-school favorite tricks is to dress up as a dummy scarecrow or witch (you’ll need a mask and gloves) and sit in a chair with the bowl of candy on your lap. Nearby have a sign that says “Take One Please.” When kids reach for the bowl you “come to life” and reach of them. Older kids are wise to this trick, so if there’s a group let all of them but the last one take a piece before coming to life for your best chance at lulling them into a false sense of safety before startling them.

    This works best if you set up an actual dummy a week or so ahead of time and let the neighborhood kids get used to seeing it on your stoop. That way they’ll be extra-unsuspecting.

      • I’m curious about this, too. My kiddo (who LOVES candy) is usually pumped about receiving raisins as well. You know, assuming he gets way way way more candy than raisins.

        • REALLY!? I fucking hated getting raisins as a kid. I remember coming though the candy, separating all the “stupid raisin boxes,” cursing the people who handed those out under my breath. Hell, even now I’m not even a big fan. 😉

          • Raisins are dried-up devil turds.
            I get that it comes down to a personal preference thing, but I’ve always felt like raisins were more after school snack, less like a “go you, wearin’ your lil’ costume” reward. I’m just a firm believer that if you wanna go natural, that’s completely cool, but it should be on the same level of novelty as a Kit Kat.

          • Chocolate. Raisins have to be covered in chocolate or they’re just rat turds. And even with chocolate there are on the lower end of the goodie scale, next to the dum-dums and Necco wafers.

            It’s hard to believe that raisins and wine come from the same source.

      • Might be because they’re not as well sealed? When I was young, I remember some of the cardboard raison boxes being crushed at the bottom of the bag and I just had to throw them out because they weren’t “clean” anymore.

        Maybe they come in sealed plastic bags now? I haven’t seen any individual packs of raisins in a while.

      • Because raisins are icky. Don’t even get me started on the lurking evil that is oatmeal raisin cookies. (Sitting there looking like a delectable chocolate chip cookie and then BAM! mouthful of raisins)

      • Because when kids are out to get candy, giving them shriveled up old grapes is not what they want. I mean, you can have them as an OPTION because some strange kids actually do like them….but don’t be that family that ONLY gives out raisins. Or popcorn…we had one family that always gave out loose bags of plain popcorn.

  12. Hang streamers, fake cobwebs or slashed gauze around the inside of your doorway so when you open the door to hand out treats, you’ve got kind of a spooky effect. A colored light bulb in a lamp with no shade by the door (on the inside) will illuminate you in a cool way.

    If you want to be super spoopy, cover the entire doorway with black garbage bags and make a few holes, just big enough that you can see out of (maybe cover the hole where your face is with black tulle) and pass candy out. Some parents really want to see your face, so make sure you can still pop your head out if you need to.

  13. A great cheap-o way to spooky up your front yard: collect the cardboard tubes from toilet paper/paper towels; cut eye shapes into the sides of the tubes; pop in a glow stick, and hide them in bushes and greenery around the front yard.

  14. For the pumpkin, if you find a pattern you like online just print it out. Tape it to the pumpkin and trace the patternby piercing through the paper and the pumpkin’s skin with a big sweing needle. Once you remove the paper, it’s a bit like playing “connect the dots” with your knife (or other tools). It might not work for very complicated patterns, but it’s good to get you started. 😉

  15. Argh, jealous! We Aussies really miss out on all the fun, don’t we? Though each year the shops push the Halloween thing, it’s really still not a part of our culture at all. Sucks!

    • I actually get *tonnes* of trick or treaters in my street, my biggest complaint is that by the end of october, the sun’s out til like 8:30 pm so i cant do any glow-in-the dark stuff.

    • I am so going all out when I return to Aus, and inviting kids to come over. It’s the most fun holiday because there is no obligatory seeing your family and buying of shit presents. Totally beats Xmas.

    • Thanks for all the amazing advice every one! I have carved a pumpkin, made sugar skull masks, and sugar skull cookies are in the oven, will be face painting and candy handing out tonight whilst horror movie watching at a friends house.

      And I’m totally getting ready at the dart of October next year, haha.

  16. All of these ideas are good but to really do Halloween right you have to go to a few Haunted Houses! Last week we took a friend of mine (her first Halloween) to a few haunted houses here in NJ and she had a blast. I mean come on whats Halloween without a scare!

  17. Oh wow, to be able to celebrate Halloween as if it was the first time! This whole post and comments makes me feel like a kid again and just strengthens why Halloween is my favorite holiday.

    Anyhoo, I always turn back to this post from 2010 to give a little spruce up to roasting pumpkin seeds:

    Some good ideas here. And I came up with my own because I love Asian Ketchup, ahem Siracha. Halfway though the roasting process so when the seeds have started to dry up pretty good, I take em out quick and toss them in a mixture of Siracha, lime, and sea salt (if I didn’t put too much salt). If you like a spice…it’s a good!

    Happy HALLOWEENY everyone! Muahhhhhh

  18. There’s nothing wrong with going out! My first post-college Halloween was sad as could be because we didn’t get a single trick-or-treater, my decorations (hindered greatly by budget and time) were kind of lame, and no one got to see my awesome costume. The next year, I checked local pubs, museums, restaurants, libraries (yes!), and event venues, and found that I had a plethora of options for a good time where all the work was done for me. I grabbed a few friends, and we more or less spent the night soaking up inspiration for the next year. Having folks to plan with meant that our first at-home Halloween get-together was AWESOME. Whatever you do, don’t go it alone!

  19. its a good idea to put some non edibles in your candy bucket! not all kids can have regular candy, so its important to include small halloween themed toys. dollar stores are great places to get this stuff on the cheap ^.^

    • I know I’m too late for this year, but please please this is an awesome idea. The look on my oldest’s face when we go through her haul to see what she can *actually* eat has been really, really sad some years, and goodies we don’t have to look up nutrition facts for are very welcome. (And she can’t eat raisins, to tie in with that other thread 🙂

      • At the start of school I buy a dozen 24 packs of crayola crayons for $0.50 and stash them for for those that cant have sugar snacks for Halloween.
        I am desperately addicted to sugar and for me it is Binge or Abstain, no middle ground but thankfully I am allergic to wheat so I buy kit kat bars, kids like them and I can’t eat them at all.
        Works great for me

  20. I saw something recently about using a teal pumpkin to signify non-food treats for kids with allergies. I’m not sure it’s widely known, but it’s nice to know people are becoming more aware. We’re handing out glow bracelets and also have really yummy lollipops for kids who prefer sweets.

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