Halloween Memories and Nostalgia from This Generation X-er

From the moment there was a hint of fall in the air, I have been reminiscing and thinking about Halloweens growing up. Today I decided to type aloud just some of the memories and thoughts that come to mind. I bet those of you who grew up in the 70s and 80s have similar memories. Go ahead. Climb on into my Delorean and let’s travel back… back into time…


…to a time where Halloween meant witches with brooms, black cats, skeletons, and jack-o-lanterns with basic triangle eyes and jagged teeth. There was nothing more exciting than seeing your classroom teacher get out a big stash of black, white, and orange construction paper for craft time!

Remember scarecrows? You don’t see those guys much anymore. Maybe it was just a country thing. They were fun to make, but it was lots of itchy and scratchy work. I remember making a few with my parents and raiding my dad’s closet and drawers for just the right look.

This was the first set of Halloween cutout decorations that I remember. You can see the witch and the scarecrow centerpiece. Those were my favorites!

This was the first set of Halloween cutout decorations that we had that I remember. You can see the witch and the scarecrow centerpiece. Those were my favorites!

I remember getting so excited to go down to the basement for the box of decorations. Some 1970s cardboard cutouts for the windows were all it took. My favorite was the witch. She was so creepy. I also very much remember the honeycomb scarecrow centerpiece that we’d keep in the middle of the dinner table. I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. Then there was the giant skeleton with movable parts. My sister remembers the black cat that had similar movable appendages. Lately I’ve made several Google searches for vintage Halloween nostalgia, and when you search for decorations, I recognize almost every generation of the more popular cutouts and can tell you where I remember them from. Some of them hung in teacher classrooms.  When I see a lot of popular Halloween decorations now, like the orange and purple strings of lights (that just scream Christmas to me) and the noisy and obnoxious blow up contraptions, I just don’t understand them. But this is probably just another one of those signs of getting older and less hip. I wish they would reproduce some of the more classic decorations like they used to. Many of the popular cutouts from the 1980s were apparently reprints from the 1960s. I will say that there is one trend in the last few years that I’ve been seeing in the stores that I definitely like. Everything is glittery and sparkly now! Yes, please! I would have LOVED a glittery orange pumpkin as a kid! Oh my gosh… memories of Elmer’s glue and glitter… don’t get me started…

Remember these?

Remember these?

Did you have classroom parties thrown by the room mothers? There was always punch, games (including the one where you have to sit on the balloon to pop it… I HATED that one), and treats tied up in those paper treat bags. By the time my younger sister went through school, they were afraid to call them “Halloween parties” and for a time they referred to them as “pumpkin parties”. Silly.

I can also remember the Christian versions of these treat bags that we were given at church. I’m not sure what Bible verse would be appropriate, but they always included one. People were encouraged to use those on Halloween, just in case anyone thought you were a devil worshiper because you were celebrating such a fun holiday. Even as a child and as a good boy, I can remember thinking “yeah, right!” and passing up the opportunity to take the Bible thumper bags. Of course, the Christian treat bags weren’t a big deal, considering a grandmother of mine, who was a strict Jehova’s Witness, lived a few houses down. She would preach about how horrible Halloween (or most holidays, for that matter) was, and I remember feeling pressured by her to not celebrate it. I loved her, but Halloween was one of those awkward times for that part of the family. 

Speaking of treats, I can almost guarantee that at some point in time, all of us were given a Tootsie Roll Pop with a white tissue wrapped over the top and tied with yarn, am I right? Mmmm… candy corn. When you went trick-or-treating, did you love or hate the popcorn ball? I didn’t get too excited about anything that was homemade, and sweet tarts and anything with marshmallow were always what I had left from my loot in February or March before I would decide to offer the rest to someone else.

A Halloween clown. I was a clown for a few years since the costume was so big. My Grandma, a master seamstress, did a great job at keeping me in costumes!

A Halloween clown. I was a clown for a few years since the costume was so big. My Grandma, a master seamstress, did a great job at keeping me in costumes!

Actually, trick-or-treating wasn’t something that I took part in for very long, and my sister actually hated it. For a few years, my parents would take me and my little sister (once she was in the picture) to the homes of family members and close friends. We’d show off our costumes, hop back in the car, and head off to the next destination before going back home to catch remaining trick-or-treaters at our own house. And actually, handing out the treats to the few visitors we did have was way more fun, in my opinion. When I was six we moved away from town and out into the country, so for me the traditional neighborhood trick-or-treating wasn’t a big thing. I remember always hearing my friends at school talk about it though, and we’d see ghosts and goblins lurking all over town when we were in the car driving from one place to the next. I’m not sure I would have ever walked up to a stranger’s house for candy. I’m sure this is due in part to the warnings of things like razors in apples and poison in candy. Those things never happened, of course, but I remember the warnings that were popular in those days.

I can't believe I found a photo of the same pattern I used to obsess over at my grandma's fabric shop!

I can’t believe I found a photo of the same pattern kit I used to obsess over at my grandma’s fabric shop!

And costumes were different in those days. Another grandmother of mine owned a fabric shop when I was young and I would “help” her clean and organize. I loved it! I remember being very interested in the McCall’s costume patterns, specifically the one pictured on the right! (I can’t believe I found a photo!) Do you remember how cool it was to pick out a make-up kit with just three basic colors? Just put some plastic vampire teeth in your mouth and it will make up for how cheap the make-up looked. No vampire teeth? That’s okay. Just stick some black wax on a few of your teeth and go as a “hobo”. Remember when dressing up as a hobo for Halloween was popular? Why did we do that? Weird. Speaking of weird, there are certain smells–like duct tape, for example–that instantly transport me back to the smell of a Halloween mask. I’ve heard others agree with me on this one, so I can’t be THAT weird.   

I’m not sure when it started or even if it was meant to be a tradition, but we usually had either chili or potato soup for dinner on Halloween. There was a year where my father somehow ended up with orange potato soup because of something weird that happened with the carrots that he added to the mix. I remember convincing my parents to let me add food coloring to the soup years later to truly make it orange. We’d listen to Monster Mash or even my favorite spooky sound effects “tape” (still have it) while setting the table for dinner. Now as an adult, I usually try to carry out the Halloween chili tradition. 

Now we live in a large suburban neighborhood, and I can’t even get home from work before they’re knocking on the door in daylight, so I make my chili the night before. We sit out front with a few decorations, candles, tiki torches, a big bowl of treats, and plenty of hot apple cider for anyone who wants it. 

I love this photo. My sister was Casper and this was her first (and probably last) Halloween trick-or-treat experience. As my mom explained on the back of this photo, "Patrick is a Mexican." Don't ask...

I love this photo. My sister was Casper and this was her first (and probably last) Halloween trick-or-treat experience. As my mom explained on the back of this photo, “Patrick is a Mexican.” Don’t ask…


I’m sure as soon as I publish this I’m going to think of about 50 things I forgot to include, but then again only four of you probably made it this far into my reminiscing… and thank you for that! 

Please feel free to comment and share your nostalgia or Halloween memories and traditions!


You might also like:

HALLOWEEN: An American Holiday, an American Tradition (Big Séance)

Skin and Bones (Big Séance)

A New Spin On Your Halloween Altar and Decorations (Big Séance)

Planning a Halloween Party (in 1911) (Big Séance)


About Patrick Keller

Patrick Keller is an educator, blogger, and the host of the Big Séance Podcast, which is a place for paranerds to have an open discussion on all things paranormal, but specifically topics like ghosts and hauntings, paranormal research, spirit communication, psychics and mediums, and life after death. He’s the founder of the now inactive Missouri Spirit Seekers and has spent a lot of time experimenting with spirit communication tools and techniques, such as EVP. Patrick also has a passion for spending hours at a time in cemeteries and loves cemetery photography. Visit BigSeance.com! View all posts by Patrick Keller

13 responses to “Halloween Memories and Nostalgia from This Generation X-er

  • CJ

    Oh wow! This really resonated with me! Haha! We must have been making the rounds about the same time, you and I! My sister and I started out with the little boxed, store-bought costumes, Cinderella for me and Casper the Ghost for her. I can still feel that icky mask slipping down and the eye holes getting off-kilter; also the slobber on the inside, getting on my chin as I’d shout “trick or treat’ with excitement at each new door. We were probably 13 when we decided (or mom and dad did) that was too old to go anymore. The haunted houses were pretty spooky, too, back then. Today, people go all out creating those haunted houses; there’s NO WAY I’d be caught dead in one! Way too scary! I do get a little peeved to see ‘trick or treaters’ at my door who tower over me, obviously close to adulthood, and in some cases they are adults, actually holding out pillowcases expecting candy! In my mind this activity of candy-gifting should be JUST FOR the littler kids…you know? I mean, it’s cool if the adults want to dress up and throw parties and stuff for Halloween but trick or treating is the only holiday kids really have for themselves. Sadly, a sign of the times here in our area: a new ordinance stating that registered sex offenders are not allowed to decorate their dwellings or illuminate their entryways with any decorative lights or provide candy on porches that night—they will be charged with a crime. That’s even scarier than the razor blades they always told us about! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    • Patrick Keller

      Funny because I tooootally get what you’re saying about your memories of slobbery masks! And for a few years there was a haunted house operated in my small historic town growing up. It was my first one to go through. It was super scary but I remember I loved it. It was supposedly pretty good in comparison to haunted houses in Kansas City at the time. I’m not sure if that was true or not. My neighbors ran it and I was so jealous. I used to make little haunted houses in my basement growing up and spend lots of money for like 3 people to go in and then tear them down. 🙂

      Wow. Holy strict sex offender laws. I understand it, but it seems a little strict to me. There are so many sex offenders that really don’t need to be on the list, I’m sure… and many that never offended against children. Can’t imagine someone telling me that by law I couldn’t decorate for Halloween or turn my lights on.

  • frugalfrightsanddelights

    Oh my, that is traveling back. I loved everything you mentioned. We didn’t need 40 dollar costumes and fancy treat bags. We used pillow cases and made makeup out of poster paint and cold cream. We did have our scare talk from parents that told us that we couldn’t eat anything until we brought it home to be checked(for razor blades and poison). Those were the days when we had parties at school and our moms would make the treats – not store bought – without any ill effects. I’m pretty nostalgic myself and still have those cardboard moving characters from the 70’s and Halloween blow molds from even earlier. I do have to mention the party game I liked the least was bobbing for apples. All those saliva germs got to me. Thanks for sharing your memories and encouraging mine to come to the forefront.

    • Patrick Keller

      Poster paint and cold cream? Wish I would have known about that one! I bet your face was nice and clear once you got home! 🙂 Great point about the store bought treats. Thank Jesus I didn’t have to bob for apples. That would have sent me over the edge. I remember thinking that was such a gross game. 🙂 I do, however, love the bobbing for apples scene in Roseanne’s first Halloween episode. Haaaa!

  • Heather

    OMG! I am dying laughing right now and tears are coming down my face. Thank you for the awesome trigger of nostalgia which reminds me why I have always LOVED Halloween! I was that “red” crayon one year w my siblings, which I am sure my mom made from that very McCalls pattern! We also were M&Ms one year. I know that Casper mask and know it well and remember how hard it was to breathe through the little slit in the mouth! I miss the days of homemade costumes and Halloween parties. The days when you could actually wear your costumes to school and have caramel apples and candy and classroom parties. Not allowed anymore, and that makes me sad. Yep, totally remember when it was “cool” to be a hobo w blacked out teeth (we used raisins). I trick or treated up thru HS and we would all go as “babies” and done bottles and footed sleeper PJs. Oh I miss those days!!! Love you as a “Mexican” Patrick, that is seriously so funny I can’t stop giggling…

    • Patrick Keller

      I’m so glad I could give you a nostalgic chuckle. 🙂 I’m glad I sparked some conversation with this one. I hoped I would.

      You were the red crayon?!?! OMG I would have been SO jealous of you. I talked about those costumes for a couple of years and remember those ugly Christmas tree people. HA! And you are making ME CHUCKLE thinking about smashing raisins on my teeth! 🙂

      I don’t remember being allowed to wear a costume at school! That would have rocked! At the school where I teach now, there was a year where students were allowed to dress up as a “role model” or something “positive”. Total failure. Duh. I could have told them that before they tried it. 🙂

      Uhoh… you trick or treated thru high school? Don’t tell CJ above. 🙂

      Thanks for making me smile.

  • Tim Prasil

    With one exception, I can’t remember what I dressed up as for Halloween. Yeah, the hobo thing was always an easy, last-minute choice. But I don’t know if I was ever a hobo. A vampire maybe? Batman maybe?

    That one exception involved me as Stan Laurel and a sort of hefty friend as Oliver Hardy. A curiously short Laurel & Hardy. Boy, that’s SCARY, huh?

    I do remember realizing that apartment complexes meant more candy per steps taken. Apparently, I was thinking in terms of maximized returns at an early age.

    • Patrick Keller

      Well I was the clown a few times, the “Mexican”, probably a vampire a few times, and I have a really young picture of me where I’m in a bunny suit and being held by my grandfather. I don’t have a memory of that, but I love it. I remember having several different masks for different reasons, but I’m not sure I trick-or-treated with them. Hey, I guarantee if I was a Hardy boy I would have been even shorter! 🙂 That reminds me of playing Dracula in a school play in high school… shortest ever Dracula. 🙂 I think your apartment theory is accurate, and people on my street (and nearby neighborhoods) clearly concur. We’re a street of townhomes. Every 10 feet is a short walk to another front door. For several years now we’ve seen the same giant flatbed truck drop off about 100 kids down our street for easy treats. At this point we look forward to it because it’s funny.

  • Brandie Sellers

    I love when you reminisce! It’s so fun! And I love the pictures that go along with it 🙂

  • Aunt Sarah

    Patrick, being a lot older….and living in the country, we only had maybe 7, at the most eight houses we could walk to! All being farms, spread apart by miles! While we didn’t get much Halloween candy, we spent a LOT of time walking in the dark, golf course, fields, and ALWAYS by the then “Niegro” grave yard! It seemed particularly spookey to us, because the families left “strange things” on the head stones back then.

    Never forget when Mr. Simonet hid under a black tarp in the ditch, right where we had to walk, and rose up…..scaring the be-jeasus out of us! There were almost always 6-7 of us. The Simionet boys…Lonny and Scotty, Jenny, Carol Ann, Leslie Christian, Patty and me…Sarah Rutherford. Love Halloween too Patrick 🎃

    • Patrick Keller

      Aunt Sarah, thank you for sharing this! I’m so sad that I never got the opportunity to ask Great Grandma about these things. If there was ever a time period to learn about, gosh. I had no idea back then that I would want to know these things. 🙁

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