Everyone knows that the best thing about Halloween—besides the mountain of free candy—is the opportunity to transform, at least for the night, into a superhero or a Disney princess or a delightfully spooky creature. (Or, if your parents are at all like mine, into one-half of old-timey comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, with a bowler hat, a fake mustache, and a pillow stuffed under your button-down.) With the exception of nine-year-old me, who wasn’t thrilled to traipse through her Greensboro neighborhood as a middle-aged man, most kids would jump at a second chance to wear their costumes and celebrate all over again.
But what if you’re the parent whose custody begins a day or two after trick-or-treating ends? Ringing doorbells after November 1 is more likely to lead to dark porch lights and raised eyebrows than to another heaping bucketful of chocolate, and most community events are limited to Halloween itself. Here are some ideas for conjuring up a little ghoulish magic on other nights of the year.
Roll up your sleeves. Everyone’s favorite candy is about to go on sale, so stock up on as many variety packs as you can carry. Fun-size chocolate bars are perfect for baking into cupcakes, or for simply popping back while you wait for the timer to go off. If you don’t trust your kids—or yourself—around an oven, you can opt for a perennial favorite: dirt cups. What’s more fun than crushing a bag of Oreos with a rolling pin? If you’re feeling adventurous, make a full-sized dirt pie. And, of course, try to trick everyone into eating at least a little something healthy by insisting that the peeled grapes are actually eyeballs.
Get ready for some games. Fire up a playlist full of classics, from “Monster Mash” to “Abracadabra,” and have a dance contest, then put an eerie twist on some old favorites. If your kids love Guess Who?, switch out Max and Maria for Frankenstein and his bride. (“Does your person have a neck full of bolts?”) Create an all-new Twister board with creepy witch faces in place of the colorful dots. Print off a game of Bingo, and mark each square with a mini Reese’s Cup, or pick up a few glow-stick necklaces and try your hand at Pumpkin Ring-Toss. Don’t be afraid to consult Pinterest for a treasure trove of ideas, from Pin the Heart on the Skeleton to tabletop cornhole featuring adorable plush spiders.
New costume? Couch potato. As the evening begins to wind down, settle back for a child-friendly movie, like Hocus Pocus or Casper, or stream your favorite Halloween episodes—from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Office—on Hulu or Netflix. For a low-tech holiday, be sure to check out your local library. It’s the perfect place to find everything, from cartoon classics like The Halloween Tree to timeless comedy shorts from The Three Stooges. (I still remember laughing at If a Body Meets a Body, in which the trio finds themselves locked up in a haunted mansion.) My favorites growing up were the Universal films of the 1930s and ’40s: The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, Dracula. There’s a hair of stylized violence in each, making them an ideal choice for viewing with older kids.
And that’s it. Keep your party a low-key affair for just you and your kids, or open it up to friends and neighbors. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, remember: Halloween lets you dress up and have fun without the stress of entertaining relatives, planning elaborate menus, or buying expensive gifts. As long as everyone’s laughing and gorging themselves on once-a-year sweets, you’ve given them a night they’ll remember.
Sarah Andrew is a freelance writer and editor from Greensboro, NC. She holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she served on the staff of both Ecotone and Lookout Books.