By Dolores Sauca Lorusso

Artist Norman Rockwell captured the nostalgic essence of Halloween in his paintings of a little girl dressed as a ghost playfully giving a scare to a man and his dog, a grandfather smoking a pipe carving a pumpkin with his grandson, and an old man playing the fiddle with a glowing jack-o-lantern at his feet.

As Rockwell depicted in his illustrations, Halloween is so much more than just one evening; it is a state of mind evoked by the excitement for merriment and disguise by both children and adults. In the early 20th Century, it was about the thrill of having the best costume and collecting the most candy. As time went on, horror movies and haunted houses added a popular, darker side to the season.

Halloween, short for All Hallows’ Eve, has its origins dating back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, the Celtic New Year’s festival. All Hallows really means summer’s end and the festival celebrated the end of the harvest season and the coming of winter. During Samhain people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.

Out of the Celtic tradition of Samhain, came the Jack-O-Lantern associated with the Irish folk tale of “Stingy Jack,” a clever drunk and con man who fooled the devil into banning him from the netherworld, but because of his sinful life, could not enter heaven. With nowhere to go after he died, Stingy Jack was destined to walk the earth for all eternity carrying a small lantern made from a turnip with a red-hot ember from hell inside of it to light his way. Soon people began making their own turnip Jack-O-Lanterns to sit in front windows and porches to scare away Stingy Jack’s ghost.

New England settlers began to celebrate the end of harvest just like the ancient Celts, with dancing, singing, and telling stories of the dead.  As early as the 1800s, Autumn festivals like these evolved into parties where costumes, pranks, and ghost stories were commonplace.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) remembered the “wild, ugly faces we carved” into pumpkins as a boy, “glaring out though the dark with a candle within,” in his poem “The Pumpkin.” Stories like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” during which a shattered pumpkin is found next to Ichabod Crane’s hat after his encounter with the headless Horseman, popularized not only the carving of pumpkins, but also the smashing of pumpkins in the name of Halloween.

Although no longer to ward-off evil spirits like Stingy Jack, Jack-O-Lanterns are still at the center of most Halloween celebrations. A simple pumpkin carving party culminating with trick or treating around the neighborhood could bridge the gap between generations. Some families even organize group costumes and everyone from the youngest to the oldest joins in the frightening festivities.

Back in the fifties, costumes were primarily homemade and spooky… witches, goblins, or skeletons, as children went door-to-door to trick-or-treat in hopes no one would recognize them. Parties featuring games like bobbing for apples, scavenger hunts, ghost stories, and pin the tail on the donkey were fashionable. In your mind’s eye maybe, you can still see the orange and black twisted streamers draped around the room. Paper pumpkins that opened like an accordion were adorning the center of a table of treats including popcorn balls and decorated cookies.

Store-bought costumes came into the picture in the 1960s. A company named Ben Cooper became famous for selling kits with a plastic mask and vinyl smock. Who didn’t own one of those boxes? Children would don a mask as a favorite superhero or a Disney princess.  And, of course, there was the cult-classic to be, “Monster Mash,” which went all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on its release in 1962.

As children, baby boomers carried a pillowcase, bag, or plastic pumpkin to collect their treats; yet in those days it was not uncommon to receive fruit, homemade cookies, full-size candy bars, and maybe even some edible wax candies like big red lips or vampire fangs as Halloween treats.

Most kids dressed as pilots, sailors, cowboys and cowgirls to climb the stairs of their neighbor’s houses on All Hallows Eve. Classmates and friends encountered during the journey walked on shoe boxes as Frankenstein, wore coonskin caps as Davy Crockett, and brandished tin-foil covered swords as Zorro. Rain never deterred the early trick-or-treaters, nor biting wind that ripped plastic tiger masks off their faces. These were wonderful Halloween memories, and seniors can enjoy sharing them with their grandchildren, as well as beginning new traditions.

Roast some S’Mores over a bonfire. If you’re physically able to walk for a few hours, take your children on a trek through a corn maze; invite the grandkids over and build your own scarecrow using hay, old clothes, and a wooden stake, and put it up in your yard when it’s done.

Travel to a pumpkin patch and let each grandchild search for and choose their favorite pumpkin for carving or painting. Rake leaves with the kids and build a giant pile for them to jump in. Write ghost stories together, then turn out the lights and sit with flashlights taking turns reading the stories with spooky voices and sound effects.

As you are making new Halloween memories, be sure to reminisce about the ones you already have, because sharing family stories creates a great opportunity for bonding—not to mention that studies say that nostalgia helps keep seniors mentally and physically healthy by decreasing blood pressure, eliminating boredom, lowering heart rates, improving communication skills, and reducing stress.  

For more specifics on where to go to celebrate Halloween this year, visit for their interactive attraction guides to haunted houses, trails, corn mazes, spooky hayrides, ghost tours, horror film screenings, costume stores, pumpkin patches, and more.

Take a few minutes to Google “Halloween activities,” and make it a “boo-tiful” season for you and your family.