Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Party Tips from One Who's Been There

So it's not enough for you to plop a Stop & Shop gourd onto your porch and slap a couple of ghost and bat clings on your picture window? You want to go the full Great Pumpkin and throw a party for the little ghouls (drat, why isn't there a perfect Halloween pun for "boys," too?) in your life?

Good for you! Go for it! But if you're not yet wise in the ways of the Kid Halloween Party, let a hardened veteran offer a few words of advice:

Consider dates other than The Big Day. Is it the costumes? The candy? The thrill of being safely scared out of our wits? A yearning to relive those innocent days of homemade hobo costumes and pillowcase candy bags? Whatever the reason, Halloween is more popular than ever. And I'm talking popular. The National Retail Federation expects us to shell out some $6.9 BILLION on holiday gear and eats this year - including (yikes!) $310 million on pet costumes.

All this means that unless you get your invites out sometime around July 4, you're going to have a lot of competition if you schedule your party for the 31st...or the 30th...or any of the weekend days that immediately precede them. The parents on your list are already going batty (NOTE: Apologies. This will be the final bad holiday pun in this post.) trying to figure out how to coordinate all the Halloween events at school, church, Scouts, dance class, soccer teams and other social groupings. So do yourself a favor and hold your party a week or two earlier. People will still be in the Halloween spirit - heck, they've already had their orange lights hung since September, right? - and you won't spend sleepless nights wondering why you got all the "regrets" RSVPs while a rival mom has half the school at her place bobbing for apples.

Expect guests to show up in street clothes. Some kids are Halloween purists. If it's not All Hallows' Eve on the dot, they won't so much as slip on a glove of their Captain America suit. Other parents, knowing the havoc parties can wreak on clothing, prefer to keep their kids' princess gowns and Star Wars uniforms intact until they've had their portraits done and trick-or-treat bags in hand. So despite the "Costume Party" note on your invitation, don't be surprised to see several holdouts. And even children who come in garb may ditch their masks or capes before long. If you want pictures of the happy crew, take them right when the party starts.

Don't stress over planning oodles of activities. Your guests may be less interested in playing Pin the Parts on the Skeleton, passing the Hot Potato Pumpkin and creating decorated photo frames and masks than they are in trashing your kid's bedroom or running outside in their costumes to see what the neighbors are up to. If all else fails, blast "Monster Mash" and let the young partygoers dance their feet off.

Remember that the classics still rule. Of COURSE you want to do the right thing by your young guests. And of COURSE it's nice to provide some alternatives to candy corn and caramel apples at this prime sugar-overload time. By all means, serve some treats that would pass muster with any pediatrician. Try these healthy snacks, courtesy of Life & Beauty Weekly. But we all know that the veggies and hummus will quickly be abandoned the minute the desserts hit the table.

Especially if they look like this:

And this one was created just for me:

Zombie Sock Monkey. Perfection.

Which leads me to my next tip: Don't be shy about getting help. If there's just not enough time or energy to do all the party prep by yourself, have a friend volunteer. Or, if you don't have the skills to make a zombie sock monkey cupcake, find someone you trust (like Cakes by Lee) to take the job off your hands.

But don't get too fancy. If you recall, pumpkin chocolate-chip cakes - even baked into darling pumpkin shapes - may sound good in theory, but the taste may be too exotic for the preschool set. Familiar snacks in holiday-appropriate forms are a better bet; I've had tremendous luck with Oreos and rod pretzels dipped in chocolate spiderweb and "witch finger" molds. "Push-up" cake treats like these are apparently soaring in popularity, so consider trying your hand at these rather than attempting to do something clever with whole-wheat red velvet cake and amaretto cream-cheese icing.

Don't double-dip birthdays and holidays. Maybe you're lucky enough to have a child born on or close to Halloween. This is a totally cool thing, and it makes for a good excuse for a theme party. However, it does not excuse you from your parental mandate to provide presents and cake on the actual birthday. (This also applies to children born on or near Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Memorial Day, July 4 or Talk Like a Pirate Day.)

Hope this advice helps make your Halloween party a thriller! (Hey! You said there wouldn't be any more puns! That's it. We're getting the toilet paper and shaving cream.)

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