written by Amy Birdseye
edited by Lisa Rose
The holidays for my husband and I start on October 1st and go all the way until the summer! That's right, we celebrate Groundhog Day, Saint Patrick's Day, and Earth Day with as much gusto as the other holidays. Why? Because life is painfully short, especially with a rapidly growing child right in front of your eyes, and we like to have any excuse to celebrate year-round. Children bring so much more magic to the seasons of celebration. I don't think I have experienced much more wholehearted joy than watching my kid display a toothy grin over the magical glow of a jack-o-lantern, the almost painful anticipation when selecting the perfect cookie for Santa on Christmas Eve, or the sheer delight from finding an Easter egg secretly hidden behind a plant.
But with these amazing joys came
something that I didn't expect.
Holiday stress in a way that I could have
never imaged pre-baby.
From accommodating extended family needs of participation, to the let down when the inevitable happens and you all are sick for the special day, to the understandable (yet very irritating) child behavioral issues that come hand-and-hand with holiday anticipation — though the magic of the holidays still shines stronger than those struggles for our family, it is still a bit of a workout sometimes to pull off the holidays with smiles.
Harsh Reality: Halloween can bring just as much stress as joy along with the magic of the holiday.
1) The holidays can have a selfish nature..."Boo" someone.
One of the most frustrating things about the holiday season with a child is the selfish nature that a lot of the holidays tend to focus on. Halloween? I WANT CANDY! Thanksgiving? GIVE ME MORE FOOD! Christmas? I WANT PRESENTS! It is really easy to allow yourself and your family to fall into the trap of me, me, ME during the holiday season. That is why I like to have a tradition for every holiday that is about spreading joy to others. When we moved to our new house a few years ago it was a super rough transition. We moved in July and by the time October came around, we were exhausted by new house projects and struggling with separation anxiety due to school starting. But then, one morning we opened the front door and there was a basket full of Halloween goodies with a little note that said "You've been BOOED!" It turned out that one of our little friends had this tradition of dropping off anonymous treats on someone's doorstep every year.
The gesture brought us so much joy
during a time of deep struggle
that we have done the tradition every year since.
We simply go to the dollar store and pick out some fun crafts and non-candy treats for a fellow family in our neighborhood. We drop off the treats anonymously, and we are filled with the joy of giving for the rest of the month.
2) The holiday magic is short-lived...take annual photos of your kid.
One thing I didn't expect from the holidays was an unshakable sadness about how short-lived they are with the magic of a young child. When you really start to think about it you only get 18 years of them at home. And a huge number of those years they are just going to want to be with their friends rather than with you. Every year that I saw my child grow closer to an age where the magic left I felt more and more sadness sinking in. The only way I know to combat that sadness is to document it and embrace the joy of growing. Every single year I take the obligatory pumpkin photo with my kid. Not only do the photos make for great holiday decorations for years to come, but it also brings me such joy to see him grown along with the magic. I know one day he won't want to sit on a pumpkin for me. These photos will remind me of each year that we got to celebrate together. And that kind of magic sticks with you forever.
3) The change in weather can make you feel suddenly stuck indoors...push yourself to enjoy the outdoors without the sun.
One of the biggest bummers for me surrounding the holidays is the weather. We live in the Pacific Northwest, and by October we are dealing with a fair amount of rain and chilly weather.
It is so easy to get sucked into the trap of never going outside because it is no longer summery. And for me, that is the kiss of death for holiday depression.
Getting fresh air is one of those things that is like medicine, and it's not just a placebo. "Research shows that exposing your lungs to fresh air, and the scents of flowers and plants, can help to relieve stress and anxiety. Oxygen is thought to affect the levels of serotonin released in the body, in turn, contributing to feelings of happiness and relaxation." I can be having a really hard day, but if I step outside (even if the weather is kinda cruddy) and enjoy the beauty of nature, I start to feel better immediately. And the great thing about Halloween is that there is still so much to do outside. We usually go to the pumpkin patch at least twice...if not three or four times. In a lot of areas you can find multiple different pumpkin patches that offer different fun things to do outside for each visit. Corn mazes to petting zoos to pumpkin slingshots. In addition to the pumpkin patch, we try to make it a habit of thinking outside first before we spend the day inside. If the weather is cold but nice maybe we roast marshmallows for dessert. If it is raining but warm maybe we put on rain gear and go jump in some puddles. If our tree is dropping leaves, maybe we make a pile to jump in. Major bonus points if you get a child-sized rake and actually get the yard cleaned up at the same time. The point is to not let the season get you depressed by feeling stuck inside. I feel like every year I have to remind myself how to enjoy the outdoors without the sun.
4) Halloween means candy galore...introduce the Switch Witch.
One of my absolute least favorite parts about the holidays is the amount of sugar that my child gets offered. It seems like everywhere we turn candy is getting tossed into his mouth. And although candy and treats are super fun, they also often result in a major sugar crash and meltdown. To avoid all that, we started limiting the amount of candy consumed during Halloween by celebrating the Switch Witch. Every year my son gets to pick out 5 pieces of his absolute favorite candy from his mounds of trick-or-treating bounty. He puts the rest of the candy in a basket and leaves it outside his bedroom door on Halloween. That night, the Switch Witch comes and replaces the candy with a toy or book. Not only does this solve the problem of having too much candy but it also adds to the magic of the holiday.
For our family, adding magic in as many places
as we can is crucial to enjoying the holidays.
Another trick that I absolutely adore for getting rid of candy and adding more magic to the season is making a spooky gingerbread house. We just buy a pre-made kit and go to town with the candy decorating process. Any leftover candy that we want to get rid of gets tossed on. And then, at the end of October, we usually take it out into our backyard and have a blast destroying it. Cause why not, right?
5) Letting loose can be challenging as a parent...get into the costumes.
In my all-time favorite book The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, she states "Dare to be goofy." in her chapter about letting go of being cool. This is my favorite thing about Halloween.
Dressing up in a silly costume as an adult may sound uncool to some, but I love Halloween because it forces me to be brave and dare to be goofy for the sake of family memories and belly laughs that I will remember and cherish for years.
As a mother, I sometimes feel like I can't let go and be silly because I am the one in charge of implementing rules and maintaining structure in my house. Sometimes I feel so envious of my husband who gets to come home from work and let loose without the restraints of being the "bad cop" on his shoulders. I like to use the holidays as a time to let this go, be silly, and bend some rules. This ranges from dressing up, to enjoying more treats, to bending bedtimes for nighttime family fun. And oh man, the memories that I have from Halloween are quite frankly some of the best of the best.
6) Homeschool can get challenging with so much excitement and anticipation...incorporate the holiday into your lessons.
When I started homeschooling my toddler during the COVID lockdown, we did great for the month of September. It was something new and exciting and I had my child's attention for most of the process.
Then the holiday decorations popped up,
the candy popped in mouths,
and suddenly attention spans popped out
the frickin window.
I think it was a combination of being cooped up at home due to the weather and the circumstances, as well as my child reacting to the holiday in a very normal yet aggravating way that doomed us. Let's face it, the holidays are exciting. Especially in our house where we do everything we can to make them extra magical. I tried to fight it for a while and stick to my original lesson plans until I realized I needed to give in to the season and have fun with the holiday in our schooling too. There are SO MANY great ideas on Pinterest for holiday-themed learning. One quick trip to the dollar store later, we were on track to all sorts of fun learning while embracing the excitement of the holiday. This is applicable even if you are not homeschooling. Though the holidays are wonderful, they can make your kid a little on the crazy side. Having some fun activities can really help you get through a long day at home.
I certainly don't make these suggestions with the assumption that you will experience no stress during the month of October if you do them. If you have children, you WILL have many challenges to face this month. But my hope is that these ideas will add some more magic and joy to some of the harder aspects of the holidays. Happy October!