Halloween has changed. There’s no denying it. In 1980s Ireland, it was a simple affair. On October 31st you played a few festive games in your kitchen, you dressed up in something; anything really – I have a vague memory of my friend being kitted out in a two-piece suit, a bad wig and a sticker that said ‘Mary Robinson’ – and off you went house-to-house with a plastic bag.

When you came home, you watched a daring neighbour set off illegal fireworks that someone’s older brother had bought across the border (we lived very near South Armagh) and you ate everything you got in one go, discarding monkey nuts and mandarins. The following day you went to mass to pray for saints or souls – I can’t remember which – and that was it. Halloween was over for another year.

Yeah. So it’s different now.

COSTUMES

Then…

If you were between the ages of 4 and 12 you dressed up on ONE night of the year. There were no store-bought costumes. There was minimal crafting. Parents were too preoccupied with the Anglo-Irish agreement and that episode of the Late Late Show to be pushing nails through a swimming cap for a Pinhead costume. You wore your mother’s faux fur coat with a plastic mask, an old white sheet with holes cut for eyes or you cut zig-zags into worn pants, rubbed ashes on your face and presented as a zombie. Further south, a pair of your mother’s tights worn over your face was acceptable but it cut a bit too close to the bone in border counties. These were your options unless you had rich relations who posted you something from America.

Now…

Elaborate costumes are widely available. Entire online shops are dedicated to Halloween apparel. Even petrol stations and hardware stores sell seasonal accoutrements. Commercially, the ‘season’ begins in September. Creative parents may spend the month of October planning and stitching and gluing so as they can out-craft their competition. It’s also now commonplace for adults to dress-up. Shop assistants will dress up. Teachers will dress up. Even babies will dress up. For an entire weekend.

Wanna play?

DECORATIONS

Then…

We didn’t decorate our homes. The local pub may have lit some tealights and put fake cobwebs around the fireplace but other than that, Halloween decorations didn’t really exist.  Unless Mary Fitzgerald showed you how to fashion some class of spider out of a toilet roll insert, felt and pipe-cleaners, your house would remain decoration-free until the second week of December when homes all over the country were adorned with cheap trees and expanding, accordion-style tinsel that stretched diagonally across the ceiling.

Now…

There is increasing pressure to bedeck your home, inside and out. We work damn hard to spook little trick-or-treaters – and to outdo the neighbours.

I have a some Halloween bunting, a wreath, a sign for the front door, a set of ghost lights, two sets of pumpkin lights, a giant skeleton, a paper pumpkin that lights up, some jelly decorations for the windows and a large spider. I consider myself not that into Halloween. Some die-hards will use atmospheric lighting, sound-effects and dry-ice machines to create scenes that would rival an episode of The Walking Dead.

Did you spend an entire evening carving an instagrammable pumpkin? I rest my case.

ENTERTAINMENT

Then…

Form an orderly queue...
Form an orderly queue…

Bobbing for apples was (and still is) the ultimate Halloween family game. A bucket from the garage that was ordinarily used for turf would be upturned, rinsed out and filled with water and a handful of Granny Smiths. Children took turns dunking their own and one another’s heads into the bucket to try and snag an bite of an apple with their teeth.

In a similar game, another apple (the pumpkin of the 80s in Ireland) was hung from the doorknob of a kitchen cabinet. As it swung, we lined up with our hands tied behind our backs and proceeded to behave like demented turkeys with necks outstretched in an attempt to catch the apple between our teeth. Whoever got the biggest bite got to keep the apple. That’s right, the prize was a half-eaten apple. There was no other incentive to take part.

The largest plate in the house was filled with flour and a 10p coin was buried below the surface. Participants willingly face-planted into the flour for the shiny reward.

Now… 

While the games are still played in a lot of homes, ticket-only Halloween events, festivals and activities are to Halloween what the annual visit to Santa is to Christmas. Pumpkin farmers open their gates so little ones can enjoy running through vast fields of the bulbous orange vegetables. Hotels and restaurants hold themed events making unwitting employees dress up as mummies, fairies and Morticia Addams. Pumpkin carving has become a national pastime.

Pumpkin
Thanks apples, we’ll take it from here…

TRICK OR TREATING

Then…

Kids coughed and spluttered around smoggy estates – no smokeless fuel in the 80s – dodging eggs thrown by teenagers. Parents did not partake. You were accompanied only by siblings.

A performance of some sort was standard. You either rattled off a song about putting ‘some money in the old man’s hat’ or you brought your tin whistle and played a bar of The Boys of Bluehill. No party piece meant no sugary payout.

There was no limit on the amount of crap you consumed on Halloween night.

Now…

Areas and occupants are pre-vetted by elaborately-costumed parents who accompany trick-or-treaters at all times.

With increasing emphasis on healthy eating, trick-or-treaters are as likely to get a protein ball as as they are to get a packet of Wheelies. The ‘good’ houses that still give out Refresher bars and sherbet are noted and this information passes down in hushed tones from the older kids to the young some time in early October. Party pieces are reserved for such homes.

Loot is carefully inspected by parents and rationed. Parents will agonise for weeks over the damage done to teeth by over-consumption of Chuppa Chups and Skittles.

Halloween Sweets
Daily sugar allowance

FRIGHTENING COMMERCIALISM OR THE SPIRIT OF FUN?

Halloween has evolved into a monstrous commercial business. It is now the third biggest retail event after Christmas and Easter. But is that so bad? Personally, I love the turn Halloween has taken. I’m no crafter and I will always be the mum who buys the costume but I am absolutely willing to get into the spirit of it all. Heck, I’ll even dress up! I think ours would be classified as a ‘good’ house – you might not get a Refresher bar but you can be guaranteed a packet of Haribo and a Milky Way. It’s only once a year after all.

I’d love to hear about your Halloween memories. Are you keeping the traditions alive with your own kids? Do you think Halloween has become an exercise in commercial trickery or is it simply an opportunity to treat your family and have some harmless fun? Do share! And have a super spooky Halloween!

Halloween has changed. In 1980s Ireland, it was an altogether simpler affair. Do you agree? Read more about the Halloween explosion here...


I’ve linked this post with…

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday      My Random Musings       3 Little Buttons          Mummuddlingthrough
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26 Comments

  1. I was brought up in a house that didn’t believe in Halloween; witchcraft was not to be celebrated under any circumstances and we all sat at home miserable as the other children went out trick or treating. Now, I confess, I would be wary of letting my children do the same… although I couldn’t resist the pumpkin babygrow in Sainsbury’s last week and we are going to a baby Halloween party on Monday which serves blood (jam) sandwiches 😉 #kcacols

    • Sinéad Reply

      A baby Halloween party? How cute! Bet the pumpkin gro is adorable. I guess that’s the beauty of the whole business. You can partake as much or as little as you want. Enjoy the blood sambos! 🙂

  2. God I hate Halloween . I hate that it’s now a thing that is celebrated for weeks in advance rather than just one day. I hate trick or treating. Fortunately for the kids my husband likes it. Bah humbug roll on Christmas! #kcacols PS he Mary Robinson costume sounds brilliant tho

    • Sinéad Reply

      Oh dear! And it’s so hard to escape the whole business now… :-/ The Mary Robinson Costume worked better in theory…

  3. Oh wow you brought my childhood back haha
    We would wear black bin bags with a scarf around our waist and anything on our Face that made us look dirty or bloody. Failing that a plastic mask from the pound shop. We dunked for apples, only left the house at 5:30 when it was on the cusp of being dark and waited to see if none electric was going trick or treating first. We’d knock on every house and when we finished we’d separate out the monkey nuts for dad and the mandarins for mam. And ate everything that night watching whatever crap was on the telly. It was awesome! Good old Ireland in the 80s #kcacols

    • Sinéad Reply

      The black bin bags, Geraldine! A go-to in our house too. And maybe a witch’s hat made out of cardboard and staples… hahaha… and then home to watch an episode of The Munsters after the news… 🙂

  4. I was just talking about this today with some other parents. It’s changed so much. Like so much stuff it’s become another thing to commercialise. I’m not sure my son would put up with an old white bedsheet flung over him with some eye hole’s cut out – that’s what we did every year. Then when we got a bit older it was a home made mask, and black bin liner with homemade witches hat! We must have looked a right state!! #KCACOLS

    • Sinéad Reply

      But everyone was the same so we totally got away with it! Simpler times, for sure! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  5. It does feel so much more like a big thing these days. I guess it’s like everything else – so much more commercialised!! The kids enjoy it though so I guess that’s the main thing! #twinklytuesday
    Jaki recently posted…Introducing My New Balayage

    • Sinéad Reply

      Yeah, mine have almost as much fun at Christmas as they do at Halloween! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  6. Halloween wasn’t a thing in Denmark in the 80’s. Thanks for linking up to #KCACOLS Hope to see you back next Sunday!

    Nadia – Scandimummy x

  7. Like with all celebrations Halloween has gone supersized and massively commercial….I kinda liked it the old school 1980s way to be honest! Some of the pumpkin carvings with stencils this year…what’s that all about??!! Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub lovely xx

    • Sinéad Reply

      I didn’t carve a pumpkin this year. In fact I have never carved one but man, was I impressed by some of them! I reckon I could be first in the queue for a stencil next year! Lol. *ducks for cover*

  8. I was saying this to my hubby just the other day. Each year it just seems to explode now doesn’t it? I remember my halloween costume for the school disco when I was about 12. I went as a coffin. Made entirely out of sheets of white A4 paper (no – I didn’t even colour it in) which were stapled (we had no tape) into a sort of coffin shape that went over my head and covered my whole body. A name plate was forged out of tin foil and some crap fake flowers stapled onto the front. Two pencil holes to see out of (if I lined it up just perfectly) and I could walk. Well, shuffle. It was a bit narrow at the ankles really. And then there was the risk that if I fell over my arms were trapped at my side. That would have been fun! I pity the yoof of today with their perfect witches costumes (that aren’t bin bags!) Loved this post! #coolmumclub x

    • Sinéad Reply

      That made me laugh. 🙂 And ten out of ten for effort with the coffin get-up! Dedication for sure, with all those staples and being unable to walk properly! Haha… Thanks for reading!

  9. I really enjoyed reading this, was lovely. It has changed so much it is true. I think the U.K is getting more and more americanised by the second. Now as I previously lived in the U.S, I get the fun in the fuss made over every holiday. While I won’t be decorating my house for holidays like Valentines day (as they do), I actually love decorating for halloween, it’s just so fun, and where I live right now in Cardiff its a really fun evening in the neighbourhood. Thanks for writing and nice to find your blog Xxx #coolmumclub

    • Sinéad Reply

      My GOD do they decorate for Valentine’s Day? I don’t think I could cope! Haha. I actually enjoy the buzz about Halloween that has developed over the past couple of years. It’s loads of craic for the kids. Before we know it, they’ll be too old for trick-or-treating and that will be that. Thanks for checking out the blog! 🙂

  10. How times have changed! I remember in the 90’s a halloween costume pretty much just consisted of a black bin bag x #KCACOLS

    • Sinéad Reply

      And we couldn’t have been happier, Emma! ????

  11. It’s scary just how much has changed in the past thirty years. I seem to remember wearing the same witches outfit (one of mums old dresses) for a good 4 years in a row. I’m quite glad about the availability of costumes as I wouldn’t have a clue how to make one!
    #Coolmumclub
    Alana – Burnished Chaos recently posted…Words To Live By #5: Be Kind

    • Sinéad Reply

      Oh God yeah, Alana! I don’t think I would be embracing it with the same enthusiasm if I had to get crafty with chicken wire and felt every year!

  12. Fab look back at 80’s style Halloween. I remember the apple bobbing, and we also had buns on a string that you had to try and catch with your teeth and eat. I wish our area was more safely patrolled when it comes to trick or treating. Every year we can expect eggs, more eggs, and yes… more eggs. Toilet roll, string and lots of screaming and shouting. Hope you had a good one. Thank you for linking up to the #DreamTeam xx
    Annette, 3 Little Buttons recently posted…KidloLand Nursery Rhymes App Review and Giveaway

  13. Protein Balls! Laughed a lot at that. It wouldn’t surprise me though.
    I like that it is celebrated a little more than before, but also think it’s gone way too far.

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