Kathleen Murphy column: When Halloween magic fades

That’s the thing about Halloween and why it now makes me feel a tad bereft: It’s the only holiday that actually disappears for a parent.

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I still feel a little sad about Halloween.

A decade ago, my youngest was 11 years old and feeling reluctant to go trick-or-treating, mainly because his four older siblings were uninterested. They were just too old, they felt.

Kathleen Murphy.jpg
Kathleen Murphy

The holiday as we knew it seemed over for my family. That’s the thing about Halloween and why it now makes me feel a tad bereft: It’s the only holiday that actually disappears for a parent. When the kids become teenagers, they are still there and present for Christmas. They are giving and opening presents, helping to make cookies, and listening to Christmas music.

They still celebrate birthdays with me. They come home for Thanksgiving, helping out by making side dishes and doing the dishes after the meal. They are there, eating the Easter ham. They join me in grilling out and sitting around a spring bonfire over Memorial Day weekend.

But Halloween? It’s just gone. When the kids were younger we would decorate the house with homemade and store bought decorations. They would spend months drawing sketches on paper, designing the perfect costume, then excitedly stay glued to my side and help me sew it together.


The day of, they would plan their route around the neighborhood and spend hours negotiating with me whether it was warm enough for them to go out without a jacket. They wanted their costumes to be visible, after all, even if it was only 45 degrees. For my part, I always wore my hair up in the same orange and black scarf that had bats and pumpkins hanging from it.

Halloween was quite the event. Until the year it wasn’t.

But here’s the thing: It really never stopped being a big deal for them. At least not in those early teenage years. They missed it, missed the creativity and the excitement of cruising the neighborhood in the dark with friends, the air smelling crisp like autumn and their tummies rolling with sweets.

When my children were all between ages 11 and 13, we moved back to Duluth, mere weeks before Halloween. It was a tough move for them, I’m not going to lie.

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I thought Halloween would cheer them up, give them something to look forward to. Instead, they collectively decided they were too old. Even the 11-year-old, as I said above, went along with the idea. They appeared to be holding to the decision. The day of Halloween, in our undecorated house, with no plans to go anywhere or do anything, one of my kids declared his mind changed.

“So what if it’s just us? We can check out our new neighborhood!” He rallied the troops and got all four siblings on board. They spent an hour rummaging through a bin of old costumes, a glimmer of the old creative excitement running through the group. Their enthusiasm felt contagious.

The first house they went to, about a block away from our house, a woman answered the door with a bowl of candy and asked them if they weren’t too old to be trick-or-treating. They continued around the neighborhood, but the incident was the first thing they told me about when they returned. I’m probably overreacting, but the whole incident broke my heart a little. I kept that to myself, however, telling my young teens that the woman meant no harm and that I was glad they kept at it.

I guess I fall on the side of allowing teenagers to continue to trick-or-treat without judgment. Like my children all those years ago, they might just be trying to hold on to their childhood. Or maybe they truly love the experience and are reluctant to let it go.


That night, my kids came back to the house and sat around in a circle, trading Kit Kats for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Skittles for M&M’s. The Mounds bars and Butterfingers, as always, went to me, because none of my kids like them. I’m not complaining.

My kids enjoyed themselves that evening, even with the verbal rebuke that they shouldn’t be. It was their last Halloween, however. I’m glad they had it.

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. You can reach her at .

Related Topics: DULUTHFAMILY
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth.
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