Halloween is swiftly growing to rival Christmas as a holiday season. It’s got everything – special food, over the top decorations, a mythical and wonderfully creepy back-story, and a week off school for the kids. It is no longer one day, ending with a tawdry single rocket fireworks display. It has a build-up, a growing sense of excitement, and a full day – or days – of child-friendly activities.
And it particularly resonates with us Irish. Unlike Christmas, we practically invented Halloween. Bonfires? An ancient Celtic ritual from druidic times. Carved pumpkins? Came from the Irish tradition of Jack O Lanterns, which we carved from turnips. Ghosts, ghouls, and skeletons? Sure, that follows from our All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, and our wonderful collection of pookas and banshees.
It’s no wonder we go over the top when it comes to Halloween decorations. We go mad for them. And at CJM Furniture, we get that. We normally outfit homes with quality used furniture – pre-loved rather than second hand! – and we have a huge collection of children’s items in our store. So we know about making a house or apartment look funky and fun. So let’s look at what you can do to make this autumnal spook fest the best ever.
How can I decorate my house for Halloween on a budget?
At the moment every party shop, pound shop and department store is stocking up on decorations. There will even be special pop-up stores opening in the city centre and in the bigger shopping centres, offering a bewildering array of polystyrene tombstones, plastic skulls, and animatronic ghouls. You could take out a second mortgage and really go over the top on things.
But you can also do a great job on a budget. And the beauty of doing things on a budget is that you have to be creative. Decorating for Halloween becomes a game, part of the fun of the season.
The first thing to do is to look at what you have already. You will certainly have strings of lights from Christmas, and these can be used at Halloween. Fairy lights always look great. At Christmas we tend to go multi-coloured, while the creepy colours are more muted, yellows and reds. But you will get away with using the Christmas lights in October.
And candles – plenty of them. Four tealights along every windowsill will burn for hours, and throw an eerie illumination on your rooms. They will also make your shadows dance.
A bag of cotton wool can be teased out to make wonderful hanging cobwebs. And if you rip black bin bags and hang them on walls you can get the dark dungeon look without spending money.
If you go with those tips, then a few paper skeletons from a pound shop and a few cardboard tombstones will complete a budget styling that looks high end.
Then hook up a speaker to some creepy music and you are sorted.
Sustainable Halloween decoration ideas
When it comes to the gothic touches – skeletons, tombstones, banners – you can go cardboard or plastic and polystyrene. Cardboard is the cheapest, but if it is printed well it looks every bit as good as the more expensive options. And it has another advantage. You can put it in your recycling bin at the end of the season. Try doing that with a six foot polystyrene cross!
Another wonderful decoration is the carved pumpkin. Get a good pumpkin at any supermarket, then carefully scoop out the insides, discarding the seeds. The flesh makes a wonderful roast vegetable, a delicious creamy soup, or a tasty addition to a stew or casserole.
And carving the pumpkin is a great family activity. There will be hours of entertainment. You can even make it a competition – who can carve the best?
So you get a game, a dinner, and a decoration from the one fruit. How cool is that?
And at the end, just throw the old carved pumpkins on the compost heap. It doesn’t come more sustainable.
And while we are at it, you can use a turnip for a very creepy, and more authentic, take on the carved Jack O Lantern. Then turn the left-over turnip into a creamy soup. We favour the Delia Smith recipe.
Other sustainable decoration ideas are to use nature. This is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and we can use that. Boughs with golden and brown leaves can form the backbone of autumnal displays, with apples and nuts and weird mushrooms providing the fine detail.
When should I put up Halloween decorations?
This is a controversial topic, and we are prepared to take some stick for our views.
From late August you can get Christmas movies on satellite television channels, and shops begin displaying their seasonal stock from October. Decorations are common in November and ubiquitous by December. It is overkill.
In our day the decorations went up the day school broke up. Other households put them up on the final Sunday of Advent, or a week before Christmas. Mid December at the earliest. And they came down on the twelfth day, no exception. Because they were limited, they were special.
We believe you should make Halloween special by not diluting it. Put the decorations up about a week before the day, no more. Get the kids involved and make a family activity of it. And clean up on November 3, or on the night before the kids go back to school.
Keep it magic by making it special.
How can I decorate my apartment for Halloween?
If you have a house you can put things in the garden – scarecrows, crosses, bones sticking from the lawn, and all sorts of outdoor decorations. In an apartment this is not an option. So most decorations will be indoors.
The one exception is the door and any street-facing window sill. Put some decoration on the door, particularly if you expect trick-or-treaters. And some candles in the window sill.
Indoors, you may not have a huge amount of space. So think carefully. A little can go a long way.
If there is a stairs, consider fairylights, and black sacks hanging from the bannisters. Then consider decorating one corner of each room. Perhaps you could drape a small table in black, put a few candles, some artificial cobwebs and spiders, and a bowl for bobbing for apples. Then in the far corner, one creepy ghost. Less can often be more. Put thought into the detailing of the corners you decorate, and get them right. That will be a lot more effective than a pile of pound shop tat that will clog up your living space.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. They say that about Christmas, but it is equally true of Halloween. It is a time dedicated to making children happy, and we can all get aboard with that.
Try to make Halloween a special time by getting everyone involved in the decoration. Use the colours and the materials of late autumn and early winter to transform your house into a harvest bacchanal, with plenty of nuts and apples and pumpkins and turnips.
Don’t forget our authentic ghostly traditions, and when the lights go out, tell a few scary stories.
Unlike Christmas, you don’t need to spend much to make Halloween one of the highlights of your family’s year.