My Halloween Traditions: Holiday Breakfast, Seasonal Photo Gallery—and No Candy

Gretchen's Halloween traditions

In case you haven’t noticed (but how could you not?), it’s Halloween time!

One central theme of my happiness project is memory. Time is passing so quickly; I worry that I won’t remember this stage of life, or what it’s like to have children this age. My shorthand aphorism for this worry is “The days are long, but the years are short” (of everything I’ve ever written, my one-minute video, “The Years Are Short,” is the thing that resonates most with people).

One way to make time stand out? Celebrate minor holidays like Halloween—although Halloween is arguably now a major holiday.

In my family, we celebrate Halloween with a holiday breakfast—festive and also fun and easy.  I use food dye to color some food or beverage in a holiday-themed color (a classic: black peanut butter). I re-use the same decorations every year, so I don’t have to spend money or do errands. I have a very precise place in the kitchen where I store my holiday-breakfast decorations, so I don’t have to scramble to find anything.

We decorate the apartment with the many jack-o’-lanterns that my mother gave us. We also display a seasonal gallery of photos of Eliza and Eleanor in their costumes over the years, which fulfills my resolution to “Be a storehouse of happy memories.” Every Halloween, I take a picture of the girls in their Halloween costumes, put the photos in a Halloween-themed picture frame, and add to the Halloween photo gallery. I also give a copy to each pair of grandparents, so they have their own set as well.

Because these Halloween pictures are only out for two weeks or so, I enjoy them more. I hardly notice the photographs we keep around the apartment all year round; they’re so familiar that they fade into the background.

Usually, I add a new photo to the collection each year, but this year will be different. It’s the first year that I don’t have a child in costume to photograph. Eliza is off at college, and Eleanor informs me that ninth-graders don’t dress up. So I think I will have to call an end to this tradition! Bittersweet.


Another aspect of Halloween is, of course, the candy. So colorful, so ubiquitous, so fun, so bite-sized…Halloween a major source of temptation for children and adults alike.

As I know from writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change, eating healthfully is one of the most popular habits that people try to cultivate—and Halloween is a challenging time to stick to good eating habits.

In Better Than Before, I suggest many ways we can resist the temptation of mini-candy-bars, bags of candy-corn, beautifully decorated cupcakes and cookies, and so on. In particular, it’s useful to harness the strength (and buttress the weakness) of our Tendency. If you struggle with the temptation of Halloween candy, this post may help.

As for me, as an abstainer, I find it much easier to eat no candy than to eat some candy. I enjoy Halloween much more now that I don’t eat Halloween candy.

An important theme of my book The Happiness Project was my desire to cultivate light-heartedness. Instead of marching around checking things off my to-do list all the time, I want to take time for silliness, for fun, for adventures. Halloween is a great opportunity to do that. If you’d like to hear me talk about my Halloween traditions, check out episode 88 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

Studies show that family traditions are important to happiness. Family rituals encourage children’s social development and boost feelings of family cohesiveness by 17 percent. They help provide connection and predictability, which people—especially children—crave. Without traditions, holidays don’t feel much different from ordinary life.

Do you have any little traditions that help you celebrate Halloween or other holidays in a manageable way? Have you had to figure out how to adapt traditions, as your family changed?



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