With decorations being sold in every craft store, corner mart and shopping website, I cannot help but want to buy orange baskets or all the acorn shaped bells and whistles hanging around out there. Halloween has come to mean buying a costume to wear once, stocking up on candy for trick-or-treaters to argue over, and purchasing pumpkins only to have them rot or be the butt of teenage antics. It’s easy to jump ship and buy plastic everything or stock up on things that serve little purpose more than sitting for a few days and collecting dust, but that doesn’t mean you should. All that buying and lack of worth makes my fall-holiday-loving heart ache a little and think back to the holidays when we did things a little differently.
On a quiet October 31 many years ago, I stood in my home kitchen staring at an empty Candy Bowl, frantically wondering what I would do if a little fairy or pirate rang the door bell. Facing little arms reached out with an open bag, a smile and dance would not suffice. Using what I had in the kitchen, popcorn balls with nuts, candies and sprinkles were born. My teenage brother, who was usually too cool for any of my kitchen and baking adventures, actually jumped in to help me test the sugar stages! Soft ball phase it was and I even saw him break into laughs and smiles as I struggled to coat the popcorn and roll uniform balls. Buttery fingers and all, he helped me bag them up for the neighborhood children. Thankfully we lived in a small community where popcorn balls were trusted, and appreciated for the real food they represented. Though more than that was the simplicity. Practically free and supporting my idea that holidays (any of them that fall in the 100 days leading up to the new year) are best spent with family or friends doing heartfelt things that feel good. This was a winning Halloween!
That year my conscious and sustainable holiday planning and decorating started happening. Collecting colorful leaves and branches became our table settings and place mats. Tiny acorns and pine corns filled bowls and local Indian Corn cobs were fashioned into wreaths. Pumpkins and gourds of all shapes and colors dotted our front stoop. With Halloween knocking on the door already and Thanksgiving fast approaching, here are some simple ways to make your decorations as useful and smart as can be.
1. As mentioned above, use the outdoors!
Nature is the common mental landscape that is created when people think of this season. Grab the children or a loved one and take a walk bundled in sweaters to look for items that can be used to garnish tables or window sills.
2. Farmer’s Markets
Farmer’s Markets can be great places to find local pumpkins, a far better option for the environment and safer than plastic ones. Set out a variety of sizes and allow them to remain until Thanksgiving. If you are into carving them, wait until close to October 31 (now) and scoop out the insides saving the seeds to roast with spices such as cinnamon, sea salt and cayenne for a spunky snack (that is also healthy!) Though the pulp could be used for pies, you would have to source a sugar pumpkin for this use and after one has had a snaggle-toothed grin cut into it for days, you do not want to use that in baking.
Bonus! If you want your pumpkin decorations and a pie, too; opt for small sugar pumpkins and winter squashes. Beautiful and sophisticated, set out now and bake later. Here is a recipe (pdf download – 60k), though allow time to make it!
3. Make or Fake
Local candy companies and bakeries make precious pre-packaged Halloween candies and treats that children and adults will like. For family and friends, make something you love like popcorn balls, baggies of roasted pumpkin seeds or buckeyes. Fake it by giving out something other than candy. Recently I was part of a Kid’s Tasting event where the youngsters were happier with the handmade little paper “fortune teller” toys we gave them than with the actual desserts. Print your own or fold up newspaper into origami. Recycle after the holidays.
4. Form and Function
As soon as a chill hits the air, a huge bowl of whole nuts hits my table. The shades of brown never fail to bring fall to the room and are great when guests stop by. Nibble on your decorations if you wish, open some and use in that cornbread and pecan bread for the Thanksgiving pot-luck or save for Christmas to stick in stockings and test out that nutcracker’s real power!
5. Cozy Up
Sometimes making a home look ready for the holidays is as simple as putting the given holiday into action. Put out blankets for snuggling, boil mulling spices and change up your lighting for softer views using lamps or candles in different spots in your home. Feels festive already and you didn’t buy anything new!
Bonus! Get back to your senses for this. What says Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. to you? Is it a fire? Fill up that log basket. Is it ghoulish treats? Make beet soup, potato and cauliflower brain mash, or bat shaped chocolate cookies—you decide really. I also make sure to have everything for a decadent hot cocoa or hot toddy ready to go, as sticks of cinnamon and spices filling a sealed glass jar make even the counter tops say fall is here. Next to some antique ceramic squirrels and a hand-carved wooden owl I both got from a garage sale, the season comes alive for free.
6. Take the Time, To Make the Time
Make time for things like making popcorn balls with a teenager who had never seen a sweet ball like that before. It was a moment that would have been lost if I had just grabbed a super sized bag of candy bars at the store. Meeting neighbors and making connections with local producers would have been hard if I had not been hunting for goods at the farmer’s market. Listening to my Grandmother talk while gathering red and golden leaves for her door, yes, that too would have been nothing but an unborn thought if taking a little extra time was skipped. Sure, we now have amazing and natural decorations but more than that, we have the memories that go along with them.
Whether you pick up leaves for your mantels or decide to go all out making your own popcorn balls and pumpkin pies, fill your holiday with decorations that are not only visually appealing but really support the season. And, for a true zero-impact (or as close to it as possible) fall holiday season, be sure to compost all those natural decorations and (potential) leftovers when they have served their beautiful purpose.
Top photo by Maggi_94, Creative Commons.