What, you didn’t know that Halloween is a very divisive holiday? Neither did I, until I learned that my husband hates it.
I didn’t know people hated it because I’m firmly in the love-it camp. I’ve always loved Halloween. As a child, I adored dressing up and getting free candy; as an adult, I count down to the always-bonkers Halloween episode of American Horror Story and squeal with glee over every tiny dalmatian and Dorothy who rings my doorbell.
I think that’s partially because mom loved Halloween too. She always volunteered at my elementary school’s parade wearing an elaborate costume; she covered our house in fake spiderwebs and Halloween lights; and we even had a motion-detecting skeleton she named Clyde, who sat on our front steps and chattered spooky phrases at passersby for much of October. Suffice it to say, I have very happy memories of Halloween, and I want to pass them on to my children.
My husband is in the hate-it camp. He doesn’t have bad memories or dislike candy or anything. He’s just not a fan — I guess years of acting burned him out on dressing up as other people. Before we had kids, it didn’t really matter much: I enthusiastically greeted our trick-or-treaters while he watched TV in the other room.
But when we set out to celebrate our daughter’s first Halloween two years ago, I realized we really were a house divided. We’d never discussed our Halloween-with-kids plan. So I told him I wanted to dress her up and take her out (obviously not for candy — she was 7 months old — but in general and for future Halloweens). But I also didn’t want to miss staying home and giggling over the adorable, dressed-up children of other people who come to our front door. My husband didn’t want to do either job because, you know, he does not like Halloween.
I turned to other couples to find out how they handle being a household with one pro- and one anti-Halloween parent. This is actually not an unusual problem, it turns out. There’s even an episode of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat in which no-nonsense matriarch Jessica cannot tolerate her kooky husband’s adoration of Halloween. In the end, Jessica and Louis take the divide-and-conquer approach — Louis handles both parts of the holiday. But I wanted to hear from nonfictional families too.
Often, the parent who doesn’t like the holiday has some bad memories associated with it, so it can be a sensitive time, and while that isn’t the case in my household, it’s worth keeping in mind — I had forgotten there’s often a lot of bullying and vandalism that takes place on Oct. 31.
Paige, a mom of three, hates Halloween, while her husband loves it. (This is extra tough because Paige lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York, where Halloween is bigger than Christmas and the holiday is her middle child’s birthday.) “I think [my husband and I] have different memories from childhood — good for him, not great for me — but he is helping me embrace it more and more,” she says. “His positivity is helping me. I want my kids to have happy memories surrounding Halloween, so I’m trying to put my own bad feelings about the holiday aside.”
Other parents recommended setting ground rules and having clear expectations. “I didn’t want my kids to miss out on something in their childhood because of my feelings about it,” said Ellen, a mom of two, who has avoided the holiday because of its sometimes-anti-Semitic history. “My compromise on this is that my kids may dress up in fun costumes — nothing gory or macabre — and my husband takes them trick-or-treating, but I will go along or do pickup duty [from trick-or-treating],” she says.
Kristie, a mom of one who also can’t stand Halloween, also has a no-scary-costumes rule. “[My husband] knew what he was getting into — our first date was on Halloween, and I told him no Halloween activities from day one! But he loved it growing up and wants to take our daughter trick-or-treating.”
After talking to other parents, I’m thinking the best approach will be to just take on the holiday as my domain for now. I’ll plan the costumes. When the pandemic ends and trick-or-treaters resume, I’ll take the kids out on the town. And if our house has to be dark to trick-or-treaters while we’re on parade around the neighborhood, so be it. I’ll just start handing out candy after they go to sleep.
But I remain hopeful that eventually, my husband will at least pretend to like the holiday for one big reason: Watching your kids be happy is pretty powerful for overcoming dislike of anything. “Seeing how adorable they were and how much fun they had with it made a huge difference for me,” says Paige. “It was also so fun to show them how trick-or-treating works and to see our older son try candy for the first time — and of course love it. I actually feel like, as a parent, I get to rewrite my experience of the holiday.”
A version of this article was originally published in October 2018.