I think it started during the fall of my junior year of college. I was walking home from class along the narrow neighborhood streets of south Denver, leaves crunching beneath my feet, when a wave of nostalgia struck me. The chilly air, autumn colors, and cloudy skies (a rarity in Colorado) suddenly brought up a particular childhood memory—that Halloween classic “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Thus commenced a renewed holiday tradition highlighting the enduring charm and timeless wisdom of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Since then, our annual Halloween celebrations not only require at least one viewing of the 1966 animated film, but also our own take on the wholesome pumpkin-carving party that Charlie and his friends celebrate.
Halloween can go in a lot of different directions. There are those who can’t get enough of a good scare, and head straight for the local haunted house. Feeling frightened, though, is not my idea of a good time. Instead, I prefer the lighter side of the holiday and a celebration that recollects happy memories of carefully chosen costumes, trick-or-treating, and my dad’s watchful eye while we crafted our jack-o’-lanterns. (I still miss his helpful hand when it comes to scraping out all those pumpkin guts.)
As an adult, it can be hard to strike the right balance with Halloween. I have hosted all-out costume parties, and while fun, they lacked the happy sentiment of Halloweens gone-by. I’ve also grown a bit long in the tooth for trick-or-treating. So happy Halloween celebrations have relied on reclaiming an alternative childhood event that’s just as cheerful and still adult-friendly—pumpkin carving.
For the last four years, my husband Stephen and I have hosted an annual pumpkin carving party, and invited all our friends to enjoy some fall treats, laugh a little, relax, and set about crafting a jack-o’-lantern.
It lets everyone’s creativity fly. Costumes are optional—some fashion elaborate getups while others are happy in a warm sweater and jeans. One of my favorites was last year when our friend Paul came outfitted in a robot costume that made him unrecognizable. As for the pumpkins, we see everything from the classic toothy smile and triangle eyes that Charlie Brown unknowingly modeled, to carefully crafted Star Wars replicas. Stephen even carved the logo for our favorite English soccer team, Chelsea, into his pumpkin one year.
The fall goodies are another one of my favorite parts. Our whole apartment fills with the scent of mulled apple cider (spiced rum optional). I especially love making my mom’s pumpkin dip (recipe below), which is ready in minutes and is always a crowd-pleaser. We have friends who are wonderful cooks and bakers, who bring their own delicious treats to share, and we make sure to have plenty of snack-size candy bars on hand. One year we roasted pumpkin seeds while people carved their pumpkins, making for the perfect savory complement to the sweets on the table.
These parties have made for some of my best Halloweens. It’s become our first little family tradition, and something we can continue as our family grows and our friends also welcome new little trick-or-treaters. So here’s to wholesome Halloweens that leave room for some creativity, nostalgia, and a little spontaneity. I hope yours is a happy (and, in the words of Linus, a very sincere) one!
- 1 cup canned pumpkin (about ½ of a 15 oz can)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
- ½ to ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
- Ginger snaps
- In a small bowl, stir together the pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
- In a separate bowl, use a handheld electric mixer to blend the cream cheese and pumpkin mixture. Beat until smooth.
- Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar.
- Transfer to serving bowl, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Serve with ginger snaps.
- For a lighter option, swap the cream cheese for Neufchatel cheese. I do not recommend fat-free cream cheese because it does not blend smoothly with the pumpkin.
- Adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. Since the dip is served with cookies, it doesn’t need to be extremely sweet.