Why We Do Halloween & Making Costumes

If costumes could talk, ours would tell a million tales. Each costume meticulously made up of bits and pieces of clothing and materials found at various thrift stores and cut up. Each stitch lovingly sewed, transformed into glorious new works of art, and proudly worn by all six of my children.

I’d love to say that I’m this amazing put together seamstress. One that sits down with a cup of tea and a notebook, plans everything out, and then gathers the patterns and materials to calmly, and quite peacefully, create a beautiful costume masterpiece.

Nah… that’s not me. I might WISH it were me, but…let’s face it…I’m a hot, hot mess. 

Each Halloween week at our home, the scene is pretty much the same. We often talk about being ultra-prepared ‘this time’ and plan to head out early to get the materials to make costumes. But in all actuality, it’s often done in a hurried, scurried last-minute rush in the few days before the 31st.

We’ll sit down at the computer and find pictures that represent the character or genre of costume that we’re looking for. We’ll print them out and then pile into the car ready to start a costume material–thrift store–very serious–treasure hunt.

When looking for thrift store clothing that will make the Halloween-costume-worthy cut, I first pour over each printed picture and pay attention to every minute detail of the clothing each character is wearing. 

Are they wearing a belt? If so, what kind? Leather, black, stretchy? What colors are they wearing? What is the texture of the material? Is it silky or rough?

By the time we walk into the store, we’re ready. And so the hunt begins.

It’s fun, and it’s stressful, and it’s an absolutely crazy time. The kids and I are swishing through the hangers on the thrift store racks, praying we can find all the pieces that we need to build out all of the characters.  

Sometimes we have to hop between three or four different stores to get everything, but once we have everything we need–a variety of thrift store sheets, curtains, pants, tops, dresses–we head back to the house and costume creation time begins.

I’m usually sewing costumes from the 30th all the way through the 31st, right before we head out the door to take the kiddos to our favorite neighborhood. I’ll start by gathering all the pieces for one costume, calling in the child who will be wearing it, holding it up to them to get some sizing ideas, and then cutting and sewing like a mad scientist.

I can’t even tell you exactly how I make the costumes, because it’s one big HUGE mess. Imagine Amelia Bedelia in the kitchen throwing together a pie–a little bit of this, a little bit of that, maybe a pinch more…you get my drift?

Somehow the costumes slowly come together, and what was once a slip and a fashion scarf are now St. Margarette of Scotland, or what was once a curtain and a skirt are now Sleeping Beauty in the days before she discovered she was a princess.

It’s funny when I look back on each Halloween. I’m usually a hurried, frazzled mess–knowing where I’m headed, but not 100% sure how I’m going to get there. If you could peek into the craziness, you’d probably see me hunched over my sewing machine, glass of wine not far from hand, with concentration unbroken as I sew stitch after stitch, pouring oh so much love into my kiddos’ costumes. 

The best part of it all is that some of my children’s favorite play costumes have come from these creations.  Princess Buttercup’s dress (from the Princess Bride), fashioned from a blue slip or another golden slip, that became St. Margaret of Scotland’s queen dress. I can’t tell you how much they wore these…and even kiddos that came over to play would go for those dresses first way more often than the Disney princess outfits we had collected over the years. 

We did have some pretty fun years, though. I’ll never forget the year we all dressed up as different characters from Star Wars. Trent had a Darth Vader costume that we had picked up on clearance. I created a Luke Skywalker costume for Joseph. Brigette and Maisy both went as different versions of Padme (Luke Skywalker’s mom) and Jacq, who was just a baby, was–of course–Yoda.

I remember looking at thrift store after thrift store trying to find the perfect pieces for the costumes. We found a tablecloth for Maisy’s Padme costume and a shower curtain that became Brigette’s Padme costume’s fluffy white cloak. For Jacq, I threw together her Yoda hat out of an old green baby fleece sweater, and as a last-minute tired fix for myself, I wore my long Sunday coat and went as the Dark Lord.

Then there was the year we all went as pirates. The search for red material for hats and belts, white shirts for the pirate costumes (some which I just ended up making from sheets), and then the parrot costume that I picked up on Amazon for little Jacq Jacq to perch on Trent’s shoulders.

The absolute BEST was one summer when 4-year-old Jacq Jacq told me she wanted to dress up like Santa for Halloween. She said, “I’m going to dress up like Santa, and then when I walk down the street, all the people will say, ‘Look! There’s Santa Claus!’”

That Halloween, she didn’t forget. She asked me to make her a Santa outfit, so I did. I fashioned her very own Santa outfit and even made her a beard to go with it.

We went out dressed up in our costumes that night, and everywhere we went, people would shout out from across the street, down the road, you name it, “Look! There’s Santa Claus!” 

SO FUN!! Gosh, that girl cracks me up.

I think my favorite year was probably the year my girls all decided to dress up as Disney princesses. They didn’t want to dress up like the transformed princesses; instead, they wanted to look like they were before the transformation took place. 

It was a lot of fun creating their dress bodices and aprons. And even more fun when I saw their eyes light up once they tried the finished costume on. That year, we got quite a few comments from others saying how they loved that they chose the “working” version of the princess, and quite a few little girls in their princess gowns wanted to pose with their princess counterparts. I have to admit, too, it made my mama heart so proud that they saw the beauty and value in the princesses just as they were. 

Not every year has had the perfect costume set. We’ve had a few years where times were hard, and the idea of creating costumes from scratch was overwhelming, so we became innovative. Last year, when the overwhelm was really crazy, we all went in pajamas. For those of us who didn’t have pajamas we wanted to wear in public, I picked up a couple of extra sets at Big Lots for practically nothing. Add in some crazy hair… blankets… and we still had so much fun. Everyone dressing up and going out together.

The year before that, we thought it would be super fun to go as a family of ghosts. So we donned some white sheets, threw a couple of holes in them, and each of us made them our own. SO much fun, SO easy, and we had so many comments. Besides…we could walk down the street, sipping out of travel mugs filled with our traditional hot cinnamon apple cider, totally incognito, and have a blast.

It wasn’t always like this, though. For years, we didn’t do costumes and trick-or-treating. In fact, we shunned the very idea of going trick-or-treating on Halloween for fear that perhaps participating in the holiday was, for lack of a better word–sinful.

Growing up, Halloween was always a day where my mom, dad, sisters, and I would stop and pray a rosary as a form of spiritual battle with all the bad or evil stuff that takes place on this day. We would celebrate All Saints Day and on occasion, dress up as saints, but the idea of dressing up for Halloween and going trick-or-treating was completely out of the question.

So given that, for years, I really wrestled with this in my heart. Was going trick-or-treating sinful? Was I participating in an evil holiday by letting my kids dress up in costumes and going out as a family on Halloween?

I remember the first year we went trick-or-treating. We were going through a rough time, living with my husband’s father at the time, and we just needed an excuse to get out of the house.

We had so much fun with our kiddos wearing their princess and Buzz Lightyear outfits. We met our neighbors, said hello to all the other parents in the street, walked as a family, and bonded over stolen chocolate from the candy bags of babies.

Over the years, this has become another way to connect as a family, go out, have good clean fun, and grow closer together. I no longer have that struggle, wondering if we’re participating in something wrong.

michelle hillaert

Over the years, this has become another way to connect as a family, go out, have good clean fun, and grow closer together. I no longer have that struggle, wondering if we’re participating in something wrong. We use this day as a fun way to dress up in costumes, sip some hot apple cider, and go for a long walk while enjoying the conversations along the way.

For our family, it’s about making memories and bonding. It’s about being the crazy mad scientist throwing together costumes from bits and pieces of clothing and about our kiddos knowing that they are important and they are loved.

We have had some deep conversations with our children about this stuff because we do think it’s important for them to understand. We talk about the very real evil that takes place on Halloween and pray as a family to intercede for an end to that evil. We also talk about the history of Halloween–All Hallows Eve–the eve of All Saints Day. 

We talk about how we’re not really celebrating Halloween, but more just enjoying the fall fun. We’re connecting as a family, getting dressed up, walking with friends through neighborhoods, and having a fun night. 

We also talk about the words “trick-or-treat” and talk about the fact that we don’t trick anyone, or even have that mindset. I feel with the little ones it’s important to have these conversations. Not that they’d go around tricking anyone, but it raises an opportunity and beautiful teaching moment to talk about treating others with kindness. 

As a rule in our family, we don’t watch movies or shows that feature witches or display traditionally evil type characters as good, because, let’s face it, when we know that “God is good,” we can easily say that there is nothing “good” about a witch. Where they get their power from is clear, and that’s a line our family just doesn’t cross.

So, when we talk about what theme we’ll go for as a family on Halloween, our children know they are not allowed to (and have never wanted to) dress up as any evil or scary characters. 

No witch costumes or scream masks for us. We’re just taking the concept of play acting on the stage–bringing it off the stage and onto the street–and having good ‘ole family fun.

Over the years, if all the costumes I have made for my children could talk, they’d probably talk about the people who wore the different garments and materials first, too. The man who wore the pants, the tablecloth who hosted family dinners and gatherings, the fancy dresses that were once worn to fabulous parties, the skirts that perhaps went to work with their owners…

And then they’d talk about their fun transformation–the giggling, the excitement, the sometimes tears cried by a mama who was so tired as she sewed her way into 1 am or 2 am just trying to get it all done.

And finally, they’d tell a tale of love–SO much love poured into each stitch and each haphazard creation.

If there’s one lesson I’d love for my children to take from all of this, it’s that Christ calls us to live in the world and not of it. Philippians 4:8 says: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is truewhatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

When we go out as a family, dress up as characters who are uplifting and fun, and do wholehearted beautiful things, we receive such joy and a wonderful sense of community. All these go against the very worldly definition that has commercialized this fall holiday into a day that promotes and celebrates evil.

This is how we live in the world and are a light, without being of the world. One of my mentors and a very holy priest once told me, when you think you have only two options–in this case…to celebrate Halloween or completely ignore it–look for the third option.

So, in our case, we chose to look for the third option. To dress up, have fun, celebrate family, pray, and let God use our witness to work His everyday miracles as He sees fit.

As we make our small effort to reclaim this holiday back, our family will be praying for you as we wish you a happy and holy All Hollows Eve.

Jesu ufam tobie (Jesus, I trust in you).

About Author

Michelle Hillaert brings more than 25 years of experience in roles relating to technology and communications to GIVEN. With an undergraduate degree in Communication Arts from Franciscan University of Steubenville, her portfolio includes emergency management, web, application and graphic design, marketing and social media management, podcasting, and online consulting. In her previous employment, Michelle played a major role in the development and improvement of internal systems as well as the development and expansion of the Quality Management System. She also managed processes and communication with stakeholders in major application builds of state-run programs. In addition to this work, Michelle has dedicated herself to helping women live their full potential as a doula, life and fitness coach, motivational speaker and author. Having four daughters, nine sisters, and having journeyed with many women over the years, Michelle has experienced first-hand how as women, we often hesitate to respond with our gifts because we don’t recognize that we are uniquely gifted and that the world – especially those we encounter on a daily basis – needs us to share these gifts. In light of this, she has a passion and proven capacity for flourishing young women in the Church through mentoring and leadership development. Michelle has found that transformation often happens in those quiet moments of prayer and reading the works of the saints, such as the “Dialogue” by St. Catherine of Siena and makes daily reading and continual growth an essential part of her day. Outside of work, Michelle has been married for over 23 years to her husband, Trent. They reside in Front Royal, Virginia and together have six children, 2 in college and four still at home, along with three dogs, a cat and 27 chickens. She is a soccer mom and singer who loves leading praise and worship. “It’s only when we truly know how unspeakably much we are loved by our Father and how He is constantly pursuing us – even in those moments when we’re running in the opposite direction – that we can come to understand that our identity lies in His love. With this knowledge, we are able to step out in confidence and as inspired by St. Pope John Paul II, live fearlessly.”

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