Monday, November 1, 2010

halloween doesn't have to be full of ugly, unpleasant things

I never really liked Halloween as a kid. I mean, I loved the candy and the partying, but I never quite appreciated a celebration that required people to look revolting. And those scary programs that the TV networks churned out for the season - I hated the way they messed with my head when it was time to sleep. I've heard a lot of Christians have written off Halloween altogether, preaching that it's demonic and pagan and so on, and that we shouldn't take part in it at all.

But I believe we can still have fun without celebrating the fear-fodder associated with Halloween. A party is still a party even without the vile beasties. There are a lot of wholesome costume options - for that matter, if you've noticed, dressing up as a something scary for Halloween isn't so hot anymore; the fashionable thing nowadays is wearing a sexy Hollywood-inspired costume, like a movie character or a celebrity.

(And you don't have to be a killjoy just because you want to "stay clean". For instance, you may have children who want to go trick-or-treating, and you feel like telling them to stay home because you want to "protect" them.  Instead of going heavy-handed, you can just host a party in your own home. That way, your kids can have their fun while you're sure everything is safe and wholesome.)

For this year's Halloween, I helped organize a party for a bunch of young twentysomethings.  While we agreed on something wholesome, the average age of our invitees won't exactly be excited about animal costumes and pixie dust. We came up with the idea of a Tim Burton themed party - it can be dark without necessarily being morbid, Halloween-ish with a sufficient dose of cuteness. A Tim Burton Un-Birthday Party.

Tim Burton is the producer / director behind films such as Sweeney Todd, Batman Returns and the recent Alice In Wonderland. Some of his cheerier works include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Big Fish.

Decorating ideas came easy. Spirals, bold black-and-white stripes, large checks, pinstripes and / or black-and-white polka dots.

Hannah's photo.

Since black and white were the apparent base colors, we just had to choose a bright accent color to liven things up. Red would make it look too emo, so we agreed on a happy, bright orange.

Since we were on a a tight budget, we just needed to add a few key elements:

1. Walls and interiors

Hannah's photo.

We wanted to completely paper the walls with pinstripes, but we didn't really have time for that since we only had one day to decorate.  A few fake paintings served well as wall decor. All I used were boards, poster paint and ink  A couple of bold spirals and are enough to create striking visuals. The lines didn't have to be perfect or anything because the crookedness adds a bit more personality.

The owner of the house luckily had vintage/ antique furniture that went nicely with our theme.  They also had a large, rococo-ish mirror, on which one of the guys drew a spiderweb design using a whiteboard marker.  (Sorry, no pics of that ).

2. Ceiling hangings

It would've been nice to hang lanterns, but since we didn't want to spend much on stuff we wouldn't use again, we thought of an alternative.  Pompoms are way more interesting than regular streamers, and they have just about the visual volume of paper lanterns.  Besides, their fluffy appearance softens the harsh blacks.

Hannah's photo.

I used crepe paper and recycled plastic bags, keeping to our black-and-white-and-orange scheme.   Pompoms prolly won't work with other Halloween party ideas, but they're great with our Burtony theme.

3. Instant "chandelier"

Bea's and Hannah's photos.

I threaded strands of plastic beads through the lighting fixture, and tah-dah! An instant chandelier!  I used mostly black beads and plastic "crystals".

This is actually a clever idea for any party - just switch colors to adjust to the theme.

4. Skellington Beanbags

Bea's photos.

They're not exactly "bean" bags since they're only stuffed with newspaper, but they produce the same effect. To make these, I just took cheesecloth sacks and drew Jack Skellington faces on them.  I was supposed to use fabric paint, but I noticed too late that my remaining paint had already dried up, so I used a black permanent marker. The bottom edge of each sack was gathered from the inside and sewn in place (though for some, the gathering was held in place with a rubber band because I ran out of time :p ) . I stuffed them, closed up the tops, and dumped them on the living room floor.

5. Table centerpiece: A Nightmare-Before-Christmas Tree

Bea's photo.

I found some dead branches and covered them with a layer of papier mache. I extended the tips with  lengths of wire which I wrapped with more papier mache, to give the branches curly spiral ends. I painted them black, then I wound strips of white crepe paper around them to give them stripes.  I secured the crepe paper with clear tape, just to make sure nothing unravels. I stuck the branches in a giant glass jar (filled with rocks, so it doesn't topple) and fanned them out to make them look all tree-like.  We then hung candy and more popmpoms, which guests were free to "pick".

I also made small, freaky critters to hang on the tree.  I used of cloth swatches, buttons and bits of lace. They didn't have to look so well-made; they just needed some stuffing and buttons for eyes to suggest that they were animals of some sort. It's really up to the guests' imagination to see what they want to see.

The bottom of the tree was decked with candles and bottles and multicolored teacups (contributed by the party organizers), and surrounded it with treats.

I didn't need to spend much money to make all these decors. I set my mind to a very limited budget and challenged myself to recycle, reuse and repurpose.  Guests asked to take most of the decorations  home; I didn't mind if they did because those things cost me next to nothing (and besides, it's nice not to have to pack the decors away).

The heart of the party: the improvised video wall

We wanted to be able to do a Tim Burton movie marathon until we could no longer stay awake.  The guys  rigged a laptop to a projector and a pair of really good speakers.  The videos were  then projected onto a bare, white wall for everyone to enjoy.

As for the costumes -

Hannah's photo.

Thinking of costume ideas was fun too. We in the "planning team" outlawed zombies, witches, zombies and suchlike. We asked our guests to be a bit more creative.

You don't really need to spend a lot of money to have a good costume; you just need a bit of imagination. As for myself, I picked out a black ballgown I wore to an event years ago, then I made myself a headdress. I took some swatches and ribbons I had lying around, made some rosettes, then sewed sequins to a bit of dark tulle to make a sort of small veil. I attached them to a headband,  stitched on a few beads, and I was good to go.

The food

We didn't have a large budget for this, but we just wanted to have fun.  Assuming rightly that most of our guests had other parties to go to that evening, we served finger food like spring rolls and cheese sticks, and the rest were mostly sweets. We ruled against booze and alcoholic beverages, so our "bartender" concocted mocktails with soda, juice, jelly and food coloring.

A good idea at any party: a lot of treats.  Cupcakes and cookies are always a popular option.

Bea's photo.

We decked the table with mismatched cups and saucers, then filled them with candy and jelly cups. I poured chocolate syrup into a bowl and surrounded it with marshmallows; I put a bunch of toothpicks nearby and guests knew what to do with it.

So there: a cheery, non-scary, low-budget but totally fun party on Halloween.  ^_^