Halloween Tradition

Every family has its own tradition. My family has Red Hill.

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Recently, my cousin got divorced. When she and her now-ex husband were finalizing their custody agreement, they discussed holidays and she was obstinate on one fact: she got Red Hill weekend. Red Hill weekend: it's serious.

Red Hill is a small state park not far from my hometown, where most of my family still lives, with a lake and horses and around one hundred campsites. For as long as I can remember, Red Hill has had a Halloween weekend in October, usually the third Saturday of the month. During this Halloween weekend, each campsite is booked, sometimes months in advance. Everyone decorates their campsite for Halloween, going for a scary or fall theme. Some people do the bare minimum, sticking a pumpkin sign by their camper, while others go more elaborate, bringing in blow up ghosts or extensive decorations. There's always a campsite or two that goes all out and creates a haunted house made of plastic or big tents. For a few years, the people running the thing gave out awards for best decorations (we won our first year!), then gave up.

Saturday is the big day of the weekend. There's usually live music or hayrides. A scary movie is being projected somewhere, either organized by the site itself or some enterprising family, setting it up at their campsite and opening it to everyone. The big event is the trick or treating. Saturday afternoon, with plenty of hours of daylight left, the park is completely closed off to cars. Kids of all ages dress up and go to each campsite, getting candy from strangers. The people camping bring their kids but usually it's a lot more than just the campers as friends of friends also show up, parking just outside the roped off area and walking in. Afterwards, everyone sits around the campfire and shares the kids' candy. Then Sunday, we pack up, putting things away much quicker than taking them out.

We've been going to these Halloween weekends since my siblings and I were little, almost twenty years. We started going with my mom's friend and her children. Then it became a family thing, with my mom's two sisters and their kids joining the fun. The decorations have changed over the years. One year we attempted to make our own haunted house (it did not go well). We also always dress up, no matter our age. One year, I was the girl from The Exorcist. No one got it. Another year, all the cousins dressed up as a Wizard of Oz character. Now, it's an excuse to dress up as an adult - last year, at age 28, I was Miss Universe, with a tulle skirt in which I had inserted a Styrofoam ball replica of each of the planets, with a big sun on my top. I'm pretty proud of this one, to be honest. It's going to be my go-to for the next several years.

Each year is the same: we stay up late playing games Friday and Saturday night. My mom, sister, and I always stay at my grandpa's camper, though we usually convince at least one cousin to stay with us at least one night. There's an organized effort to bring out food, though the menu is usually the same every year - hot dogs and grilled cheese and chili and vegetable soup. A variety of desserts and, of course, candy.

The weather isn't so consistent. One year, it rained unrelentingly. We were in a tent that weekend and my aunt and I spent most of Saturday at the nearby laundromat, drying everything. Another year it was so cold, we hid in the tent with a heater, all the kids wearing coats over their costumes when it came for trick-or-treating. This year, it was so warm, everyone was running around in t-shirts, the fire abandoned.

The other great change as we get older - the next generation. When we started, my cousins and I were the kids, dressing up and going campsite to campsite for candy. Then, six years ago, my cousin became the first to have a child of his own. Suddenly Red Hill weekend was a whole new ballgame as we had young kids again. Today, my cousins have contributed three kids, ages 2 to 6, injecting a new life in our annual tradition as we watch them grow and collectively pretend we're twenty years younger again.

But some things never change. We still spend plenty of time decorating, putting up all the pumpkin lights and family signs and Mom's scary dolls. There's the usual food and games, staying up late with cousins and siblings. Walking around to check out the other campsites and getting ideas for decorating next year. Taking walks around the lake. Reading by the campfire. Afterwards, everything smells like fire and smoke, hair and clothes and blankets.

This year was my goddaughter's third Red Hill weekend and we have our own new tradition - costume selfies! For my expat year, I had one trip home and I used it to go home for this weekend. Sure, I did other things, including visiting friends and taking the cat to the vet, but I picked the time to make sure I was home for Red Hill weekend. The decider was to make sure I didn't miss one of those selfies. It was worth it.