A Lesson on Halloween
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Halloween never has been my favorite holiday. As a kid, growing up on the farm, trick-or-treating meant getting in and out of the car (often on very cold nights) and wearing coats over our costumes. I certainly liked the candy, but it never made much sense to me.

As a father, I must admit I have warmed to the holiday, but I still have a problem with all the focus on witches and ghouls and such. A holiday that focuses on scary things still bothers me just a little bit. I’ve been pleased that my children have typically chosen more wholesome images to emulate through their costumes.

This year was different though. I’ve actually been looking forward to Halloween since the middle of June. I planned. I prepared. I thought and strategized about it. But, it didn’t go quite the way I expected. . .

The Garage Sale

halloween-costume-zone5Our community has a neighborhood garage sale each June. By planning everyone’s sale on the same day more people attend and the event is more successful for everyone. For several years my son Parker has had a stand selling lemonade, coffee, muffins and cookies, taking advantage of all of the shoppers who came to our cul-de-sac. Last year, my neighbor Jim and I added hot dogs and other grilled food to the menu. People could shop and get a meal too! We had so much fun; we did it again this year.

Only this year, we secretly decided to give the proceeds to our neighbors who have a son with autism. At our annual party, after the sale, we presented them with about $120 (a lot of money when you aren’t selling anything for more than a dollar!) to give to the autism group of their choice.

Trying Again

The mix of the fun we had and the response we received from our neighbors led to another idea – let’s do this at Halloween. Halloween would be perfect we speculated; lots of traffic (since we always have more than 100 trick or treaters), easy to market (through flyers in the neighborhood), and this year Halloween would be on a Friday. It seemed perfect!

Every few weeks the subject came up. We talked about what to serve and how to market it. Jim, who works in the food brokerage business, got sponsors to provide all the meat. As the calendar turned to October we got more serious and the menu was set: hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers and homemade chili.

As I worked on the marketing flyer, all the foods became holiday-themed: Halloweenies, Beastie Brats, Haunted Hamburgers and Chilling Chili. We decided to sell soda and chips. We added a place for kids to bob for apples. We would have the candy from five houses for one stop trick-or-treating. We distributed more than 140 flyers. We were raising money for a great cause. In the final week we even realized we were going to have perfect weather – upper 60’s by “game time.” We had the perfect setup for a successful event.

Halloween is Here

halloween-costume-zone4Friday morning Lori and I made the chili. After lunch we finished shopping for the final items. I couldn’t wait to set up! We got everything out – ran extension cords to the street, set up lights, tables and chairs, blocked off the cul-de-sac and fired up the grill.

Two other neighbors were manning the candy – to help the trick-or-treaters get it and to tell them which houses were empty. Parker, age 11, decided to help with the event rather than trick or treat. He would take money and answer questions. Jim would take and fill orders, and I was grill man. We fed the families around us, ourselves and our kids to get the grill going, and they took off to collect candy and good wishes. We were ready.

It got dark, and we had very few trick-or-treaters, and even fewer customers. One mother said she and her son would be back after they were done. We rubbed our hands and prepared for the onslaught.

The onslaught never came.

The Results

By the end of the evening we probably had half our typical number of trick-or-treaters. We sold a little water and soda. We sold a few grilled items. We made $32 (before expenses).

It was a tough night for me. In retrospect, I was as discouraged and disappointed as I can remember being in a long time. It was Sunday before I was really back to normal.

The Lessons

halloween-costume-zone3I shook myself out of my self-imposed funk by thinking back on what we did – and what we accomplished. $32. I didn’t even count it until Monday. Truth be told, it was more than I expected at that point. My reflection helped me realize that several positive things happened:

• We had fun both planning and doing the event.

• We strengthened neighborhood relationships.

• We taught our children a lesson about caring and doing things for others – through our actions, not our checkbooks.

• We made a memory we will talk about for years.

• We learned what might have to change if we do this again on Halloween!

• I got the subject for this essay.

• A neighborhood shelter got lots of hamburger and hot dog buns.

• And we did add $32 to the Riley Children’s Hospital Autism Unit to help them do their work.

However, the best result for me was the lesson of reflection. All the value created by the event was overshadowed in my mind when we didn’t reach our goal. My personal goal had been $300. So, in reality, we did about 11% of that goal. I lost sight of all the good by focusing only on the desired outcome.

If you had asked me Saturday morning if the event was a success, I would have grimaced and quickly said no. If you ask me now, I will say that we didn’t raise much money, but it was fun, and we learned a lot. Anytime you can have fun while learning is a good experience in my book.

We all suffer defeats, challenges and disappointments. Sometimes they are large; sometimes they aren’t. Big or small, I believe there is value and learning in every one of them. Our goal has to be to find those lessons. We only find them by reflecting on the experience and expecting to find them.

Maybe you find yourself reeling from a setback as you read this. If so, please take the message to heart. Maybe the message is more theoretical for you at the moment, that’s OK too. Use this as a reminder for the next time you are discouraged. Lift your head up, reflect on what happened, learn from it, smile and go on!

I don’t know what next Halloween holds, but we already are talking about the garage sale. We may expand to breakfast. I’ll let you know how it goes.