Death, Halloween, and Family Traditions (It’s Almost October!)

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Halloween celebrations have increased through the years, and have become more fun and less morbid. But, like family history, Halloween is still very much about the dead.

Throughout October we’ll bring you several blog posts about death and the dead, some serious and some not. We’ll talk about finding and using death records (such as the SSDI), wills, obituaries, etc., in our family history work, as well as some of the things we ourselves should not leave undone as we contemplate our own eventual deaths. In preparation, we’ve been collecting Halloween memories and traditions from colleagues, families, and friends; playfully inviting coworkers to design their own tombstones (there’s a web app for that) and write their own epitaphs; and even interviewing morticians.

All that’s coming, but first, here’s some background.

A Bit of History

The word Halloween itself is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve — the eve of All Saints’ Day, celebrated November 1 by much of Western Christianity, especially in Scotland and Ireland. Traditionally, it was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, before moving on to the next world, making Halloween their last chance to take vengeance on the living. The living, in turn, wore masks and costumes to avoid being recognized, and used fire (which turned over time into Jack-o-Lanterns) to ward off the spirits of the dead. There are also some pagan influences.

Learn more of the history of Halloween from this video at

The spooky side survives, now more secular than religious in feeling, but for most people Halloween is great fun, with costumes, trick-or-treating for youngsters, and parties for youth and adults. The day of the dead is alive with fun and family traditions.

Halloween Essentials in My Family

In my family we alternate between staying near our own home for trick-or-treating and heading to my parents’ neighborhood. The first priority, for my kids and for me when I was child, is to get get as much candy as possible.

A prior evening of pumpkin carving and seed roasting is a must. To this day I love both the cutting and the roasting. See below for my famous pumpkin seed recipe.

These and other traditions give children and adults something to remember and to look forward to each year. Don’t forget to record them for posterity.

You’ve Been Warned

You’ll be hearing from us this month. Death is the subject, and it’s a broad one. Here in October, things will be a lot like Halloween itself: silly, serious, playful, and sometimes a bit ghoulish.

Meanwhile, here’s that recipe I promised.

Mark’s Pumpkin Seeds

I am continually asked for my seed recipe. This creates a slight problem: The recipe is in my head. The ingredients and methods in cooking change every year. The true recipe, variety and experimentation, doesn’t always result in a resounding success. But when it does, it’s well worth the time it took to create.

Remember: The seeds themselves are really not that good. It’s all the flavorful stuff basted and roasted on them that you’re really enjoying when you eat them.

Preparing the seeds: As you prepare the seeds, keep this in mind: the pumpkin pulp is actually good! If you leave bits and pieces of the stringy, ghoulish pulp on your seeds, that pulp will hold all the ingredients you add, and give you an explosion of flavor as you munch away. Don’t leave a lot of it, just a bit, so that now and again you find a seed with some extra flavor.

I’ve read many seed recipes which call for cleaning of the seeds, by washing or boiling them. I don’t clean them at all. Just be sure that, when you cut open the pumpkin and start taking out the seeds, everyone’s hands start out clean.

The sauce: The basic ingredients in the sauce are butter, or olive oil if you’re trying to be healthier, and a generous amount of salt. Beyond that, get creative. In my family we like to add

Worcestershire sauce. You might also try bacon, pepper, garlic, ranch flavoring or dressing, Parmesan cheese, minced onion, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, or anything else you can think of. Try different combinations and amounts.

Blend the sauce – whatever you put in – with the seeds in a mixing bowl, and let them soak for a few minutes.

Pumpkins Seeds

Halloween Family Traditions - Roasted Pumpkin Seeds image courtesy of

Roasting: Dump the seeds and sauce onto a cooking sheet and roast them in the oven at a fairly low temperature, between 225 and 325 degrees. It will likely take an hour, give or take. They’re done when all the juices have simmered away, the flavor is soaked into the seeds, and the seeds are browned but not burnt.

Check on the seeds once in a while, stir to be sure they cook evenly. Adjust the oven temperature as needed. If the seeds are getting too dark but are still sitting in sauce, lower the temperature, so they don’t burn before the sauce is cooked off. If they’re very light brown in color, but all the liquids is gone, either increase the temperature to finish them faster, or just be patient until they’re ready.

For a simpler recipe, click this picture from

The key to cooking pumpkin seeds is to have fun and experiment.  Don’t feel that you have to cook them all at once or all one flavor. Have fun, and, most of all, enjoy creating traditions with your family!

Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear your best seed recipes, as well as other Halloween traditions.

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