It’s late October! Just a week left until Halloween! Have you boo’ed your neighbors yet? No…I don’t mean have you shouted guttural sounds of disapproval and uttered disparaging remarks about their mamas. I’m asking if you’ve “boo’ed” them in the spooky-fun Halloween sense.
If you’re unfamiliar with this form of Halloween revelry, let me share one of my favorite Halloween traditions with you!
My boys and I started boo-ing our friends when my now 16-year old was in first or second grade, still dressing up as his favorite Pokemon trainer — in other words, many costumes ago. Our first time boo-ing was in response to getting boo’ed ourselves. From that year on, we would help launch the trend again each time October rolled around.
In trying to research the origins of this tradition, I found that it dates back to the 1980s. To be honest, it has such a Martha Stewart hospitality vibe that I could totally be convinced she started it. I also learned that other communities have much cooler names than we do in Chattanooga, or in Atlanta, where I first learned about this tradition. Some Southern communities call it “Ghosting” while many New Englanders refer to the tradition as being visited by “The Phantom!” It seems to be predominantly an East Coast and Southern thing from what I read, although it’s spreading, even to Canada and Great Britain. (Because I like these alternate names, I’ll use them interchangeably in this article.)
Here’s how it works: In the month leading up to Halloween, one neighbor creates small gift baskets or goody bags for two other neighbors. Once they’ve received their Ghosting Gifts, those two neighbors each give surprises to two more neighbors and so on until it spreads throughout the neighborhood. With each gift is a tag saying “We’ve Been Boo’ed” that you place on your door or window so you don’t get gifted twice.
The Boo Goodies themselves can be as simple or as elaborate as you want and the style seems to depend on the neighborhood and whether you’re ghosting entire families, just kids, or adults. My friend’s mom loves ghosting neighbors in her community of older adults with a fall candle or a festive hand towel and scented soap. Another friend always makes homemade cookies. In my research, I read about people — whom I can only assume are crazy rich — who make really elaborate gift baskets that include food, wine, beer, toys, candy, decorative items, and books. That’s way over the top for me, but I love that it illustrates just how creative you can get with your gifts from The Phantom.
For my Boos, I made two different versions: one for kids and one for adults. I’ve been doing this for several years now because I just think it’s fun, it gives me a creative outlet, and I love doing things that bring people unexpected joy. With the exception of adding the adult option the year before we moved to Chattanooga, I’ve pretty much kept things the same, and really simple, for years. I bought everything used in my Boo-Bags from Target’s Dollar section, Dollar Tree, or I had it left over from years of being a room mom. The wine for the grown-ups I bought at Aldi which has a surprisingly good wine selection. In years past, I used plastic Halloween tumblers as my “bag,” but generally I stick to small treat or gift bags.
Inside, I’ll add stickers; Halloween pencils; erasers; glow sticks; vampire fangs; witch fingers; and of course, a little bit of candy, though not much with the Big Candy Extravaganza looming in sight.
For my adult Ghosting Gifts, in the past I simply gave a bottle of wine with the message from The Phantom attached. This year, I upped my gifting game with a cute Halloween dish towel (two for $3 in the bargain section at Target) wrapped around the wine bottle along with the Boo message. By the way, this goes without saying, but make sure to include your kids in picking out and assembling all the goodies for your friends. Up until this year when they turned 16 and 12, mine loved helping me pull off this Halloween prank.
Choosing which poem and graphic design you want to use is almost as much fun as putting together your gifts. There are many free designs out there and, of course, you can create your own, but here are a few of my favorites: from Bless this Mess; from Happiness is Homemade; and from Mister Retro a cute “You’ve Been Boozed” sign for the adults.
Once you’ve packed your Boo Baskets, get ready for the most exciting part of playing The Phantom — the delivery!
Delivering your Boo is part Secret Santa, part Ding-Dong-Ditch — a task my kids relished and undertook with all the planning of a precision military operation. Typically, I’d drive to a friend’s house and park a few doors down, or we’d sneak down the street under cover of darkness, dressed all in black, then trying not to giggle or trip, my boys would run to the door, drop their goodies, and ring the bell before dashing back dashing dangerously back into the night. Hiding in the shadows or crashing into each other back to my car, we’d hear the door open and feel the thrill of having pulled off a caper and surprised our friends.
Last year was the first year I tried this here in Chattanooga, largely because our street is still under construction. We boo’ed relative strangers and I’m certain none of them continued the fun. The only houses I saw with the signs proclaiming “We’ve Been Boo’ed” were the ones we visited. This year, I went out on my own since my boys have lost interest, but it was still fun for me and I’m still hopeful I will see the signs spread beyond the homes I delivered to. This year I ghosted a new family who moved in across the street with a first grader as well as another couple with two littles whom I’ve gotten to know on my daily dog walk. I also took a bottle of wine to an older, child-free couple who sometimes stops to chat when they see me out. I hope they all received the gifts in the spirit of fun and will engage and share a little Halloween spirit of their own, and in turn, help build a stronger sense of community and connection on our street. Because, to me, the real point of and source of joy in our holiday traditions is the connections they help create. Once you think a neighbor has done something thoughtful for you, maybe you’re a bit more likely to smile and say “hello,” or take it a step further and have a real conversation. So, here’s to hoping The Phantom works his magic and everyone who gets boo’ed this year will feel the spark of connection and find a little bit more joy because of it.