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Kerry McLean: Halloween is scarily good and I just love seeing my kids make smashing pumpkins

By Kerry McLean

I love Halloween. After Christmas it's my favourite time of year. It falls into second place due to the lack of present giving or, to be more exact, present receiving. But still, it's got a lot going for it. I mean, what's not to like about trick or treating?

Show me a parent who doesn't confess to 'quality testing' the goodies that come back in the kids' bags and I'll show you some parental pants on fire.

"It's just a wee taste here and a bite there, to check it's in date and safe to eat." That's the party line I stuck to when my daughter came down the stairs last year and caught my hubby and I grazing away.

This year my son stared me straight in the eye and explained he'd be counting his sweets before he went to bed. They're definitely on to us.

I'll put my hands up and confess to getting carried away every year.

If you find yourself driving near the north coast, keep your eyes peeled because you're bound to spot our house, bedecked with skeletons, witches and ghouls. There are lots of cobwebs on show too, but sadly that says more about my cleaning ability than my decorating skills.

Maybe I enjoy this time of year so much now because it wasn't a big deal when I was little. There was no such thing as trick or treating in my town.

In fact, I remember the first time I encountered the concept, watching ET as a seven-year-old. I found it easier to accept the idea of keeping an alien in your wardrobe than the notion of an entire neighbourhood turning out to visit each other and fill up children's buckets with sweeties.

In those days, a good Halloween party involved apple-bobbing in the bath and waiting to see who would chip a tooth on the 10p piece baked into your Mum's apple pie. If you were lucky and your Dad had strong enough arms, you might have a carved turnip or two. "Why turnip?" my kids asked me recently and were dumbfounded when I explained we didn't have pumpkins back then. Who in the Seventies had encountered a pumpkin? No one I knew!

But in recent years a blight has landed on my happy Halloween celebrations, thanks to the school pumpkin carving competition. When my eldest, then in P1, told me about it, I smiled, thinking how lovely it would be to see all the kid's cute creations. The night before the first contest, she cut a face into her pumpkin, painted it and added more glitter than a series of Strictly could account for.

I honestly thought she stood a good chance of getting a podium place the next day. How naive I was. As she proudly carried the result of her efforts into school the next morning, I took a look around me and watched, open-mouthed, as what can only be described as pieces of art drifted by. Some had recreated entire scenes from movies, complete with music and light elements, others had photograph-quality likenesses of cartoon characters carved into their squashes.

It was clear that either the school had an unusually high number of artistic geniuses among its pupils or a few of the mums and dads were giving more than a helping hand with their little darling's creations. And so it has been every year since, with the competition getting fiercer and the designs more complex.

But I can't help but think those parents are missing out on something special. Of course it's great to get involved, but it's even better to watch the hard work your child puts into - and the pleasure they get out of - creating.

I love seeing my eldest daughter briefly forget that she's a cool teen, just long enough to dig out the glitter again, my son drawing plans, determined to design the scariest zombie possible, and now the toddler, who joined in for the first time this year and ate more paint than she put on the pumpkin.

I can't imagine not having that to look forward to at Halloween. That really would be terrifying.

The Kerry McLean Show is on Monday to Thursdays, BBC Radio Ulster, 3pm-5pm

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