These were not the ho-hum jack-o'-lanterns of my youth. These were cackling ghouls and realistically bloody masks. Remembering how terrified I was to sit on Santa's lap as a child, I had to wonder, "Are dramatic holiday displays harmful to my kid?"
Not that I've suffered any kind of lasting damage from forced interaction with the mall Easter bunny, but I was a generally anxious kid -- and adults in costumes didn't exactly put me at ease. My mom didn't decorate seasonally for anything besides Christmas, but I had a friend whose annual nutcracker display was the stuff of nightmares. I laugh about it now... nervously.
I projected my neuroses onto my toddler daughter last year during the holidays when I took her to meet Santa. While we waited in line, I asked multiple times if she was scared or if she had any questions. When our turn came, she marched right up to that man in the red suit and flashed him her beautiful smile. She cut her eyes over at me when he lifted her onto his lap, but other than that she was unfazed by his jolly presence. This is the same child who regularly asks if she can walk down the street to see the neighbor's Halloween spider display.
In our house, I've just decided that we won't do scary decorations. I do not need a skull adorning my dining table, even in the spirit of the season. A child's imagination works overtime, but in our house I'm the one who jumps at the thought of monsters under the bed. I'll be sticking to pumpkins and candy canes, and keep any fear level to a minimum. You know, for the kids.