All Hallows’ Eve

When I was in the grocery store the other day, passing by the candy aisle, I heard a young voice, in a seriously loud whine – “And not only is this the last year I can trick-or-treat, but it is on a Saturday!” I knew that most areas have cancelled any plans to have children celebrate Halloween by dressing up and demanding candy from the neighbors, but I’d missed that this year the 31st is a Saturday, which means that kids don’t have to come home early because of school the next day.

My son works this time of year as a cast member at a large outdoor haunted house event. Even though they’ve made large changes to make the experience safe, they have been totally booked every night they’ve been open. I was concerned about that, but he assures me that everyone is masked, there is plenty of space between each group of people, that they wipe down all surfaces between groups, and that they have added lots of ventilation to the inside spaces. He pointed out that the increased air movement made some of the spaces even spookier, so they’re likely to keep those in years to come.

What fascinated me was the demand for this event. While this place has always been very popular, with thousands of people visiting it during October, the demand this year has outstripped their ability to offer a safe experience if they accommodated every ticket request. People need something to distract them from all that 2020 has brought, and your kids are no exception. Halloween was always a great way to celebrate the coming of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), but this year it’s necessary! So, what are you and your kids going to do? And especially, what will you do that does not necessarily involve loading up on candy or other sweets.

There are lots of suggestions on the internet for ways for families to celebrate, but as the kid in the first paragraph said, this year it’s on Saturday, so you have a day to work with. For older children, carving pumpkins is a great activity – and I’m not just recommending the traditional gap-toothed grin with triangles for eyes and nose. Go to YouTube and search for pumpkin carving videos – you’ll be blown away at what can be designed on a pumpkin. Use dry erase markers to outline where you want to cut, as those will easily wipe off when the pumpkin is finished. Have family competitions to produce the best design or have each person carve themselves on a pumpkin – or draw names and carve someone else into the pumpkin. Lots of possibilities here. Younger children can help with simpler designs. Put the Jack-o-lanterns out on your doorstep, then take a walk to see what other families have made. If you live in an apartment complex or high-rise, you can go all-out on decorating your front door. Have the taller/older kids help with the upper part of the door, and younger ones work the lower half. They can work together on spooky doormat ideas, if you do have a doormat. Once again, the internet has lots of ideas.

Costumes, of course, are a necessity. Put out a lot of scarves, old shoes, hats, big coats, anything you can find that is out of style or put away, and see what you all can design. The important point is to not use a premade costume, but to figure out what can be done with what is on hand. It’s also much cheaper, no shopping involved. The best costume that my son ever had, his father designed out of the insides of a box that came with a laptop, and a very big old shirt. The box insides went on my son’s shoulders and the shirt went over the top. They tied a very wide tie around the neck of the shirt to hold it in place, and I slit holes in the side seams of the shirt so my son could stick his hands out and then through the cuffs of the shirt. He then carried a small carved pumpkin in one hand – headless man with his pumpkin head in hand! He won best costume at his school that year. Pictures of these can be included in your December holiday messages to show what the children have been doing this year.

Tell ghost stories. If you can’t think of any, check on the internet. YouTube has a lot – I’d check some of these out before letting younger children view them – but you could darken a room, make some popcorn, and let someone else scare you. Play sardines with flashlights in the house. Turn all the lights off, have one person go and hide, then everyone else goes looking for that person. When they find them, they hide with them until they’re all stuck together … like sardines. If anyone else (other than the person or persons who are hiding) sees your flashlight lit, you have to go back to the beginning and start again.

If your kids are absolutely determined to figure out how to go trick-or-treating, that’s not impossible, it’ll just take planning and plan execution, with the full participation of the trick or treaters, along with some adult supervision. Epidemiologist Dr. Syra Madad – who was on the front lines of the New York City COVID outbreak this past spring – recommends the approach she’s taking with her three young children: she’s putting together a Halloween candy “egg hunt” around her house so her kids can have the fun of finding treats without breaking their bubble. Pediatrician Dr. Aaron E. Carroll thinks that kids can trick or treat, with guidelines, and offers some tips and tactics in a piece in the New York Times.

As I’ve said before, use this time to reinvent your world. Yes, it’s different, and it’s going to stay “different” for a long time. Develop new experiences, and create your own “normal.” Children need rituals to help them mark stages in their world, which is why the festive season in December is so important for them. Actually, when you think about it, just putting on a costume that’s bought from a store and going around demanding candy is kind of boring. Creating something – including whole new experiences and holiday rituals – is a lot more fun!