When it comes to walking in retail stores during the start of the fall season, there is never any doubt that the massive display of Halloween accessories catches the human eye. Even though Thanksgiving and Christmas items often share the shelf, the creativity and excitement for children around the country remains constant for the scariest day of the year.
The annual debate about candy corn will forever be controversial. A teacher could glance up at their students to see Superman among the participants, with Elmo sitting nearby. People of all ages could split from reality for a day to become a character other than themselves, which creates an enormous amount of comfort. And in the evening, it’s off to the races to see who could acquire the most candy by going door-to-door and street-to-street. The checkers match to see which houses are shining with decorations turns trick-or-treating into the ultimate strategy power rush. If the lights are pitch black, it’s simple: You carry onto the next one.
The lights will be off in many more households this year.
The raging COVID-19 pandemic does not take days off, leaving many families to piece together how they want to spend their Halloween this year. The virus’ aggressive contagiousness has forced parents to hold abbreviated activities, as opposed to throwing parties with friends or even the sacred act of trick-or-treating. Even the distributors that usually set up shop at their front door are questioning the safety of distributing candy to young children.
While some families will continue to take their children to events at the pumpkin patch or around the neighborhood, others have constructed imaginative alternatives to save the possibility of a lost cause.
“Halloween is huge in this family,” Skyline Language Arts Professor Liza Erpelo said. “My husband loves Halloween — it’s his favorite holiday — and this was before we even had kids. And then when we had kids, we just leveled up our game.”
Erpelo and her husband have two daughters, aged 6 and 9. For the past few years, they’ve united to dress up in ensemble costumes, and there’s nothing COVID-19 could do to stop them from dressing up as Harry Potter characters this fall. On Halloween, the girls will take their wizardry talents to dance classes and Filipino martial arts classes. Afterwards, they’ll turn their attention to the youngest daughter, who will be celebrating an early birthday. Needless to say, the switch away from Halloween tradition will be an easy one to flip.
“Someone made this joke — I saw it was a meme on Facebook — and it said, ‘You know, I’ve already been wearing masks and eating candy around the clock since we’ve been in shelter-in-place, I don’t see how Halloween is any different,’” Erpelo said.
The pandemic has featured the ongoing theme of staying home, which has been advocated by government officials and medical personnel as a simple way to slow the spread of the virus.
In Pacifica, Stephanie and Matt Whitehead are using that approach to generate a memorable Halloween for their three young daughters. During the time frame in which they would usually be capturing photos for Facebook, they plan to stay within the confines of their home while keeping the enjoyable atmosphere alive and well.
“We plan to decorate the house and do trick-or-treating at home,” Stephanie Whitehead said. “We are turning each bedroom into a ‘house’ with myself giving out candy from one, and their dad from another.”
While trick-or-treating room-to-room is quite different from going house-to-house, the girls still plan on dressing up to increase the authenticity of the evening.
Also in Pacifica, the Vintero family are massive Halloween fans, and usually take their love for the day to extreme levels. Under typical circumstances, they would probably be pulling out the gigantic 20-foot-tall blow-ups from the garage, installing a trippy fog machine and scary music for special effects, and handing out full-size candy bars to an estimated 200 trick-or-treaters. Now that the pandemic is in full swing, the family of seven — five children ages 10 to 21 — is pressing the reverse button on their plans.
“This year, it even falls on a Saturday, and I am so sad to say that we have no decorations up,” Sharon Vintero said. “We are following the country guidelines, which say that door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended. We will probably just stay home with the lights off, order takeout, and watch a scary movie.”
San Bruno resident Elise Totah and her family plan on having a socially-distanced get-together in their backyard to which people already in their social bubble will be invited. Instead of trick-or-treating, her two sons and a few of their friends will be treated to a scavenger hunt.
Trick-or-treating will always be the highlight for many children who partake in Halloween, but the parents have the unique ability to separate themselves from their fellow neighbors to see who could distribute the best candy. The status of that side of the spectrum is unknown, and possibly even forgotten.
“I hadn’t thought about prospective trick-or-treaters,” Totah said. “Maybe I’ll do some small treat bags on the porch and spread them out on a big tray, so that way nobody is digging their hands in a bowl.”
Separation is a key element that is essential for many families worried about the possible spread of the virus, which is the reason why the windows of so many more houses will be dark on the evening of Oct. 31. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world for folks who already purchased a bag of candy and were ready to participate in the yearly trick-or-treating event.
“I just had the best idea: a candy chute,” one Bay Area Nextdoor user said. “We can use some plastic gutters we never installed, line them with some purple and orange LED, and have the kids hold open their bags at the bottom of our staircase. That would give us about 15 feet of social distancing, and the kids don’t have to climb up our stairs. This can work for anyone that has a staircase leading up to their front door, or even a steep driveway.”
There are still numerous events occurring throughout the Bay Area and San Mateo County, including the 2020 Halloween Car-nival, a now sold-out event created by the San Mateo Parks and Recreations Department. Located in the parking lot of the Beresford Recreation Center, the weekend event will include a Halloween-themed drive-thru for children of all ages that will follow the strict COVID-19 guidelines. The event is set to take place on Oct. 24 and 25. Meanwhile, South San Francisco’s Department of Parks and Recreation is holding a virtual Halloween costume contest on Oct. 29 to avoid being in the same space as other people altogether.
The common theme of Halloween is often fear. This year the theme meshes well with the narrative and resembles the ongoing events the country has persevered through in 2020. Even though the numbers of trick-or-treaters may no longer come in herds, you best bet there’s still Jack-O-Lanterns shining on some doorsteps.
“Try and maintain your distance at all times,” Whitehead said. “It’s easy to get carried away, have pandemic fatigue, and forget about general proper protection. Remember, wearing a mask is to protect others. Please think about the vulnerable in our community.”
As Bay Area families adjust to the first of a few late-year holidays sidelined by COVID-19, the spirit of such events is bound to be dampened. However, creativity and excitement remain, proving that there is “pumpkin” to talk about.