How Parents Are Making Halloween Special in a Strange Year

published Oct 21, 2020
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My mom was always the mom who made the most out of a tough situation: She did a lot with a little. My sisters and I were the kids who looked forward to Halloween but couldn’t afford new costumes. So for four consecutive years, I wore the same white dress, which my mother kept reinventing as a new costume. I was an angel, Cleopatra, a ghost, and a bride (a very ’90s thing to do). We were the family who drove out to the more affluent neighborhoods to trick-or-treat. This year, I find myself thinking of my mom’s resourcefulness. In many ways, all families will have to do the same to make this year’s Halloween feel just as important for kids with limited options.

As expected, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is advising families to avoid door-to-door trick-or-treating because of the COVID-19 risk associated with this tradition. Along with trick-or-treating, the CDC categorizes trunk-or-treats, costume parties, indoor haunted houses, and hayrides as high-risk Halloween activities. There goes every fall activity my boys and I look forward to come the end of October. But, all is not lost. Resourceful parents have been thinking outside of the box for decades. Cubby talked to seven parents to find out how they plan to make Halloween fun this year and turn old autumn traditions into new, pandemic-friendly alternatives.

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They’re carving pumpkins with friends via Zoom.

Shannon Brescher Shea, Rockville, Maryland, usually takes her two young children to the school Halloween parade, the town Halloween parade, and a couple of Halloween parties. With cancellations across the board, Shannon’s plans for her 4- and 7-year-old are going online. “The week before Halloween, we’re doing a virtual pumpkin carving party with our friends and their kids over Zoom,” she says. The parents who organized and invited Shannon told all the guests just to bring a pumpkin and they’ll “bring” the music and deliver contactless goody bags for the kids to help it feel like a real party. The cute, Halloween-themed Evite for the party also mentioned a costume parade, giving each kid a virtual opportunity to show off their fun or spooky ensembles.

Instead of trick-or-treating, she’ll send her littles on a candy scavenger hunt around the house then take them on a walk around the neighborhood to look at decorations and enjoy the spooky outdoor atmosphere without going up to any doors. Luckily, Shannon says some Halloween traditions remain unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic: Baking Halloween cookies and watching Halloween movies are all still on.

They’re replacing one night of fun with a month of joy.

For the past few years, Tonya Abari of Hermitage, Tennessee, has only taken her now 6-year-old trick-or-treating. “I actually feel like this year will be more activities,” she says. Her daughter is an only child and she worries that she misses her friends, but her goal is to keep her super excited and super busy with Halloween fun. She’s planning a candy scavenger hunt in the backyard, a “boo-tastic dance party” with spooky tunes, and a pumpkin-decorating night, to name a few. “I’ll do whatever it takes to conjure Black joy during these tough times,” she says. “We all need a little bit of fun.”

They’re focusing on the photo ops that Halloween brings.

“It’s just one more change in this year of unrelenting changes,” says Malorie Reid of Orlando, Florida. Although she’s a self-proclaimed introvert, Malorie was otherwise looking forward to getting together with other parents and letting her 3-year-old and 1-year-old socialize. This Halloween, of course, she doesn’t feel comfortable doing that — so she’s getting creative and putting her skills to use. The costumes from her 3-year-old son’s first few Halloweens are sitting in a closet waiting to be repurposed, she says. Best-case scenario is that her 1-year-old daughter can fit in one of her brother’s old costumes. Otherwise, Malorie will find accessories, pieces of clothing, and spare fabric from around the house to turn the old costumes into something new for them both.

Weather permitting, she’s hoping for an outdoor photoshoot on Halloween night by the lake so they can enjoy the scenery while snapping some amazing photos. If it’s too hot in Orlando to keep the kids content and smiling for natural photos, she plans to find a nice, well-lit spot in her apartment. “I used to hang a white sheet as my own little backdrop for photos, but having two kids has made it so my ambition doesn’t always line up with my abilities.”

They’re bringing the fun to their own front yard.

This year, there will be no mingling for Jamila Bey of Washington, D.C., and her 12-year-old. For the pair, that’s a tough change. “Halloween is our big holiday and we are sad to not do the costumes and parties, so we are making the best of the reality,” she says. And their best is pretty good. “We’re turning our front yard into a graveyard!”

Jamila and her family are usually too busy partying and trick-or-treating to decorate, and the pandemic has presented them with an unusual opportunity. “We usually live in an apartment in D.C.,” she says. “We have decamped to the country where we have a lovely home that’s two hours away.” Jamila is making her undead creatures of the night by stuffing thrift store clothes with leaves and then posing them like they’re coming out of the ground. Because they usually trick-or-treat and hit up Halloween parties, they’re going to make up for missing it by “going overboard on the candy and decorating.” She doesn’t expect any trick-or-treaters to her remote temporary home, although she says she bought enough candy to share with an entire neighborhood. “We’re isolating to our family unit exclusively,” she says. “The decorating and candy gluttony is for our own sheer delight.”

They’re making Halloween the New Thanksgiving.

Usually, Thanksgiving is the holiday for gratefulness. For Sili Recio of Orlando, Florida, Halloween has taken on new meaning, though — and it’s all about being thankful. “I’m blessed that my immediate family has not been affected by COVID-19 and I try to keep that in mind,” she says. “I try to give it a positive spin: creating new memories, new traditions, something she will tell her grandchildren about.” 

Sili has heightened concerns about her hometown. “I’m not comfortable going out or having kids come to my door,” she says. “Our state is officially opened and I’m concerned for what that will mean for our collective health.” What activities they’ll do is up in the air, which Sili says is “par for the course in 2020.” Whatever she decides, it will involve lots of treats and some reflecting on the good things in life. With so much to consider, her usual trip to Disney, trick-or-treating with friends, and handing out candy are not even on the table. Still, she’s looking on the bright side. “This year has really given us a chance to reevaluate what’s important but, it’s imperative for us to take the time to grieve all the changes we’ve had to endure,” she says. “At least with Halloween, we’ll do it with a handful of sweets in-hand.”

They’re turning the entire month into Halloween.

All month, Ryane Granados has let her 6-year-old wear his Halloween costume around the house, and that’s the plan for the rest of the month too. “My hopes are this will make the actual day somewhat anti-climatic and he won’t care as much that he is missing out on going door to door with friends.” Throw a pumpkin piñata from her husband’s family in Mexico into the mix, and it’s Halloween made simple. Ryane likes this low-pressure version of Halloween. “I am relishing the idea that simplifying Halloween will make for one less thing I need to do during the uniquely challenging year of 2020,” she says. 

They’re borrowing an Easter holiday tradition.

When Tracy Pendergast, co-founder of creative lifestyle community Daisy Made, stumbled upon an all-orange set of Easter eggs online, a light bulb went off: “I’m going to decorate them like little jack-o’-lanterns and make it a surprise.” Tracy is filling the eggs with non-candy treats like puzzle pieces that her 4- and 5-year-old can put together later, stickers, erasers, and bouncy balls and hiding them around the house. Because her kids are so young, Tracy says she’s in the unique position of starting brand-new Halloween traditions without worrying about them missing out on others. “Luckily my kids have never experienced trick-or-treating house-to-house because of their age, so this is actually an upgrade as far as that’s concerned.”

She’ll also introduce her children to the classic Charlie Brown Halloween movie, which she’ll project on the house for an outside movie night with popcorn and treats. This year, her parents are coming are down to their Long Beach, California, home where the four adults (Tracy, her husband, and the grandparents) will each man a different room in the house for trick-or-treating. This alone is the makings of a beautiful memory for them all. “It will be really special to integrate the grandparents, who are also feeling such isolation,” she says. “I think we’ll all look back on this Halloween as an extra-special one.”

Sure, kids will miss trick-or-treating, but they’ll gain so many more new traditions and participate in activities parents might not have otherwise planned. My 16-year-old was never a fan of trick-or-treating or loud events with lots of sights and sound. Meanwhile, my 4-year-old lives in superhero costumes, sleeps in Halloween pajamas year-round, and loves all things spooky. I’m looking forward to giving them both a fun-filled Halloween by putting my 16-year-old in charge of a sensory-friendly haunted house right here at home. He’s been working hard creating his own audio of scary sound effects by recreating floor creaks, monster noises, and eerie wind sounds. I’m proud, he’s excited to be in control of planning, and his little brother is going to be ecstatic on Halloween night. It’s a win-win, and I hope these new ideas stick around for years to come.