Halloween will be different this year under the specter of COVID-19. Pennsylvania is seeing a spike in new cases that has now exceeded 1,000 a day for 21 days in a row, with New Jersey experiencing a similar resurgence. Given concerns that traditional trick-or-treating will expose families to risk by clustering them on the street, federal and local authorities have discouraged the activity or else recommended safety precautions, like mask-wearing and individually bagged treats. But by and large, it falls to parents to decide if and how their children participate in Halloween during a pandemic.
The Inquirer turned to two parents in the Philadelphia area to weigh in: Will your family be trick-or-treating this year?
Yes: Trick-or-treating will expose my family to no more risk than routine grocery outings.
In recent months, my willingness to stay home and social distance has wavered, as it has for many Americans. I have gone to family gatherings of 20 people or less. I have taken my kids to the playground during nonpeak hours. I have also done my part to jump-start the economy by spending way too much money at Target and HomeGoods.
During all of these outings, I have made sure to maintain my six feet, wear a mask, and disinfect my hands with the multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in my purse and car. I do believe in getting back to a sense of “normalcy,” but not at the expense of someone’s health, so a mask-wearer I shall be.
Each time I go somewhere or do something, I put the activity in question to the “supermarket test.” The supermarket test is how I’ve gauged everything, including whether or not to participate in trick-or-treating this year.
What is the supermarket test, you ask? Well, the supermarket is where I have spent the most time during the pandemic, with the exception of my own house. If the parameters of buying food weekly are acceptable, then anything better than those parameters should also be acceptable. I ask myself the following: Is the activity indoors or outdoors (the most important factor in my decision-making)? Am I able to socially distance? How long will the activity last? If I am putting myself at equal or lesser risk than going to the supermarket, I will usually partake.
Originally I had thought to stay home, make some Halloween treats, and watch movies with my 3- and 4-year-old. But after speaking with a friend about the precautions her neighborhood is taking, I decided to let my kids enjoy some time out as Rainbow Dash and Buzz Lightyear. My friend’s neighborhood is a square block of well-spaced single homes. They will be doing the “grab-n-go” method where each participating house will set up a table of individually bagged treats so kids can simply walk by, grab a bag, and go on their way without putting their hands into a communal bowl of candy.
If we put trick-or-treating to the supermarket test, I’m comfortable enough in the results to participate. My family will be outside. We can maintain our distance from other families, as well as mask up. And we anticipate being out for 1-2 hours, which is slightly longer than a food shopping trip. I will also be sanitizing my children’s hands.
“My family will be outside. We can maintain our distance from other families, as well as mask up.”
In prior years, we have done trunk-or-treats — where children collect candy from parked cars. These were crowded and chaotic and would most definitely not pass the supermarket test, but are supposedly “safer” than knocking on a stranger’s door, opening your pillowcase, and accepting candy that could be riddled with razor blades. It’s ironic that now, during a pandemic, I’m deciding that old school trick-or-treating poses less of a health risk.
I feel badly that my kids have been cooped up in the house for seven months, though I also don’t think they’ll remember that their birthday parties were smaller this year with only immediate family or they weren’t able to go to Disney on Ice at Christmas as we usually do. I don’t mind making them sit out on things I know could potentially be harmful to our health during this time. But in my opinion, trick-or-treating is something that can be done safely if the right precautions are taken.
Caitlin Tassoni is a senior engineering recruiter and mom of two in Lansdale.
No: Our safest choice this year is creating a new tradition.
It should be the most wonderful time of an otherwise garbage year. The one day when it’s OK — even expected — to be somebody else. The one day I can put in blurry, fluorescent contact lenses and prank my kids and their friends; a cathartic release for me, and a total delight for them.
But the reality of Halloween in 2020 is as bleak as the view through those yellow contacts. COVID-19 looms over us all. And if it weren’t obvious that going door-to-door to exchange candy with strangers is a questionable activity during a pandemic, the CDC has labeled traditional trick-or-treating as “high risk.” Meanwhile, municipalities — including Philadelphia — remain agnostic and aren’t providing citizens with much structure to do otherwise.
Let’s face it — 2020 takes the gold medal for the modern Year of Unfortunate Events. COVID is our all-too-real Count Olaf, destroying dreams and extinguishing mirth everywhere. While it’s far from over, the impulse to stomp our feet and call it quits is real. COVID isn’t wrecking another tradition or destroying another special memory for my kids is a common and understandable sentiment from many weary parents.
I “get” this more than anyone. All holidays, and even birthdays, were off-limits for me growing up. Our conservative religion forbade them. Now, my adult self prioritizes creating new traditions for our family and ensuring our children experience every bit of holiday magic (while subsequently driving my patient husband nuts — hubby, are the lights up yet?). Halloween — a time of unbridled creativity — is when we go all-out.
I normally couldn’t imagine skipping a year of trick-or-treating. But my appetite for this particular risk has its limits — and for reasons beyond the obvious.
The best part of trick-or-treating is getting to see friends and neighbors. We walk with a group that grows larger every year. One neighbor gives out homemade wine to the adults, who finally have a chance to catch up while the kids trade candy and admire each other’s costumes.
I’m not concerned about outdoor activities in general, but during Halloween, our Cheltenham neighborhood gets crowded. People come to our small enclave from all over. What happens when, full of sugar and excitement, our kids inevitably bump into friends they haven’t seen in over seven months? Will we bark at them to “stand back” over and over again? Forbid hugs from 10 classmates in a row? Cross the street in fear when we see a group of their best buds? During COVID, trick-or-treating could easily turn into a devastating reminder of our dystopian reality.
“Rather than lament the absence of our beloved door-to-door pastime, we are creating an exciting, new tradition.”
We are going a different route by holding a small, outdoor party with our “pandemic buddies” — our daughter’s pod friends and their parents. This is the group with which, long ago, we chose to assume risk. Rather than lament the absence of our beloved door-to-door pastime, we are creating an exciting, new tradition.
We’ll have a costume contest, over-the-top decorations, music, a moonlit scavenger hunt, prizes, a spread fit for a king, and more candy than the kids would have ever gotten trick-or-treating. All the parents are contributing to make this the best Halloween possible. Judging by the growing stockpile in my dining room, it will be a night to remember.
Traditions are a support and security in a turbulent world. But sometimes, they need to evolve. Our adjustments build on the spirit of the fun while taking one more step to destroy this year’s real bogeyman, COVID.
We’ll see you in 2021. Hopefully.
Bethany Watson-Ostrowski owns Bethany’s Events Catering and is the Project Manager and External Liaison for Vector Group Consulting.