For some kids, including mine, it’s the best day of the year – yes, even better than Christmas. But this year, Halloween, which many children celebrate by going trick-or-treating and getting amped up on sugar while wearing a costume, is in jeopardy, thanks to social distancing.
While there’s not yet been any official guidelines about how to handle October 31, there’s been fierce speculation the government may reintroduce a second national lockdown due to a rising number of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.
Halloween festivals in Scotland, including Paisley and Fife, have already been cancelled, and Nicola Sturgeon said while she didn’t want to be the person telling children they “can’t go guising” (trick-or-treating), she warned that if it becomes necessary, “it’s better than allowing children to be at risk”.
In the case of a national lockdown, trick-or-treating and other Halloween-based activities outside your home are unlikely to go ahead. Or, if you’re in an area where there’s a local lockdown, trick-or-treating probably won’t be a goer either – although it may depend on restrictions put in place in your area.
But without a lockdown, could it be possible? Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine and expert in infectious diseases based at the University of East Anglia, says the issue isn’t necessarily to do with children – because children don’t really suffer severely from Covid-19 – but in knocking on the doors of vulnerable or elderly people.
“The chances of transmitting an infection during a typical Halloween encounter is quite low, but the chances of transmission to vulnerable people who’ve been shielding is a concern,” he says. “A lot of elderly people get nervous about Halloween anyway, and with the stress of the pandemic, you could be causing extra worry or anxiety.”
We also don’t yet know what cases will be like in October. “By Halloween I’d expect the numbers of cases to have risen even more,” he adds. “To do it safely, you’d have to agree with other people that it’s okay – with your immediate neighbours, if they’re not in a vulnerable group, that they’re happy for you to knock on their doors. But visiting random homes at this time is not a good idea, particularly when a lot of older people are trying to avoid social interactions.”
If you do go ahead, you’ll need to take precautions: hand washing, no big groups, and packaged sweets. “Keep it to a small number of people, and have a small number of bagged sweets, rather than breaking them into individual sweets,” says Prof Hunter. “Give those – say, tubes of Smarties – to children’s parents to leave out overnight, or for a couple of days. Then, the risk would be small.”
Of course, social distancing rules will still apply – so that needs bearing in mind, too. Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told the East Anglian Daily Times many older people have concerns about answering the door to trick-or-treaters this year. “We hope everybody follows the government guidelines,” she said. “If visiting doorsteps, be sure to step back after knocking, so you’re around two metres away from the person when they answer the door, and make sure everybody hand-washes before and after eating and handling treats.”
It looks increasingly likely that even if Halloween isn’t officially cancelled, it won’t be the same as it was. Still, all is not lost – and if this thread on Mumsnet is anything to go by, there are still ways to help kids have fun.
“I may leave some treats out if I can find a way to do it,” one mum said. “A bowl with many hands doesn’t appeal.” Try individually-wrapping small selections of sweets such as jellybeans in cellophane, paper napkins or pieces of cloth tied with string, and leaving them on your doorstep. You could also try this mum’s approach: “I still hope to have trick-or-treaters and will have individual bags of sweets and possibly give them out wearing gloves or using tongs!”
Go on a pumpkin-hunt
Much like kids went on a teddy bear-hunt, and rainbow trail-walk, during lockdown; why not take children out for a walk in the neighbourhood to see how many pumpkins they can spot from the street? You can also go pumpkin-picking at selected farms – try searching for a pumpkin patch near you.
Have your own party at home
“I’ve already told my kids I don’t think trick or treating will be happening,” one mum wrote. “I have suggested we have our own little party. We can do a craft and cake-decorating, and maybe make chocolate-coated apples. I will put together a little bag of sweets, each, too.” Another parent added: “I’m having a Halloween party, just me, hubby and our two kids. Games, sweets and music!”
Go on a ghost walk
As a back-up plan, how about a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt at home? That’s the idea suggested by this parent: “Get dressed up, go for a spooky ghost walk (maybe tell your kids a ghost story while walking and get a relative or friend to jump out and scare them at a scary bit), and then head back home for a trick or treat scavenger hunt around the house or garden.”
Have a ‘Halloween tree’, then move straight on to Christmas
“I’m going to do Halloween at home bigger and better than I ever have before,” said one mum. “I’ll put a ‘Halloween tree’ outside, with individually-hanging sweets, so that kids can take one without touching others, and I’ll still take my kids to the decorated houses and to our friends’ houses. And as soon as Halloween is over, I’m putting the Christmas tree up. We’ve missed out on so much this year. We need to be cautious, but I’m ready for some fun now.”