By Terry Harris

At the October board of supervisors meeting Surry County Chief of Emergency Services Ray Phelps emphasized something that thinking people already know: this year, the risks involved in trying to celebrate Halloween in traditional ways loom large.  Then he offered suggestions for ways to enjoy the holiday safely.

First, with the combination of colder weather keeping folks packed inside their homes and rising COVID numbers making going out in public even more of a risk, Phelps offered reminders of the importance of general safety practices that adults know, but children often forget.

“If you do participate in any Halloween type events, we’re asking that you continue to wear masks and make sure that you keep your six with social distancing,” Phelps said. “Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer.  And we’re asking that people who are at higher risk of illness please avoid all participation in any Halloween festivities this year to stay healthy and safe.”

Then he offered suggestions like decorating your entire living space with your kids – like you would for Christmas – only with spooky items that can provide fun at home for days.   

An internet search yields dozens more alternatives for Halloween fun as well as adaptations for traditional methods of celebrating this year that prove that concerns about safety in the pandemic have sparked some real bursts of creativity.  Following are ideas from smart parents and safety-oriented organizations like the Virginia Department of Health for having a Happy – and Safe – Halloween in 2020.     

Of course, everyone loves Jack-o-lanterns, but even without a pandemic there are concerns about sharp objects for the carving with the little ones.  So why not combine the old with the new by decorating pumpkins with your kids with paint or felt cutouts?  You will still have the feel of an old-fashioned Halloween, just an updated version.

Obviously, all kids look forward to going trick-or-treating. But with all the racing around and shouting and running into all kinds of people – and opportunities to spread COVID – it is hardly a good idea this year.  Some communities are attempting to keep a version of that tradition going with masked trunk-or-treats.  But to stay even more safe, the VDH suggests setting up a Halloween scavenger hunt with neighbors.  Then children are given a list of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring decorations at a distance.

The VDH specifically warns against trick-or-treating at houses where individuals are not wearing a mask, where six feet of physical distance is not maintained between individuals, and participating in parties or hayrides that may become crowded and where social distancing is difficult to maintain. They particularly caution against indoor haunted houses where people may be crowded together and screaming are perhaps the most dangerous traditions of all this year.

But there are so many fun activities available that there is no reason to forego Halloween celebrations altogether. One idea that is perfectly suited to 2020 is to set up a virtual Halloween costume contest – somewhat like a ZOOM meeting.  This provides the perfect way for kids or adults to dress up and share the fun with friends in absolute safety, and even offers the opportunity to record the event to enjoy watching again later.

Another fun activity could involve gathering an assortment of cookies, candies, melting chocolates, marshmallows, and sprinkles and having the whole family make up unusual, spooky treats like Witches’ Hats and Ghost Cookies to enjoy together. 

If you plan to hand out candy to known neighbors, you might set up an outside area to do so and space out the treats. You could even come up with contactless ways to deliver treats like constructing a candy chute more than six feet long.

If you are feeling particularly creative, why not purchase a Halloween-themed pinata or, better yet, decorate a plain one in the manner of your kids’ favorite Halloween symbols or characters.  Just fill it with individually wrapped candy, hang it outside, and let your kids dress up in their Halloween costumes and take turns hitting it with a broom handle or bat until the candy falls out.

Bottom line:  As HealthyChildren.Org says in their article on healthy and safe celebrating this year, “There are still plenty of ways families can have fun while avoiding the scare of being exposed to or spreading the virus.  Most importantly, keep doing what you have been doing: avoiding large gatherings, keeping a distance of six feet from others, wearing cloth face coverings (think superhero!), and washing hands often.” 

Who knows?  With a little creativity, this might just become your family’s most memorable Halloween ever.