Halloween in the Age of COVID and Beyond


Halloween traditionsTo trick or treat or not to trick or treat does not need to be the only question this year as we prepare to celebrate Halloween in the midst of a pandemic. A holiday deeply grounded in history, we’ve often limited its celebration to an hour or so of trick or treating and perhaps a Halloween parade or party.

Perhaps this is the year not to do less, but to do more in a different, more meaningful way.

Echoes of the core values of Halloweens of the past ripple through time. Gratitude and generosity, connection to the past and preparation for the future, and courage in the face of uncertainty are themes deeply embedded in the holiday’s history. 

The festival likely hails back to the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in), a time marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of vitally important preparations for the approaching winter. It was a time of transition between seasons and between worlds, a night on which people believed the doorway to the Otherworld opened, allowing deceased relatives and other spirits to visit our world.

Celebrations included bonfires and feasts. People dressed in costume, perhaps to try to hide among visiting spirits without being detected by them. They went door to door in their costumes, reciting verses, and receiving food gifts in exchange for sharing these verses with neighbors.

Although adopting a culture not our own, of times far back in history, key themes of the holiday continue to resonate throughout the generations and around the world.

Could we reimagine Halloween, emphasizing values, and experiences core to the human experience?

Thinking about what is possible, I came up with three ways to celebrate the holiday far more than simply being COVID safe. Grounded in the holiday’s essence, they are relevant to me both during this challenging time of COVID and in more enduring ways. Some may resonate with you, and you might choose to try them. Or, some might inspire you to come up with your own ideas. I invite you to choose whatever of these ideas resonate with you or to stretch beyond and create your own Halloween customs with your family.

1. Give Gifts of Playful Generosity to People Who Have Made a Difference.

On Halloween, we celebrate the abundance we enjoy by not only sharing food with the hungry but offering candy to all who ask. Whether or not you will be Trick or Treating, or opening your door to Trick or Treaters, consider ways to delight others with gifts to lift their spirits. In this year of challenge, consider bringing treats to essential workers you have admired through the pandemic, to a local business that has struggled, or to your child’s teacher who has done so much to adapt to the demands of teaching in these challenging times. Include your children in considering who you would like to treat, and what thoughtful gift you might bring joy.

2. Feasts of Gratitude and Connection.

Create a family feast – a Thanksgiving of sorts, but with a twist. Celebrate this time of harvest being as inventive as you like. You can choose to prepare harvest foods, family favorites, recipes enjoyed by your own ancestors, food from your own cultural tradition, food from a place in the world you wish you could visit, or even candy and dessert as the main course. 

You might consider “inviting” people from past generations you admire to your harvest feast – relatives or others who are significant to you. Talk to your children about who they would like to meet if they could meet anybody. Make place settings for these “guests” and draw or print photos of them you can place on their chair. You can even include fictional characters. Tell stories about these people, focusing on what you admire about them, and how you hope their example can inspire you. Dress up like these people, or like others you admire.

3. Acts of Rejuvenation.

Winter is coming, literally and symbolically. Each of us faces challenges, some we anticipate, and some that may surprise us. As ancient people stored food for the winter, imagine things you can do to strengthen yourself. Do something that rejuvenates you – a long walk, quiet time with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, time with friends or time alone, dance, be silly, or do anything else that will allow you to pause in this difficult year, leaving you feeling rejuvenated and strengthened to take on whatever the upcoming year has in store.

I invite you to think of more possibilities, and welcome you to share your ideas. Wishing you a very joyous and meaningful Halloween!