We’ve pulled off Covid-safe birthday celebrations, orchestrated pared-down weddings and replaced close-contact dinner parties with zero-contact Zoom chats already this year. So we’re getting pretty darn good at pandemic-appropriate fun.
This weekend, however, we face the conundrum of how to mark Halloween without picking up (or passing on) something more sinister than sweets. This, remember, is an event designed to bring children, panting with excitement, into close proximity with multiple members of their community. One of its key activities involves plunging sticky hands into buckets, baskets and bags where many other sticky hands have plunged before. Apple bobbing is also an idea that hasn’t aged well.
Were it not for the fact that it also incorporated mask-wearing long before that became fashionable, you might call Halloween a Covid nightmare waiting to happen. Nevertheless, Downing Street gave trick or treating the nod in Tier 1 and 2 areas – as long as you observe social distancing and the Rule of Six outdoors.
So, Halloween is still on for most, it just requires a little rethinking. Here’s how to celebrate safely:
If you’ve decided to accept trick or treaters, why not pop a handful of sweets in little paper bags for small hands to grab, in order to avoid any unsanitary delving? If you’re extra risk-averse, you could get ahead by leaving them to quarantine in your porch for 72 hours, before Saturday. If you’re shielding, consider passing the basket of goodies through your front window to minimise contact – perhaps on the end of a “witch’s” broom? – or hang them from trees or bushes in the front garden for children to find and collect.
If you’re braving trick or treating yourself, you could always have your kids wear gloves and give the sweet wrappers a wipe down when they get home (though you’d be forgiven for feeling that Dettol-ing individual Quality Street is not the best way of spending an evening). Or hide them around the garden and set your children a spooky treasure hunt to find them. If your garden can be accessed from the street, you could invite your friends’ children to come and hunt, too (just not all at once).
Window decoration trails
If you haven’t already, perhaps now is the time to jump on your school or street WhatsApp group and encourage everyone to produce a scary window display. An entry-level version could involve draping some decorations in your living room window (pumpkin lanterns, paper spiders, ghosts made from sheets), then taking your children (or just yourself) for a walk around the neighbourhood to marvel at the efforts of others.
For next-level organising, you could produce a checklist for your children to complete on their walkabout. Get them to look out for a zombie, a cobweb, a werewolf, and so on, and tick each thing off when they spot them.
Pumpkin carving competition
There’s no activity that isn’t made more enjoyable by introducing a competitive element. Get a friends and neighbours to submit a photo of their efforts for judging, or place them outside their front doors, and your children can vote for the best. You could even devise a rating system, from “good effort” to “Oh my gourd”.
Read more: How to grow and carve pumpkins
Fancy dress competition
Fortunately, dressing up is one element of Halloween that can continue unabated during the pandemic. If you’re joining in the fun yourself, you may want to consider a specific 2020-themed costume. Ideas to consider include: Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer; Donald Trump in a face mask (don’t forget the orange face paint for this one); Joe Exotic, the Tiger King; and Dominic Cummings (dig out your shabbiest clothes, a scarf, a lanyard and a sign for Barnard Castle and you’re most of the way there).
You could even organise a local Halloween costume parade, if you have the energy, and encourage spectators to join in with an 8pm “clap for scarers”.
Make your own toffee apples
There are plenty of recipes online and children can help decorate them with chocolate sprinkles, nuts or hundreds and thousands. It’s also a good deal more sanitary than apple bobbing, which is really only something you should do with your bubble this year.
If you really feel you’re going to miss this particular game, why not set up “apple fishing” in your front garden? All you need is a paddling pool and a child’s fishing net. Or, if you want to go all out, attach a magnet to the end of a fishing rod, spear the apples with metal paper clips and have the kids go to town.
This can be done over coals on a barbecue if you don’t want to go to the trouble of building a fire (Let's not burn ourselves out before Bonfire Night).
Throw a Hogwarts-style Halloween feast
Decorate your dining area appropriately, then serve up a mini-banquet of Halloween comestibles: get creative with strips of red pepper to make scary-faced pizzas; bake a pumpkin pie if you’re that way inclined; if not, you can buy in or decorate your own Halloween-themed cupcakes. Serve it all up with a garish-coloured fruit punch complete with floating lychee “eyeballs”.
To make it more Hogwarts, the Harry Potter fans in your house can dress as their favourite character from the books.
Pick your own pumpkin
Start the fun early by visiting a local farm offering pumpkin picking: a wholesome and, more importantly, outdoor activity that’s as safe as any can be in Covid times.
Go bat watching
This will be more fruitful if you first make your garden bat-friendly. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends increasing the food supply – compost heaps and ponds both generate the type of insects bats like – and providing shelter, for example by placing a bat box on a tree trunk or wall.
Create an indoor Halloween trail
If the weather is rotten, you can take the fun indoors by creating a treasure trail around the house with clues and Halloween treats along the way. Like an Easter egg hunt, but with fewer eggs and more chocolate eyeballs. The prize at the end could be anything from a Horrible Histories book (educational) to a hollowed-out pumpkin full of sweets (less so).
Have a Halloween film night
For a low-effort celebration, close the curtains, light some candles and curl up on the sofa with popcorn and a scary movie.
Tell ghost stories
Hang up a sheet to create a kind of indoor tent, turn out all lights except for a torch, and take turns to read or tell spooky tales.
Throw a Halloween disco
If you’re in the garden, you could invite a couple of friends to join in. If not, there’s no reason why you can’t have a dance in your own sitting room, just like they did in the olden days. Halloween playlists could include the themes from Ghostbusters and The Addams Family or Zombie by The Cranberries. Your children will be too young for all of the above, but this isn’t just about them.