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As we approach Halloween under the shadow of COVID-19, many of us are thinking, “Now what?” Many of the best things about Halloween involved close contact with other people and not only those who’d naturally be part of our household or bubble. It is hard to know what exactly we should be doing to celebrate what is often one of the most fun times of the year for both children and adults alike.
One thing is for sure: breaking any rules regarding gatherings is not a good idea, and as disappointing as this all is, the governmental guidelines are there for good reason - to keep you and everyone else safe. It is still possible to have fun with Halloween, we just have to find ways to do it safely.
If trick or treating is allowed in your community, be sure to maintain social distancing at all times and if not possible wear a mask. You may still have some reservations about letting your kids take candy from strangers considering that it wasn’t that long ago we were being advised to sanitize grocery packaging before letting it into our kitchens. Current advice from the World Health Organization says that COVID-19 cannot survive on food packaging but advises washing hands after handling packaged foods and before eating. You can of course still sanitize treats before letting kids handle them if it helps you feel more comfortable about the whole situation.
You might be stressing out big time over how to break it to your children that some Halloween activities won't be happening this year. Certain events may have been cancelled or you may have decided that the traditional door-to-door trick or treating will have to wait until next year under the circumstances. In a year with so many disappointments due to COVID-19, this can feel like too much to bear.
Toronto psychologist Nicole McCance has four-year-old twins who already have their matching Pikachu costumes picked out, and are excited to wear them. McCance figured that they’d be hugely disappointed when she said there’d be no trick or treating this year. “But the way that I told them all they heard was we're still getting candy, and we're still wearing our favourite costume, that's what matters. So they were much less disappointed than I anticipated,” she says.
The best way to break bad news to kids is to use a sandwich approach, McCance advises. “Start by telling them that they're going to get creative and think up fun things to do for Halloween, for example, “Why don't we hide the candy around the house and dress up in our costumes and have a Halloween hunt?” and then deliver the disappointing news. “However, this means we won't be trick or treating the traditional way this year,” McCance says, “Then follow up with another positive. “And guess what? Last year was cold and rainy, so we get to avoid that, right?” So they're gonna be happy, then a little bit sad. But end up happy again.”
Before talking with your kids, McCance advises checking in with your energy and emotions about the issue so that you don’t pass your stress on to them. “If you're stressed delivering certain messages or around certain topics, they pick up on that. And subconsciously, they think, Oh, this is stressful, right?” she says. “This whole COVID situation has been incredibly stressful for everyone, so be sure to pay attention to self-care, making sure you're sleeping, cuddling with your partner. All those things that are going to calm your nervous system and it's going to have a positive effect on your kids.”
As much as traditional endeavours may be off-the-table, it is still completely possible to have a great Halloween with your kids. “We can be creative with this, and I’m going all momma bear with my kids because it looks like COVID is winning right now but it's not gonna win in the long game, and I am gonna suck all the juice out of Halloween for my kids because COVID doesn't get to win,” says McCance.
Halloween candy hunts are a fun idea, and with a little planning and imagination, there are fun activities you participate in. Socially distanced visits to grandparents to show off costumes (they can even leave candy in bowls ready to be picked up), or drive-bys of neighbourhoods with cool decorations are a good way to enjoy some traditional aspects of Halloween.
For older children, make it a spooky movie night with decorations and a fort in the living room, and plenty of everyone’s favourite Halloween treats to share. Tell ghost stories, turn off the lights and play flashlight tag or other favourite family games. Best of all, ask your children for suggestions and let them inspire you with their awesome ideas.
Grown-up Halloween celebrations need to be low key this year, but there are still ways to party with your friends. Of course, it isn’t the same, but you can hold virtual meet-ups to show off your costumes and share a few spooky snacks and beverages. You can Zoom or Facetime it, but there are also apps like the hugely popular Houseparty that make connecting with friends easy (and even have built-in games that you can all play together).
You could also use an app like Netflix Party or Metastream to watch scary movies simultaneously with friends and chat together online. Hold tight to the knowledge that epic Halloween parties will return, we just have to be safe for now.
Participation in Halloween is not mandatory, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything at all if you just aren’t feeling it. McCance says that whether or not you still want to go ahead with a modified version of Halloween is a matter of personal preference. “I've had some clients saying we're going to do all the things we still love about Halloween - pumpkins, decorations - and we're still going to feel that closeness with this tradition. Other clients are saying if it's cancelled, I don't even want to see pumpkins as it makes me sad,” McCance says, “If opting out of Halloween this year takes off some pressure at this crazy time, do it. We’re all dealing with so much right now, you don’t need to add to it if you just aren’t feeling it.”
Parents might not feel like this is an option, but if you check in with your kids, especially older kids, you might find that they don’t care either way about celebrating. “We love to put our views and memories on our kids and assume that they feel how we did about Halloween when we were that age, but they might not feel that way at all,” McCance says. “Check in with them, they might be just as happy to opt out of the whole thing.”
What’s key is that you get what you need out of celebrating Halloween. Perhaps your best option is to make it completely stress-free and just watch your favourite scary movie and home alone or with the people that you live with. Buy your favourite Halloween treats and enjoy, or upgrade and get some fancy chocolates. The choice is yours, these are very different times and the goal is to enjoy yourself, whatever that looks like.