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What Halloween Could Look Like This Year

Is it possible to trick-or-treat during a pandemic? Here's which traditions may be altered or skipped this year—and which can go on as usual. And hey, the good news is that it’s the perfect time to wear a mask!

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pumpkin halloween covid sdominick/Getty Images

Is Halloween canceled?

As fall swiftly approaches, thoughts of pumpkin spice lattes, brightly colored foliage, and Halloween will be on everyone’s mind. The holiday will no doubt be a little different this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: Many town parades, festivals, and haunted house attractions have already been nixed. But that doesn’t mean that all festivities will get the ax. Many Halloween traditions are still safe, and others—possibly even trick-or-treating—could be adapted to our changing times. We can even take a cue from traditions from other holidays for new ways to keep Halloween fun and festive.

Of course, some activities will depend on transmission rates in your area in October, as well as local, state, and federal ordinances. “We have to get creative and find ways to keep that magic alive,” says Halloween expert Roxanne Rhoads, author of Haunted Flint and Pumpkins and Party Themes: 50 DIY Designs to Bring Your Halloween Extravaganza to Life. “We must keep the spookiness and fun going for the season even if we can’t go out and celebrate with others.” Here’s what a post-coronavirus life could look like—and how Halloween might play out this year.

HalloweenCapture The World/Getty Images

Elaborate decorations

Just like other home decorating trends that have exploded as people spend more time in their nests, expect to see major front-yard displays for Halloween. “I think people will definitely be going all-out with the Halloween decorations this year,” Rhoads says. “I’ve already heard that some people are planning elaborate yard displays since all the events and haunts have been canceled. This will help keep the Halloween spirit alive and will give people something to enjoy.”

Rhoads suggests letting your imagination fly and picking a theme to base your display around. Some suggestions? “Vampires, classic movie monsters, Victorian haunted house, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Edgar Allan Poe, zombies, [and] the standard Halloween with pumpkins, skeletons, and ghosts,” she says. “Your only limits are your creativity and budget.” You might want to start with these utterly creepy Halloween yard decorations.

House-decorating contests

As with festive lights during the winter holidays, families may take a drive through the neighborhood to check out the super spooky outdoor Halloween displays. We may even see the emergence of Halloween house-decorating contests. “Our area does this for Christmas, and the winner gets a sign in their yard and a prize pack full of goodies donated by local businesses,” Rhoads says. “The whole family can help decorate the yard and house for the Halloween contest. Neighbors can vote online. Perhaps work with your local Chamber of Commerce or Homeowner’s Association to set up something official and encourage local businesses to donate a few prizes. This gives the family a Halloween project to work on together, and the neighborhood something fun to do together while staying safely apart.”

African American mother and her son preparing for Halloween party at home.skynesher/Getty Images

Personal haunted houses

Parents will be looking to keep the kids pumped about the holiday, so we could see a lot of creative ways to get kids involved without the usual Halloween parties or get-togethers. This could mean the decorating isn’t just outside—we could see some interesting indoor DIY haunted houses as well. With parents’ help, kids can decorate the interior of their house for just their own family or social pod to enjoy—think spiderwebs, battery-powered candles, sheets draped over objects to look like ghosts, and glow-in-the-dark anything and everything. Kids could also host a virtual “haunted house” tour for friends or extended family, or record videos to create their own scary movie, then send to friends or post online for others to watch. Try these cheap DIY Halloween decorations for the spookiest holiday ever.

Halloween preparation at homesvetikd/Getty Images

Insta-worthy costumes

During “Quarantine-O-Ween” on March 31, people broke out their Halloween costumes just because and posted dress-up pics on social media. So, even if parties or parades are canceled for the real Halloween, costumes likely won’t be. Plus, those hesitant to take the risk of going to a store to get a costume, or who don’t want to spend a ton shopping online, may have their kids make their own for a fun, safe, and cheap homemade version. “Take a day and create costumes out of everyday items you find in the house,” Rhoads suggests. “Hats, boots, jewelry—ordinary things can be put together to create incredible costumes.” Artistic families can even challenge themselves by attempting some cool face painting. Then, post the results online, or “have digital costume parties with friends and family via Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, or another online platform,” Rhoads says. Check out these creative homemade Halloween costumes for kids basically anyone can DIY.

Fun with masks

The pandemic and Halloween have something in common: the need for masks. “You can combine the two by having fun Halloween-themed pandemic masks—I predict there will be many, many plague doctor masks this Halloween season,” Rhoads says. “Create papier-mâché plague doctor masks and decorate them with paint, glitter, jewels, feathers, scraps of fabric, or whatever other craft supplies you have around the house.” There will likely be a lot of ways to make safety a part of this year’s costumes. “It’s in our best interest to wear masks during this pandemic, so why not make them fun?” Rhoads says. “Get masks made with fun Halloween fabrics. Have a contest among friends and family, post pictures, and have people vote on their favorites.” Try these face masks with a sense of humor.

Family carving a Halloween PumpkinMarnie Griffiths/Getty Images

Pumpkin-carving competitions

Along with costume contests, there may be a slew of pumpkin competitions, either virtually or among household members. People may put the finished product on the front porch or in the window and have a neighborhood competition, too. After all, pumpkin carving is one Halloween tradition that can still happen during a pandemic. “One thing we have always done together as a family is carve pumpkins,” Rhoads says. “We have an annual family pumpkin-carving night, and sometimes things can get pretty competitive. By the end of the night, my kitchen is covered in pumpkin.”

For those too young to wield a knife or power tool, there are plenty of no-carve pumpkin decorating ideas to try. “If carving isn’t an option, pumpkins can be painted, covered in glitter, or accessorized with jewels and costume pieces,” Rhoads says. “You can even use fake craft pumpkins in place of real ones.”

Mother and son baking togetherLordn/Getty Images

COVID-proof, time-honored traditions

Along with pumpkin carving, many other at-home Halloween and fall-related activities can and will still be done. Expect a lot of fall baking with kids to create such treats as apple pies (really, anything apple), pumpkin bread, and Halloween cookies. Plus, “arts-and-crafts activities could still be done in the safety of your home with your family, such as making slime, creating spooky decorations, fun outdoor activities that would typically be played at a Halloween party or fall festival, and other classroom-type activities,” says Tedra Smith, DNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner and an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Alabama’s Birmingham School of Nursing. You can also challenge each other in a spooky family joke-telling contest with these Halloween jokes for kids.

Movie NightGeber86/Getty Images

Scary-movie nights

In the absence of Halloween nights out, families may instead choose to snuggle down for some good, old-fashioned scares and a bowl of popcorn. “Another one of my family Halloween traditions is watching Hocus Pocus together,” Rhoads says. She also suggests other family-friendly picks such as the Disney Halloweentown movies, The Addams Family, the Goosebumps movies, Frankenweenie, A Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman, Corpse Bride, or Monster House. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a good one for young teens if they’re not too easily scared,” she adds. Here are some more picks for the best kids’ Halloween movies.

Rhoads also suggests using to host a virtual Netflix watch party with friends. Or, “if you usually attend a Rocky Horror show, consider staging one at home,” she suggests. “Play The Rocky Horror Picture Show and dress up, sing, and dance just like you would if you went to the show.”

Rear view of women with children dressed for Halloween party walking on streetCavan Images/Getty Images

Parades or festivals

If COVID levels are low, some community Halloween activities may be able to go on as usual—but with precautions, of course. “Costume parades could safely be done outdoors where kids could maintain six feet of distance and families watching could maintain six feet distance, and of course with a face mask on,” Smith says. For festivals, “there would need to be limited capacity, frequent cleaning of high-touch areas, and a mask-required policy.” Preferably, all activities would be outside, which would allow for more social distancing. Floor markings to maintain six feet of distance would be a good idea for any lines or places people may be waiting.

If you were hoping to attend a spooktacular celebration at a theme park, you may be out of luck. Disney World announced in mid-June that it would be canceling its big fall bash, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and Universal Orlando followed suit a month later by canceling Halloween Horror Nights. Other theme parks around the country will likely be assessing (and reassessing) their plans in the next few weeks. Still thinking of heading to Orlando? Here are 12 things you need to know if you’re planning a Disney trip right now.

Socially distanced trick-or-treating

And now for the question on every kid’s mind: What about trick-or-treating? “I wouldn’t recommend the usual door-to-door trick-or-treating due to the inability to maintain six feet of distance and the high likelihood of touching frequently touched surfaces such as doorbells, doorknobs, and candy bowls,” Smith says. But that could leave a little room for creativity by creating a “contactless treat pickup,” where individual treats could be left on a table outside as a child approaches (the treat giver would have to keep an eye out), allowing social distance to be maintained. Trick-or-treaters who aren’t in the same household or social pod would also need to maintain distance from one another, and everyone (parents included) should wear a mask. Here’s why we pass out candy on Halloween in the first place.

Little halloween boy practicing scary facesImgorthand/Getty Images

Drive-by trick-or-treating

Another potential option for trick-or-treating could be done from the safety of a vehicle. “Trick-or-treat could be altered with drive-by instead of door-to-door,” Smith says. “This would be done via drive-by, contactless pickup, where adults with face masks on would place wrapped candy packets in the trunk of a car.” For extra protection, any treats gathered on Halloween could be isolated for a few days so that germs on packaging would die; parents could have a reserved bowl of treats at home to eat on the big night. Here’s how long Halloween candy is good for.


This popular trick-or-treating alternative, in which treats are given out of people’s decorated tailgates that are set up around a parking lot, is another option that may be able to be held—with precautions. “Depending on the status of the pandemic and current infection rate of your area in October, I think some places could safely set up trunk-or-treats with proper social distancing,” Rhoads says. “People giving out candy should all practice proper social distancing while encouraging the trick-or-treaters to do the same. Set up guidelines to keep everyone at least six feet apart.” All adults should also wear masks. “The pandemic kind, not the Halloween kind!” Rhoads adds. You may also want to opt for these non-candy Halloween treats kids actually love.

Boy in skeleton costume holding bowl full of candiesmediaphotos/Getty Images

“You’ve Been Booed”

If trick-or-treating and trunk-or-treating aren’t safe options come October, neighborhoods, school groups, and friends may look to other alternatives. Secret Santas could be adapted for Halloween so that every kid in the group gets the name of another child to give a Halloween goody bag to. Another option is “You’ve Been Booed,” also called “You’ve Been Ghosted.” Among your group, one person anonymously (and without knocking, ringing the doorbell, or touching anything else) leaves a gift bag on your doorstep with a printout that says “You’ve Been Booed.” Then you hang the sign in your window and give a gift bag to another neighbor who doesn’t yet have a sign until everyone’s been booed! Part of the fun is guessing who gave what to whom. For more new ideas, take a page from these Halloween customs and traditions around the world.

Cute Baby Boy inside Bear Costume Eating or Grabbing CandiesOnfokus/Getty Images

New traditions

As with “You’ve Been Booed,” families will likely be getting a little creative with new activities that can last for Halloweens to come, even after the pandemic is over. “This is the perfect opportunity for families to start new Halloween traditions if they don’t already have any in place,” Rhoads says. “Ghost stories around a bonfire, fireplace, [or fire pit] with s’mores—if no fire, try an indoor s’mores maker. There’s so much a family can do with just a little creativity.” Parents opting out of trick-or-treating might also take a cue from Easter egg hunts and hide candy around the house or yard for their kids to find. Halloween traditions have always evolved: Check out the chilling history of 14 Halloween traditions to find out how.

Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a regular contributor to’s Culture and Travel sections. She also writes about health and wellness, parenting, and pregnancy. Previously editor-in-chief of Twist magazine, Donvito has also written for Parade Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine online, among others. Here work was selected by author Elizabeth Gilbert to be included in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. She earned a BA in English and History from Rutgers University.