It should have been the perfect Halloween.
Early in the now infamous year of 2020, we were all looking forward to a Halloween that falls on a Saturday.
Especially after the wintry “horrors” of 2019’s Halloween — when three inches of snow fell and temperatures sat in the low 30s — we hoped 2020 would bring sweet trick-or-treat redemption.
However, with restrictions and fear over the COVID-19 pandemic still prevalent, Halloween won’t happen as we hoped. Instead, the holiday presents another challenge to alter, accommodate and entertain new ideas for how to celebrate safely.
Shortly after the Chronicle posted a poll on its website asking readers their opinion about the possible safety of Halloween activities, on Sept. 21 the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued parameters for responsible ways to celebrate the day.
Among its directives, the CDC cautions against traditional trick-or-treating, due to concerns that the practice could promote transmission of the coronavirus. Instead, the CDC suggested people exchange treats from a safe distance, while wearing cloth masks for protection.
The villages of Homewood and Flossmoor followed the CDC’s lead, recommending residents either exercise significant caution while trick-or-treating or find alternative activities.
Park district puts Halloween on the path
In mid-August, staff members with the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District started discussing a conscientious Halloween event, according to park district staffer Caryn Becker. They came up with the Trick-or-Treat Trail, a progressive candy collection around the path at Millennium Park.
“We’re trying to offer something to the community that everyone feels safe attending,” said Becker, who is a member of the event planning committee. “Not everyone is going to feel comfortable walking up to strangers’ houses for trick-or-treating this year.”
Along with staff members from the villages, H-F Park District put together the Trick-or-Treat Trail fairly quickly by programming standards, Becker said.
The trail allows kids and their parents to pick up goodies along a physically distanced path. Participants, who signed up for a time slot, will walk with their small groups to treat tables spaced at least 30 feet apart.
Though all spots for the free event are taken, Becker said 300 families were able to register for a time slot in the Trick-or-Treat Trail. Those who registered will receive an email reminding them of their time and telling them about the health guidelines.
“We’re going to ask everyone to do a wellness check before they leave the house, and in the email, we’ll explain the standard wellness check,” Becker said.
Vendors and volunteers will also have a wellness check, she said. All participants must wear a cloth mask over their mouth and nose the entire time they’re at the event, as well. Costume masks — no matter how cool they might look — don’t count.
As they check in, trick-or-treaters will get loot bags courtesy of event sponsor Specialized Staffing Solutions, Becker said. Vendors will place treats on tables for trick-or-treaters to grab and put in their bags, avoiding the need for person-to-person physical contact.
To line the trail with spooky stuff, the park district put out a call for donations of Halloween decorations. Becker said they have inflatables and “some cool surprises” waiting for trick-or-treaters at the trail. It's a family-friendly event intended for small groups.
“We’re asking that once you’re done, people go to their cars and leave,” Becker said. “That will help with flow of traffic in and out of the event. The playground will be closed to discourage people from congregating there.”
Local businesses and organizations have contributed support for the event, which Becker said is an equal collaboration between the park district and the villages. Homewood police will be on-hand to direct traffic, and visitors will see volunteers from all over H-F.
“It has definitely been a team effort between the three organizations, and a great opportunity to come together as a team and create something cool for everyone in the area,” Becker said. “That's why we chose Millennium Park as the location; it backs up to both communities.”
Planning for a sweet and safe holiday
Other activities are planned around the Halloween holiday, some put on by local organizations and others coordinated by neighborhood groups.
On Friday, Oct. 30, kids can search for play pumpkins hidden in the woods around Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center at its Flashlight Pumpkin Hunt. They’ll exchange their found “pumpkin” for a real one, along with a decorating kit.
The Village of Homewood is sponsoring a Halloween home decorating contest. Haunted Homewood encourages residents to enter their home in the competition by Oct. 26 for a chance to win an Aurelio’s gift card and a sign for their lawn.
A few days later, a group of judges will walk around to decide which home’s decorations are scariest, which has the best special effects, and which is cheery enough to get the child-friendly award.
In the Flossmoor Park neighborhood, Annie Calderon and Maggie Krol Rude act as co-captains for their block, organizing the email chain and block parties. This year they came together to create a Trick-or-Treat Trail of their own, a route that includes eight candy stops, Calderon said.
“Our neighborhood is truly amazing,” Calderon said. “Throughout this whole thing, we’ve all been trying to figure out how to band together in ways that are safe and appropriate. We haven’t been able to do the block parties or gatherings we would normally do.
“So when Halloween rolled around, we started to talk about how we could make it special, but still really safe, and respect people’s boundaries. We figured out a plan that encompassed all those ideas.”
As the predetermined route brings trick-or-treaters through the neighborhood, residents can volunteer their house as a treat stop and offer up physically distanced goodies. Meanwhile, others can simply come outside to watch the Halloween parade, if that better suits their comfort level, Calderon said.
Neighbors serving as treat stops are encouraged to decorate their homes, and houses will be decked out along the way. Calderon said she and her husband, Fidel, love Halloween and their house will be especially impressive, with a fog machine and scary storyboard.
“Last year we did the same kind of thing, but this year we really built on it and added a lot more,” she said. “It’s our total joy to watch people walk by and read the story to their kids, and get a little scared.”