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Kevin McKiernan, of South Kingstown and his daughter, Charlotte, 9, are pictured with their zip line, which they designed to send candy to trick-or-treaters from a safe distance.

Creepy Covid-19 isn’t scaring away all trick or treat festivities this year, but it has put a fright into holding some of them in local towns.

Spooky yard displays, creative contests and socially-distanced candy give-aways are keeping local holiday traditions alive. Yet, this real virus monster has killed off some costume parades and door-to-door visits relished alike by candy seekers and those normally handing it out.

“I am sick of wearing the mask and sticking to the same little pod I’ve been in, but we have to keep the people safe around us,” said Robin Albuquerque, president of the North Kingstown Educational Foundation, also a mother who plans a low-key trick-or-treat experience for her two young children this year.

She echoed the sentiments of many parents among those fighting pandemic fatigue while also finding safe ways to engage in some Halloween tricks, treats, sights and sounds.

These and similar sentiments by local residents – among the estimated 58% of Americans expected to mark the holiday – focus on safety, though that meaning differs among them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised people to avoid indoor gatherings and traditional parties – for children and adults – with costumes and food. The caution even extended to the old favorite of indoor haunted houses.

With these warnings come a rise in Covid cases both nationally and locally. However, parents still want to honor that time-favored celebration of giving out candy and having their kids dress up.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a review of approaches across the county, people are making gadgetry that delivers candy from 6 feet away, setting up backyard candy hunts and organizing virtual costume parades.

And it’s no different in North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Narragansett.

Officials in those towns all said that some activities done in the past are still happening that have had socially-distant components, including the Narragansett Pier contest for uniquely decorated scarecrows.

Other events, such as the Horrible Parade of costumed children through Wickford Village in North Kingstown as well as Pumpkins in the Park, have been canceled due to recommended restrictions on close contact, said Julie Beebe, past president of the Wickford Village Association.

New ones, though, are also cropping up as creative inventions to combat Covid.

These include the South Kingstown police, fire and emergency medical services’ “Trunk or Treat” for safely giving out candy and the North Kingstown Education Foundation’s “Spook Out” setting up neighborhood contests for drive throughs to see Halloween decorations and vote on the best of them.

And there also are parents, believing that the traditional trick or treat should happen at night, are OK with their children going door-to-door. Some dismissed Governor Raimondo’s suggestion for doing the door knocking and candy collecting during the daylight hours.

“I want kids out kids trick or treating. This year sucks for all of us. Go get the candy,” exclaimed Kevin McKiernan of South Kingstown. He even built, with daughter Charlotte, 9, a 50-foot zip line featuring a witch that delivers candy in a basket to trick or treaters.

“I didn’t realize Covid was afraid of the dark,” he said with a tinge of sarcasm and noting the potential for disease spread was the same whether night or day.

 

A History of Twists and Turns

This holiday has always had an eerie sense of twists and turns to it. Halloween’s origins are in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.

According to the History Channel website, this day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death.

Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of Oct. 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

The Christian religion and custom eventually intersected with this celebration over time and it was renamed after Nov. 2 took a religious meaning called “All Souls Day” to honor the dead. The Oct. 31 celebration then began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

American colonial Halloween festivities, according to the History Channel, also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the 19th century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally, according to these researchers of history.

 

Customs and Traditions

Locally, Halloween has brought many customs and traditions, such “Scarecrows in the Pier” event started in 2013 and a popular family event, according to Steve Wright, director of Narragansett Parks and Recreation.

“Over the past eight years we have had great local participation with one year as high as 78 scarecrows. This year, 2020, we have 52 scarecrows constructed and displayed by families and organizations at Gazebo Park,” he said this week.

In past years, each family and organization would build and display the scarecrows at the park during the day of the event.

Due to COVID-19, however, the town asked families to build their scarecrows at home and install them Oct. 17 between noon and 4 p.m. in socially distanced ways along the green lawn by the gazebo bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

They were judged in three categories - scary, traditional and unique with first, second and third place in each of the categories.

For the many children preparing them, it was a break from new routines brought on by Covid-19 changes and an opportunity to return to something that seemed normal, even with the social distancing.

Juliana Oliva, 11, created Oscar the Grouch and won first place in the unique category. “I wanted to do something with my family that would put a smile on everyone’s face. Who doesn’t love Oscar the Grouch?,” she said.

Jessica DeRemer of Narragansett has participated every year with her son, John, 14, and this year was joined by 12-year-old friend Gavin Jones.  

She described her thoughts for putting a smiling scarecrow with braids, the peace symbol on its shirt and 1960s-era flowers imprinted on its pants.

“Our scarecrow is meant to convey a feeling of peace, love and happiness! It was a true team effort and we had so much fun making it! It was great to keep the tradition alive even during the pandemic,” she said.  

In South Kingstown, the police, fire and emergency medical services have teamed up to help make the holiday brighter for those in the community, especially those not going door-to-door, and they wanted to show that emergency services workers enjoy Halloween, too, explained said Police Chief Joel Ewing-Chow.

Police Officer Bryan Monte and Lt. Francesco Capaldi Jr, of the emergency medical services, helped to organized what is called a “Trunk and Treat.” Parents will drive through the public safety complex that will have stations at which candy will be available for children in socially distanced and safe ways.

“Our goal was to provide a safe Covid-friendly environment for children to still get the trick or treating experience. This year has been difficult for everyone and our South Kingstown first responders wanted to do something to give back to our community,” said Monte.

These public safety professionals noted that Halloween, though good intended, also can be a dangerous night with children walking the streets, walking between cars and possibly being on unlit or poorly lit streets.

“This event is a great way,” said Capaldi, “to safely use the social distancing practices, and give back, offer some candy, spread happiness.”

He added, “We are a community of people helping people (and) this pandemic is serious, and not the norm. Keeping the community together while practicing Covid-19 restrictions shows how we care about the safety of the community.”

They are hoping that kind of effort becomes rooted in town traditions in the years to come, said Chief Ewing-Chow.

In North Kingstown, Robin Albuquerque said that she hopes her newly formed North Kingstown Educational Foundation will cement its “Spook Out” — offered this year for the first time —as a town custom that recurs each year.

The three-night event running from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31 already has 55 participants registering their homes for displaying lights and other Halloween-themed displays for people to safety view from their cars.

Albuquerque said she is trying to get about 100 people to sign up before the kick-off. The fee for registering is $10, which will benefit the foundation. The contest will involve people eventually voting for the best-decorated home and the owner will receive a $50 gift card to use at town businesses.

“We’re going to put a map on our website (nkefoundation.org) that will show the streets and approximate locations for each of the houses. It will be online so people can have a map on their phone while they drive around,” she said.

She cautioned, though, that drivers should have the phone in a holder or have a passenger have it to avoid driving while distracted.

“When Raimondo said Halloween would be iffy this year, we tried to come up with a way for families have fun,” she said.

Bill Seymour is a freelance writer covering news and personality feature stories in Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. He can be reached at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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