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Last fall, the COVID-19 pandemic had local towns in Southern Rhode Island searching for socially-distanced ways to celebrate Halloween. One novel approach was the North Kingstown Educational Foundation’s “Spook Out NK” event, which returns this year. Pictured above is a home on Rodman Lane in North Kingstown that participated in last year’s event.

Halloween is coming back this year in ways unseen a year ago and children are getting ready for the return of this spooky event.

Take eight-year-old Rowen Wright of South Kingstown. She’s ready to go with her glow sticks, costume and lots of energy that only those still enjoying this annual October treat can bring.

“Rowen and I are going around with a few of her friends right in town. Many houses had pre-wrapped goodies which make it covid friendly,” said her mother, Veronica Wright, about their plans to walk around where they live.

Officials around the tri-town area report that pre-pandemic activities are starting up again whether it’s door-to-door trick or treating or various get-togethers to visit pumpkin mazes or watch parades of witches, goblins and other “horribles” that intrigue and delight Halloween enthusiasts.

“This year is definitely seeing us return to a “new normal” in that more folks are definitely getting out in groups, but COVID is still with us and we need to be cognizant of that,” said James Tierney, Narragansett town manager and also a former South Kingstown police officer who spent many years on patrol during Halloween.

“We expect to see more children and their families out “trick or treating” this year,” he added.

That observation comes as the okay is given by various local and national public health officials. However, they do provide some caution with it.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in reported comments, “Is it safe to go trick-or-treating? Absolutely,” said Jha. “Halloween may not be 100% normal, but let’s say, very, very, very close to normal.”

It came, though, with a caveat. He said that trick-or-treaters should wear masks if they enter a home to get their candy.

“Especially with young kids, I wouldn’t do a house party,” he added.

Events Post-Pandemic

The Horribles Parade is back in Wicked Wickford Village. Kids of all ages are invited to march in the annual parade which begins at noon at the town lot at the end of Main Street; and ends at Anchor Park by the docks on Brown Street on Saturday Oct. 30 (rain date Sunday, Oct. 31).

The Wickford Merchants Association is collaborating with some very special guests, “The Witches of Wickford” will be dancing down the street to a choreographed witch’s dance – like a flash mob.

Circus Dynamics will perform and the tradition of trick-or-treating throughout the village after the parade will also once again resume. The Wickford Village Association will also present Wickford Wicked Week.

“The village merchants have put together a frightfully fun week of events for all you ghouls and goblins out there! We’re so excited to invite our community back to our festive “Happy Place” for good times & gatherings,” the association said in an announcement.

In South Kingstown, various events have re-emerged and some have also continued again this year, such as the South Kingstown fire, police and emergency services community outreach effort called “Trunk or Treat” this past Saturday.

They teamed up to help make the holiday brighter for those in the community, especially those who may not go door-to-door and they wanted to show that emergency services workers enjoy Halloween, Police Chief Joel Ewing-Chow has told The Independent.

In helped to organized what is called a “Trunk and Treat.” Parents drove through the parking lot of the South Kingstown Senior Center where candy was available for children in socially distanced and safe ways.

These public safety professionals have 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.

Trunk or Treat helps to eliminate some of those concerns for children to enjoy the day but without traveling on streets or rural roads.

Ewing-Chow said last year — with this year’s event confirming his plans — that the effort becomes rooted in town traditions in the years to come.

The Wakefield Mall also plans to have candy to be given out by the various businesses inside the mall this coming weekend.

In Narragansett, Tierney said, the had a Pumpkin Festival already at Sunset Farm and was attended by approximately 200 people.

The Maury Loontjens Memorial Library sponsored its annual Halloween Costume Parade last Saturday and “The kids love it,” he said about the return of this event that is a favorite in the community among young children.

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 November 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.

Upbeat National Expectations

Last year consumers adjusted many of their typical Halloween plans due to the pandemic —avoiding parties or large gatherings, skipping the trick-or-treating or simply choosing not to celebrate at all, according to the National Retail Federation of stores and businesses.

“While delta and other variants remain a concern, vaccines and other measures have made consumers feel more comfortable resuming many of their pre-pandemic activities, including celebrating Halloween. This year, two-thirds (65%) of consumers plan to celebrate one of America’s favorite holidays, up from 58 percent in 2020,” it said.

The RRF said the increase in people interest to do more this year means consumers plan to spend an average of $102.74, marking the first time the amount has hit triple digits, it said.

NRF’s research team took a closer look at the data and identified three trends that are galvanizing consumers’ Halloween shopping and celebration plans this year.

It’s not just for kids. While Halloween is still dominated by the trick-or-treat crowd, those without children are planning to embrace the holiday this year as well: 55 percent of households without children plan to celebrate, up from 49 percent in 2020. And spending on categories such as adult costumes is back to pre-pandemic levels.

The best haunted house might be in your neighborhood. Though traditional Halloween activities like handing out candy or dressing up remain some of the most popular ways to celebrate, over half of consumers are also interested in decorating for Halloween this year.

Similar to last year, 52 percent of those celebrating Halloween plan to decorate their home or yard.

Spooky September is here to stay. Regardless of how consumers choose to celebrate, many are getting a head start on the holiday. According to Think with Google, consumers in September were already searching Halloween-related topics such as group costume ideas and how many days they have until Halloween.

NRF’s data shows that as of early September, over two-thirds of adults planning to dress up had already decided on their costume nearly a month or so earlier.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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