Is Halloween dead?

When trick-or-treating is all the outrage

Welcome to At The End Of The Day. I’m Hannah Sung. I write this newsletter to add some perspective to the daily firehose of news.

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Is Halloween dead? More like the undead, amirite?

I don’t want to be the lady with a hot take on pandemic Halloween. But there’s a lot of outrage on the topic and it tapped into some of mine, too, but in an unexpected way.

Earlier this week, the day the Ontario government recommended people skip trick-or-treating in hot spots (which includes Toronto, where I live), I got an email from a well-meaning neighbour. She had written up a long plan for the children on our street to trick-or-treat safely. I wasn’t into it.

I have two kids, ages 6 and 9. Since March, I’ve been giving them my COVID-19 mantra for every upcoming special occasion: “We need to wait and see and stay flexible.” Halloween is no exception and my kids saw this as an opening to negotiate me into buying them all the candy they would receive if they went door to door. It felt good to just say, “Yes!” and plan a piñata and a family “scary” movie.

I thought the issue was done and dusted. Then I got the email from my neighbour and I imagined what this proposed Halloween might be like.

First of all, I pictured my kids crying with their mouths full of Halloween candy as soon as they spied kids on the street trick-or-treating. I’d be caught between my best-laid plans and instantaneous peer pressure — Should I change tacks and just let them go?

Then I thought about what it would look like out on my street. Toronto is a city where the average cost of a home keeps climbing, even during COVID-19, to where it currently sits at close to a million dollars. [1]

From our street, in both directions, I can see tall apartment towers, modest brick and cement but well-maintained, filled with families who don’t have the luxury of lawns.

Thinking about my neighbour’s plan, I pictured rich kids enjoying trick-or-treating in carefully planned groups, with select children from the towers coming along if they were lucky enough to get an invitation. Maybe the kids in towers have a super-organized residents’ committee who could set up trick-or-treating in the park? But let’s be real — many children would be excluded, and hear about it at school on Monday. 

Did the email from my neighbour include the families in the towers? I don’t know because recipients were bcc’ed. But I guess my real question is: Are my children special?

I’m sure that for many children, including my own, trick-or-treating outdoors could be organized to be low-risk. After all, doing activities outdoors is the way to go for everything — schooling, socializing safely, and sure, dressing up in fake blood and zombie gear.

But this is what Toronto’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said on CBC’s Metro Morning this week:

“I think we all have this image of Halloween as this outdoor, door-to-door activity but here in the city of Toronto, about 50% of us live in buildings that are five storeys or more. So in fact, trick-or-treating may not be quite as outdoor an activity as it may be in the picture books or movies that play in our mind.” [2]

You gotta feel for Dr. de Villa as she maintains her position that trick-or-treating is not recommended here. The above quote was in direct response to another doctor, Andrew Morris, who says trick-or-treating can be done safely outdoors (he put tips in his newsletter, to which I’m subscribed). [3]

I respect and have been following many experts, including Dr. Morris, for their guidance during the pandemic.

But when it comes to trick-or-treating, the only people I truly want to hear from are the kids from immigrant families who live in towers. They’re the ones for whom trick-or-treating and social distancing would be difficult. 

It’s all too rare to see media perspectives from the people who are most affected by COVID-19, but there are a few good examples, such as these stories by reporter (and friend of ATEOD) Dakshana Bascaramurty. She’s written, with the help of an interpreter, what families face trying to navigate crowded elevators in high-rises and how they can be a barrier to public school, and how challenging it is for social services for families in the northwestern corner of the city, where COVID-19 is spreading without a comprehensive test, trace and isolate response from the government. [4]

So here’s the thing. Letting go of trick-or-treating isn’t cancelling Halloween. There are many ways to make things fun for trick-or-treating aged kids. Here’s a viral Facebook post from a parent in Wisconsin:

I loved this public post from Jesse Brunette, a parent in Wisconsin.


I didn’t realize how much I identified with this idea of modelling growth mindset, which is a set of attitudes that encourage meeting challenges with relish, until I read this post. [5]

And yes, to be sure, I could have positioned this year’s Halloween as a real loss. 

Halloween on my street, in non-pandemic times, means a DJ pumping “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder with club speakers pointing out to the street (yes, I mom-dance on the sidewalk), a neighbour who sneakily hands out shots to parents, giant gaggles of children who come from all over to rove gleefully en masse, and a house that dazzles crowds with their display including a smoke machine and a fortune teller who tells children that their future is to “do well in school” in a very witchy, ominous tone.

This year there will be none of that. And you know what? Just writing it down for you made me really sad. But I honestly hadn’t thought about it much because I had already moved on to what our family would do differently this year.

I know a lot of parents are like, “GIVE CHILDREN THIS ONE THING!” But the only thing my children seem to want is the straightest path to a heap of candy. And I’m very happy to give it to them.

WHAT’S THE BIGGER PICTURE?

What’s worse than losing trick-or-treating is the ongoing, visible division of haves and have-nots, of COVID-safe and COVID-vulnerable, of neighbour versus neighbour as some kids go out to have fun and others stay at home, wishing they could be out there, too.

If trick-or-treating is a family thing, then let’s talk families. There are parents in neighbourhoods where COVID-19 positivity rates have climbed to a blistering 14%, taking crowded buses to work on the frontlines, caught between supervising virtual schooling at home, unsafe work conditions and facing eviction because there is no longer a moratorium on eviction. [6] [7] [8]

And while I believe in privileged people advocating for the rights of others, the right to candy isn’t really high on my own personal list. I’m going to save my furor for the opportunistic politicians who won’t waste a good crisis like COVID-19 to dismantle, by malice or ignorance or lack of planning, the one thing that should be a true equalizer for little children (psst, that thing is public education).

So when it comes to my question: Are my kids special? The answer is, Yes of course, they’re special — to me. And I want them to know that I am their most wild, rabid, lifetime cheerleader and I will embarrass them with my enthusiasm and adoration for them their whole damn lives. 

But they’re not special out there in the world. They’re privileged. And I know I can shepherd them around in a prescribed route to knock on doors for candy but it wouldn’t feel good. Not to me. Because in a strange way, trick-or-treating is like public health in that everyone has to be in it together for it to work. And without the masses of children who rove my street on Halloween like in previous years, I’m cool to sit this one out and have some fun at home.

I know, it’s weird — of all things, Halloween has become controversial but I’m here for it. Let me know your thoughts by hitting reply to this email.

Shout out to those who wrote me back with their pandemic distractions and kind words last week, including Angela and Marsha. And big cheers to Lili, Tori and Kate who are also fans, old and new, of my fave tea, Bengal Spice, or what my kids call “Tiger Tea” in our house.

If you like what you’re reading, hit the heart below and join me on Instagram.

Thank you and BOO! Happy Halloween.

Hannah

Edited by the effervescent Ishani Nath.

FURTHER READING:

[1] Toronto home prices soar 11 per cent on pent-up demand due to COVID-19, The Toronto Star

[2] Metro Morning, CBC Radio

[3] Andrew Morris, MD newsletter on trick-or-treating safely

[4] High-anxiety: In Toronto’s immigrant-rich apartment towers, elevators and density keep students at home, The Globe and Mail, Social-services organizations struggle to help Toronto neighbourhoods hit hard by coronavirus, The Globe and Mail

[5] The power of believing you can improve, Carol Dweck, TEDxNorrkoping

[6] Toronto neighbourhoods with the highest and lowest coronavirus positivity rate, Daily Hive — as Dr. de Villa says, please consider positivity rate in combination with other data including number of cases, case rates and testing rates

[7] 180 workers at a Toronto bakery contracted COVID-19. This has prompted calls for paid sick leave in Ontario, CTV

[8] Toronto neighbourhoods hit hardest by COVID-19 also have the steepest eviction filing rates, says new study, The Toronto Star

WHAT ELSE I’M THINKING ABOUT:

I want to get Halloween candy ticked off my list because I love my kids and want to take care of things at home, first. But these are the ongoing stories that are more consuming to me, as I try to learn more about what kind of world I want to live in:

#EndSARS:

The Nigerian Army Shot Dead at Least 12 Peaceful Protesters in Lagos, Rights Group Says. Here’s What to Know, TIME

A Crying Year, …the fuck is this? newsletter by Bim Adewunmi

1492 Land Back Lane:

1492 Land Back Lane: Cold Handcuffs And Hot Anger For The People Of Six Nations, Chatelaine

Conflict in Caledonia: A timeline of the Grand River land dispute, APTN

Mi’kmaq right to fish:

Mi’kmaq fisheries under attack: The story in Nova Scotia so far, and the treaty rights behind it, The Globe and Mail

'It Doesn’t Feel Good When People Hate You:' Indigenous Lobster Fishers Find Their Lives Upended, VICE

First Nations have their own legal authority to regulate their fishing rights, Policy Options

From our family of pumpkins to yours.