Commentary By: Dean P. Johnson
Many years ago, back when it was my time to slosh through fallen leaves in the night, moving from house to house as quickly and efficiently as possible, and complaining about people who handed out apples, fear was walking up to Mr. Small’s porch.
Every Halloween, Mr. Small, who lived over on the next block, always set up his front porch to resemble a nightmarish cemetery and haunted house. There was a maze of tombstones that speckled the front lawn, huge spider webs over shrubs and lawn furniture, a strobe light flashed so quickly that my own movements seemed spasmodic. On the porch were skeletons that glowed an eerie green in a spot of black light; there was a large coffin with something moving inside, bats hanging from the ceiling of the porch seemed to be diving at my head. Over it all was the sounds of doors creaking, dogs barking, wind howling. All around the yard and porch were creatures of every size.
We kids always knew that the creatures were just old clothes stuffed with newspaper. We also knew that one of them was Mr. Small, but the problem was, we never knew which one until he jumped out at us with a banshee’s scream. It was worth the scare, though. Mr. Small gave out full sized chocolate bars.
Back when I ate ninety percent of my candy within a twenty-four hour period leaving Mary Janes and Peanut Chews until Christmas, my parents insisted on examining my candy before I could devour it. I’d spread my candy out on the kitchen table like fish from a net on the deck of a ship. Mom and Dad would sift through the pile, Dad picking up a good Milky Way. They showed most concern toward the stray apples, caramel popcorn balls, anything that looked homemade, which was fine with me because I had no intention of eating them anyway.
Their fear, of course, was that someone may have tampered with the goodies. That fear is so widespread and common that in some towns hospitals offer to x-ray candy for free.
This year, many have the fear of what cannot be seen.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many warnings regarding the safety of Trick-or-Treating this Halloween. The CDC has issued guidance on Halloween activities suggesting that high risk activities such as “participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door” and “having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.”
While we all need to be mindful to protect ourselves and our neighbors from the spread of COVID-19, we also need to understand that the loss of a holiday can amplify the feelings of isolation, anxiety, helplessness, and depression that are already being experienced because of the pandemic.
I recall the Halloween that immediately followed 9/11. People were cautioned about the possibiltiy of terrorism during trick-or-treating. In fact, some government officials encouraged parents to keep their children home altogether.
I took my kids trick-or-treating that year, but it wasn’t exactly just like the year before. Our route was a bit smaller, the radius to our home was a little tighter. We might not have gotten as much candy as I did back when I was the little goblin, but it really shouldn’t be about how much candy as it should be about dressing up, being excited, and having fun.
Parents need to be diligent to protect their children, and that includes protecting them from fear. I’ll safeguard my children on Halloween night like I always have because the same dangers that lurked before — product tampering, child molestation, kidnapping — still lurk today. I will also be mindful of new dangers by taking reasonable and necessary precautions — social distancing, mask wearing, glove wearing — while making our route a little smaller, the radius to our home a little tighter.
We must not let fear keep us from being who we are. Cautious, yes; fearful, no. Canceling Halloween altogether is not protection; it is surrender.
Have fun this Halloween, while taking health officials up on their suggestions. If you are going out trick-or-treating, keep six feet from others as you approach porches, wait six feet away off the porch for those ahead of you to leave, wear your mask that covers both nose and mouth, do not reach into a bag of candy because it will potentially spread your germs to others, let the homeowner place the candy in your bag, and when you get home, wash your hands then set the candy aside for 24 hours before eating.
If you are staying home handing out candy, officials advise you to wear a mask that covers both nose and mouth, use gloves when handling candy, place a distribution table between yourself and where children will walk up to your door, put small bags of candy or treats spaced out on a disinfected table so children only touch the candy they take for themselves, set up markers six feet apart leading to your door to remind trick-or-treaters to remain socially distant by using cones or making tape or other on your driveway or sidewalk.
Of course, if you feel ill in any way or have a fever, stay home and shut off your porch light.
If we all do our part to make things a little safer for each other, the only thing to fear on Halloween is fear of walking up Mr. Small’s porch or getting an apple. I mean, really. An apple for trick-or-treaters? What are people thinking?
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