The lengths to which Schneider has gone to save Halloween amid a global health crisis might seem extreme. But to Zoey, Halloween is about more than candy or costumes or even the faux cobweb stretched across their front lawn. It is about the unfettered joy of being 9. And that is what Schneider, like parents across the country, has spent weeks trying to safely salvage.
“I just wanted to hang with my friends and go trick-or-treating and eat some candy on the walk home,” Zoey said.
Halloween marks the beginning of a holiday season that will require sacrifice as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. Families will face painful decisions between what is safe and what is joyful. Gatherings around turkeys and Christmas trees and menorahs will be smaller, if possible at all. And Halloween, for many children across the country, will come with a host of new rules and regulations.
In the District, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has discouraged traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating or parking lot trunk-or-treats, warning residents in a news conference Monday to “make sure that what should be a fun holiday gathering doesn’t turn into a tragedy for your family.”
Other jurisdictions have urged similar caution, with the Virginia Department of Health recommending that children avoid trick-or-treating in large groups or outside their own neighborhoods. Official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention marked traditional celebrations such as trick-or-treating and haunted houses as high risk for potential coronavirus exposure.
Restrained by the pandemic and desperate for festivity, people in D.C. and beyond are getting creative. Erin Palmer, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative in Northwest Washington, is famous for throwing an annual Halloween bash with trick coffins, life-size skeletons and an outdoor fire pit billowing fake green smoke. This year, she is turning her party virtual with Zoom bingo, magicians in breakout rooms, scavenger hunts and craft projects that she has mailed out to neighborhood kids in advance.
Ashley Nguyen, who lives in Arlington with her 6- and 9-year-old daughters, is organizing a small scavenger hunt with a handful of neighborhood families. Inspired by ideas gleaned from Pinterest, she plans to tape candy to skewers spread throughout lawns as part of the hunt.
“They have missed all of the birthday parties this year, and we probably won’t be with our extended family for Christmas or Thanksgiving, so I want to keep as much as I can normal,” she said. “I want this to help them remember that it wasn’t all bad in 2020.”
At Joseph’s House, a D.C. facility for those with advanced HIV and terminal cancer, a team has spent months curating a socially distanced party plan to replace the popular street gathering on Lanier Place. Instead of face painting, attendees will paint designs on fabric masks. And in lieu of door-to-door trick-or-treating, Joseph’s House will have its own candy chute, an increasingly popular idea to use a tube to transport candy from homeowner to trick-or-treater.
“We continue to need art and connection and laughter, so we have an imperative to try to think safely about it,” said Liz Fehrenbach, program director at Joseph’s House.
Then there are parents like Schneider, who have mobilized entire communities to create space for childhood magic on All Hallows’ Eve.
On Sept. 28, from his makeshift kitchen office, he posted an invitation for community members to RSVP for a socially distant Halloween parade.
He thought he would get a couple dozen responses. But within days, more than 300 RSVPs had poured in. By the last Monday in October, the number had climbed well past 400.
“At first I was like, ‘Wow this is awesome,’ ” he said. “Then I realized it’s a problem, and I knew I had to err on the side of what is safe, not what is fun. ”
But Schneider was determined to marry safety and joy as best as he could amid a pandemic, inspiring what became weeks of intense preparation for the event. He sought permits from the mayor’s office, extended the initial parade time slot and divided it into five separate shifts. He walked the parade loop five times to ensure he understood its spatial limitations. Neighborhood residents have chipped in more than $600 for candy.
By Wednesday, Schneider felt confident that he and a handful of local volunteers could administer a festive, spooky and socially distanced parade to save Halloween.
He and his wife will go as Superman and Superwoman. And Zoey? Supergirl.