November 09, 2020

Neighborhood Culture and Halloween in the COVID-19 Era

Jpi author photoBy Janis Prince Innis

Four teenage girls flew across the street, screaming! They leapt into the golf cart at the side of the road as one kept glancing over her shoulder and yelling, “Go! Go!”

I followed her gaze and saw an epically tall man come down the driveway, with an increasingly worried expression on his face. “Are you okay?” he asked. Somehow the girls were still parked in the golf cart and whipping their heads back and forth as if drawn to, yet afraid, of the figure. He apologized: “I’m sorry I scared you.” And with that, the girls hopped out of the cart, and ran back to the house, presumably to be further scared by the Halloween festivities! Halloween Picture1

Have you ever considered that neighborhoods have distinctive cultures? Even in the same city, neighborhoods can differ quite dramatically with regard to the norms, behaviors, and values—all characteristics of culture—that seem to dominate. Neighborhoods can have a shared identity or culture. Considering neighborhood norms—that is, those largely unspoken rules that tell us what is acceptable is one way to examine its culture. Norms, however, can be stifling, so as sociologists point out, societies take moral holidays or have moral holiday places as a respite that  gives people a chance to break norms.

What were the Halloween decorations been like in your neighborhood this year? In mine, many people have gone to great lengths—as they have in previous years. This year, however, far more people in my neighborhood have decorated their homes for Jpi Picture1Halloween.

Decorations ranged from a few strands of orange lights to ghoulish figures hanging in trees, to huge blow-up figures, and gargantuan skeletons—I saw one about 10 feet tall on a lawn!  Research shows a 4 percent increase in the number of people who planned to decorate their homes this year, compared to last year. In my community, it looks like a more drastic increase in the number of participants and in the amount of decorations people displayed; nationally, although fewer  people planned to participate in the fright-fest, people planned to spend more this year.

The ever-present golf carts, many driven by kids, were popular that night too.  I saw one with 12 young people in it! Some of neighbors decorated their carts with lights and other decorations too.

Decorations are one thing, but what would people do on Halloween during COVID-19? Would they interact as they have in previous years? With regard to things I can observe, nationally, fewer people planned to hand out candy, go trick- or-treating, throw or attend a party.

As a good sociologist, I went for a walk and then a drive around the neighborhood to answer the question. I saw a wide range of Halloween celebrations. For example, one neighbor wore a medical mask to place a container of candy on the walkway leading to her porch--in other words as distant from her home as possible! Immediately after doing so, she went back indoors and remained there, as far as I know, except to retrieve the container when the festivities were over. I saw several other examples of Halloween participants on the cautious side: several neighbors put bowls on stools or tables in their driveways or on their porches so children to help themselves without knocking on doors; in one case with a container of hand-sanitizer. In some cases, they left notes with the candy:

Please take two pieces.

Take a bag.

Look at the camera and say BOO! Then take 1 treat just for YOU!

Trick or Treat. Take a Sweet. Remember to Keep 6 feet.

Happy Halloween and Trick or Treat. Don't wait for us to grab your sweet. Pick 1 or 2. Please be our guest. Don't take too many. Leave some for the rest!

Some neighbors were more interactive but still had less direct contact with trick-or treaters than in previous years.  They sat on their driveways, six or more feet behind a table with goodies, to which people could help themselves. These neighbors waved, smiled, and chatted with the trick-or-treaters from their posts. 

The most amazing socially distant but interactive award goes to the home with a chute from the second floor to the first! In front of their garage door, there was a chalk sign on a child’s blackboard. As I walked up for a closer look at the sign which read: “Say ‘COVID be gone’ for candy,” and repeated the words aloud, down came a piece of candy from the chute!

And on the “What Pandemic?” side of the continuum were those hosting large social gatherings. At least two cul-de-sacs seemed to have held block parties; by the time I made it to one, many neighbors were hanging out on their sidewalks but in the other case, the party was in full swing—although it was 9pm.

There were long tables covered with tablecloths on the sidewalk, one on the street, and several along a driveway. Dishes, cups and drinks sat atop the tables as about 40 people sat and stood around.  The biggest draw after the block party was a home with a haunted house! Each year this event draws a crowd, and this year was no different. As I stood on the sidewalk in front of that home taking pictures and videos, the hosts kept encouraging me to go through it. I declined, as I have each year.

Halloween has grown in popularity in the past two decades, with sales doubling in only ten years; the pandemic does not appear to have dampened that much in my neighborhood. The culture in my neighborhood regarding Halloween is to celebrate it and, for many, to go big.

By contrast, few people decorated their homes in my old neighborhood, less than 5 miles away, and nobody had any elaborate decorations. With regard to norms, we are in such an unusual situation that there some people chose not to celebrate Halloween during a pandemic. I assume that those who are moving through life pretty much as they did bC (before COVID), celebrated Halloween much as they did in years past.  Those who are being cautious didn’t have  a blueprint of norms for a COVID-19 Halloween, so they improvised.

Photos courtesy of the author

Comments

Halloween maybe frightening and at the same time interesting to know that we have to think about the story behind the word(souls of the dead appeared on this day). It is also interesting, because kids have to dress in those elaborate scary costumes which is all very awakening that life is indeed beyond our imagination. The sweets and the goodies makes it all fun. Is it really a Trick or a Treat?

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