Hburg’s Halloween will feature a lot fewer treats this year

By Bridget Manley, publisher

Halloween in Harrisonburg — normally a bustle of costumed kids and Skeleton Fest — is starting to feel more like one of those abandoned houses that might be haunted. 

Or, if you prefer other scary metaphors, the pandemic has slowly spread its unforgiving tentacles into the most wonderful time of the year — holidays that include “being around other humans” and now must be reimagined and muted. Once again, we’ll collectively agree to just get through this one too. 

During happier Halloweens, not even costumes required masks. The 2020 version of Halloween in Harrisonburg expects to look very different.

The city of Harrisonburg has not started discussions about to move forward with any Halloween guidance, according to Michael Parks, the city’s communications director.  Parks said it’s still too early to make any kind of recommendations about trick-or-treating. 

The city has never had an official trick-or-treat night, but recognizes that kids are out and about on Halloween, Parks said. 

“We don’t have a policy, other than (the police department) typically puts out some safety tips about staying out of roads, wearing costumes that don’t make you hard to see, etc.,” Parks said in an email to The Citizen. “The city doesn’t regulate when or where people trick-or-treat and leaves that up to individual communities/neighborhoods to do as they will.”

Meanwhile, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance has already cancelled the annual Skeleton Fest, an event that normally draws crowds to Court Square for a parade and festivites. 

Andrea Dono, Downtown Renaissance’s executive director, said the organization just didn’t believe such a mass gathering was safe. 

Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance “is committed to doing our part to safeguard the health and well-being of the community, and we do not feel we can safely host a large-scale event right now,” Dono said. “Skeleton Fest drew a few thousand people downtown last year and large groups of people clustered around activities and businesses.”

She noted that the city council placed a 50-person limit on most public and private gatherings that lasts through Oct. 13, and it is possible the council could extend it. 

“We love Skeleton Fest,” Dono said. “It is a great event that brings out the community and people of all ages to enjoy seeing each other’s costumes, strolling downtown, and discovering fun activities sprinkled throughout the district. But this isn’t the year to host it. We really hope we can bring this event back next year.” 

Meanwhile, parents — already brimming with the happiness of being their children’s new assistant teacher while juggling the technology that Totally Always Works Properly as well as their own paying adult jobs — now face the prospect of telling their kids that they can’t go trick-or-treating over in the awesome neighborhood that hands out full-size snickers bars this year. 

Many parents have started talking about neighborhood bubbles: small cul-de-sac parties for a few families. Three parents agreed to talk about their plans on the condition that only their first names be used.

“I doubt we will give out candy or go trick-or-treating,” said Brannon, a local mom who is thinking about getting crafty and thinking outside the box this year.  “I am hoping we can have neighborhood kids over for something outside like a scavenger hunt or a glow in the dark egg hunt.”

Other parents are worried about handing out candy, in what already seems to be generally agreed upon as “An Idea That Hasn’t Aged Well In This Post-Corona World.” 

“I would probably not want to give out candy. If I can figure out a way to do it safely, then maybe,” said Yana, a mother to an elementary school child. 

Celes, a mother to two kids under eight, said she hadn’t broken the news yet to her kids about trick-or-treating. 

“Not yet,” Celes said. “I think they’ll be disappointed but I think the idea of a little party will help with that. As long as there’s still candy,” she said in a text with a winky emoji. 

And because this is 2020 — and we can’t write an article without using the words “socially distant” — some groups have thought of clever ways to keep the spirit alive this year without human interaction. 

VA Momentum will hold another run in the group’s “Forward Series” — a trick-or-treat three miler.  

According to the website, runners log onto their online platform on Halloween morning and select whether they want to “trick” or “treat” the three miles.

“Choose treat and you can expect something reliably fun. Choose trick and you may be spooked by what we have in store,” according to the website description. 

But remember — this is 2020, and tricks haven’t been much of a treat this year. 

The town of Broadway also will hold a drive-through trick-or-treating event at Broadway High School and a virtual Halloween costume contest on Facebook. 

While it might not be a Halloween for the scrapbooks, at least it will be one for the history books. Or perhaps it’s another story our kids can bore their grandkids with: “Back in my day, we had to Zoom our neighbors for candy, and our masks didn’t even match our costumes!” 

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