Evanston reimagines Halloween amid pandemic

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Illustration by Angeli Mittal

The city has released trick-or-treating guidelines, which include mask-wearing and social-distancing, to keep residents safe while enjoying the holiday.

Rosalie Liu, Reporter

Halloween is just around the corner, and the city and local organizations are taking steps to reimagine the holiday as COVID-19 cases surge in Evanston.

The city released a set of pandemic trick-or-treating guidelines instructing trick-or-treaters to adhere to masking and social distancing recommendations. Additionally, the city is requesting that houses create individual goodie-bags instead of leaving out communal candy bowls for trick-or-treaters. Residents who don’t want to participate in the holiday should place a sign on their door and turn out their lights.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t going to take a break on Halloween,” Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo said in a city news release. “Therefore, it’s critical that all residents remain vigilant about following public health directives and continue to exercise good judgment while participating in holiday celebrations and festivities, like trick-or-treat.”

In the past few years, resident Catherine Merritt’s family would host a social gathering in their front yard to celebrate Halloween, ordering pizza and drinking hot cider while the children played.

This year, Merritt said she and her family decided it would be safer to skip trick-or-treating and their annual party. Instead, Merritt said a few kids will gather to watch a movie outside, and one of her younger sons will participate in an outdoor scavenger hunt.

Merritt said she thinks the city’s priorities are “misaligned.” She said she wishes city officials would redirect their efforts into reopening District 65 schools, rather than putting on Halloween.

“The fact that our city has decided to proceed with trick-or-treating while it has not yet opened its schools is frustrating,” Merritt said. “I am all for the kids being able to have a fun Halloween, but our priorities should have been schools opening earlier in the year.”

Like Merritt’s family, some households prefer other events to treat-or-treating. For those who opt not to trick-or-treat, the city sponsored a “Hallo-Week Pumpkin Contest.”

Michelle Bush, recreation program coordinator for the city’s Parks & Recreation department, said the event was entirely virtual. The pumpkin contest ended on Oct. 25, with six participants submitting pumpkin carving photos on Facebook. The submissions received over 100 total votes.

“When COVID-19 hit in March, our department came together and discussed ways we could keep the community engaged in a safe, positive way,” Bush said.

The Parks & Recreation department has designated pumpkin carving as a low-risk activity, and is also offering other online Halloween events in late October, which include virtual bingo games, scavenger hunts, and ecard greetings, Bush said.

Additionally, some local businesses are taking matters into their own hands to sustain the Evanston community and get residents into the holiday spirit, sometimes even creating new traditions.

Artists Book House, an Evanston-based organization dedicated to literary and book-making arts, held a series of “spooky” virtual events titled “A House, Haunted.”

As part of the month’s festivities, the organization invited authors to read Halloween-themed short stories via livestream. Board member Jamie Thome said those who are interested can watch the book readings on the Artist Book House website or on YouTube.

Thome said the organization’s conversations with guest authors combine the theme of Halloween with the group’s passions for spooky tales and ghost stories perfectly.

“We are a brand new organization, so this is our first annual ‘A House, Haunted’ series. We are absolutely excited to turn this into an annual tradition,” Thome said.

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