On a not-so-dark Friday night at the end of October each year, some Manhattan College students walk to the dining hall for dinner only to stumble upon costumed revelry on their campus quadrangle.
It would be at the hands of the neighborhood’s children, who’d just gone trick-or-treating in different academic buildings on campus dressed in their Halloween costumes, collecting and eating candy all the while. And more often than not, the event would end with children playing with each other outside on the campus’ main green space, seemingly having the time of their lives during a once-a-year Halloween sugar rush.
In 2020, however, Manhattan College’s Safe Halloween event won’t look like it once did. Because of the health concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, trick-or-treating has become more of a controversial practice than in years past.
While Mayor Bill de Blasio gave the OK for kids to knock on doors begging for candy this year — provided it was fully outdoors, and everyone wore masks and socially distanced — some parents just aren’t willing to take the risk. And neither is the executive board of Manhattan College’s chapter of Kappa Delta Pi — the national education honor society, which organizes the college’s trick-or-treating event each year.
To KDP’s members, inviting children to trick-or-treat on campus might not be the safest idea. But it’s also a beloved annual event — both for the college’s students and the families who visit year after year. And so the honor society committed to nevertheless hosting a Halloween event — although it wouldn’t quite look the same.
The first change was to the event’s name. What was “Safe Halloween” was rebranded as “MC Halloween.” And although the name change might indicate a temporary circumstance this year, KDP’s campus and community events co-chair Kelsey Kovacs hopes the name change remains for years to come.
“The term ‘safe’ is a little presumptuous, maybe about the community around us not being safe,” Kovacs said. “We just thought that name could be different, and it could be a little more fun. This directly says where the event usually is — ‘MC,’ like ‘Manhattan College.’”
Planning for MC Halloween itself began as early as last summer. The coronavirus pandemic was just as much of a reality then, and the KDP executive board began conceptualizing what a “remote” or social distancing-compliant Halloween event would look like come October.
KDP co-president Patricia Wright considered other non-trick-or-treating options like a book drive, and even considered canceling the event outright. But she soon realized it was such a community staple, they’d need to provide something similar for the neighborhood kids in its place.
“We knew it was something the community needed,” Wright said. “Especially this year, a lot of parents don’t know what to do with their kids because Halloween and COVID aren’t exactly a good mix.”
Eventually, KDP decided on a fully remote event. But that didn’t mean less planning went into it. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The honor society pooled its resources into creating two web pages, one of which would launch Oct. 30 — the day the in-person MC Halloween would’ve taken place
In keeping with the theme, this year’s MC Halloween will allow children to “walk through” a virtual pumpkin patch from the KDP web page. While traversing digitally, they can click on icons they encounter — each of which links to a game or activity they can participate in at home, like a word search or a Halloween-themed readaloud.
The patch is divided into two sections. One has activities better suited for children 10 and younger, while the other is more for older children. The two separate pages and activities were made, Wright said, so the event could appeal to as many families as possible.
“Middle schoolers wouldn’t exactly be entertained or engaged with the child’s readaloud about Halloween,” Wright said. “We have a Macbeth video-type thing in there, too, so I’m sure little kids wouldn’t want to be there. They’d get creeped out.”
Usually, clubs that wanted to participate in MC Halloween would be assigned a room on campus for the event. It would be their responsibility to decorate the room with a theme and provide an activity — and, of course, candy. But the only rooms this year are virtual, allowing these clubs still participate by providing an activity or game for KDP’s virtual pumpkin patch.
The pumpkin patch isn’t MC Halloween’s only component. Last Friday, KDP launched a community resource page providing articles and other resources for parents to read and consider when it comes to Halloween — with everything from trick-or-treating safely to other at-home activities for families not quite ready to take that leap outside just yet.
Some parents may have decided against trick-or-treating, but that doesn’t mean Halloween should be treated like any other run-of-the-mill day.
“Having other activities for your children to do could be really good for them,” said Kelsey Reynolds, KDP’s other campus and community events co-chair. “You could have them dress up, too, and maybe have a virtual Halloween party, where they can meet their friends on Zoom or something.”
Wright believes children have a better understanding of COVID-19 and its implications than most adults give them credit for. As a result, she thinks honesty is the best policy if children ask their parents why Halloween feels different this year.
“I think it’s important for parents to talk to their kids beforehand (and) make sure that they know the situation and that they understand it,” Wright said. “I think an honest conversation and trying to make them excited about something new they’re doing this year, or starting a new tradition — whether it be a website or not — is the way to go.”