I Forgot Last Halloween! The COVID One!

September 4, 2021 —
Last year, for the first time in the eleven-year history of the OTIS Halloween Season, I neglected to do an actual October 31 post. I posted every day from September 1 to October 30, but not on Halloween itself. Seems…dumb, right?

Well, maybe not. Halloween is a season for me and mine, not a day. And Halloween night is the denouement. The pause at the end of the chapter before turning the page to Christmas. The last round of drinks in a night you don’t want to end but the bartender is kicking you out because he has a PhD thesis to defend the next day. It’s not the main event, it’s looking back wistfully at the empty ring.

Still, I always did an October 31 post. And this was an important October 31. It was the COVID-19 Halloween. That needed to be documented not for my own nostalgia, but for posterity. When future historians look back on this time, they’re going to want to know things like, “How did national governments respond to this crisis?” and “How did social media influence everything?” and, most important, “What was Halloween like that year?”

Well, let me tell you, future historians. You well know that social media made everything worse, like it does with most things. But on the topic of Halloween, it was…weird. And not in the way Halloween is supposed to be weird. Actually, weird is the wrong word. There’s no such thing as bad weird. COVID-19 Halloween was…awkward.

For weeks leading up to the night, Lindsey and I didn’t know what to do. We just wanted to be responsible citizens and parents and have fun with our kids. But every piece of information conflicted every other piece of information and people on Twitter were using, like, overtly declarative sentences and exclamation points. Our kids weren’t wishy-washy about it. They knew what to do: Beg for candy from strangers. COVID to them wasn’t a disease, it was a holiday. An extended Christmas break. School’s out forever.

They didn’t care that places like Salem, Massachusetts, were trying to keep people away. That many towns had cancelled trick-or-treating altogether.

Oh, and then there was the snow.


That’s right. It snowed on October 30. Like a full, dashing-through-the kind of covering. Not completely unheard of here in central New England, but, still, a surreal time. Like the spirits of Autumn were like, “Winter, we’re kind of fed up with this situation. What can you do about it?”

Halloween morning, there was still snow. Over the course of the day, it melted slightly, just enough to mix with the dead leaves on the ground, but neighborhood lawns were still ghost-sheet white in the shade. It was a Saturday, and one we took easy. But that night, we decided to do a modified trick-or-treat. We did a few houses in the grandparent’s neighborhood and that’s it.

Everybody basically had the same set up. Tables at the edge of their yard, while they hid inside or sat on their stoop far away, yelling things like, “Nice costume!” and “Not the whole bowl!” It was an heroic and noble attempt at community engagement and appeasement of spirits on their parts.

And it felt perfunctory on our part. We felt like we just needed to get through it, Lindsey and I. We didn’t feel that way about the season as a whole. It was a great one for us, full of amazing Fall road trips to graveyards and ghost towns and other socially distanced sites. Possibly one of our best Halloween seasons. Just check the 2020 OTIS Halloween Season archive.

But that night, it felt like we were just trying to get through the awkwardness.


Two of my children were fine with that. THey had plenty of candy in their plastic pumpkins (“Not the whole bowl!”). Also, their legs are shorter and they tire faster. But my oldest was bummed. As usual, she made her own costume and spent a lot of time on it. She would rather have continued trick-or-treating until everyone in town saw her tuxedo lizard, and then directly afterward started a 50-state tour. I don’t blame her. It was a really a great costume. Spirit could make a mint on it.

On the positive side, the strange night yielded one of my favorite Halloween photos in a life bursting with amazing Halloween photos, thanks to Lindsey. In this case, it was one of me and the two-year-old on her first “walking” trick-or-treat…and all of our first COVID trick-or-treat.