In the fall of 1982, residents of New York and New Jersey were on high-alert when five children were hospitalized for eating Halloween candy laced with PCP, a drug known for its mind-altering effects. Halloween would be in jeopardy again, nearly 30 years later in 2012, due to widespread flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in the northeast. In response to these troubling events, governors advised residents in their state to abstain from annual Halloween festivities.
Halloween has always been cancellable — and not in the Ellen DeGeneres way. Then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed Executive Order 105 which postponed Halloween to the following week of November 5, 2012. And, despite the possibility of sewing needles in their Kit Kats, children still trick-or-treated in 1982.
But things have changed since 1982 and 2012. We have a different president, a couple of new NFL teams and a pandemic. To protect the American people and the spirit of Halloween, trick-or-treating must be canceled this year.
First and most importantly, Halloween is not religiously celebrated by a majority of Americans. Halloween originates from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a holy day before the Celtic new year in which people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts and spirits. It’s said that the worlds of the living and the dead would blur on this day, resulting in spectral mischief and the ravaging of crops. Hundreds of years after the first celebration of Samhain, in the Roman-controlled Celtic lands, Pope Gregory III renamed Samhain “All Saints Day” to pay homage to all saints, known and unknown.
It’s safe to say that most Americans are not celebrating the traditional Celtic holiday by dressing as a “sexy nurse.” Halloween has become more of a cultural phenom than a religious celebration in the last century. If this pandemic has done anything, it’s taught us what is essential and what is not. Workers are essential, masks are essential, but movie theatres are not; you get the gist.
Let’s say that Gov. Charlie Baker doesn’t call off Halloween this year. The streets of Amherst would be flooded with miniature mummies and ghosts and their parents. There’s no way to ensure that all children will be wearing masks, sanitizing and making their way single file to the candy bowl outside of a house. It’s not just side-streets these kids will be trick-or-treating on but on the busy streets of downtown Amherst as well. Expecting children to adhere to Centers for Disease Control guidelines is just as unrealistic as expecting the University of Massachusetts off-campus students to do the same.
A common argument in favor of celebrating Halloween is that it primarily takes place outside. While this is true, the resulting implications prove far more dangerous. If college students see school children waiting outside of Antonio’s for candy they might get the impression that they too can celebrate Halloween.
What makes this false impression so risky is the difference in how college students and school children celebrate Halloween. One spends it with their parents as chaperones and the other hopes their parents don’t find out.
Most college students are not that irresponsible, but super spreader events on college campuses like the University of North Carolina and Auburn University beg to differ. What about the small businesses that got slammed when the pandemic first began? We can’t expect one night of trick-or-treating and parties to leave these small towns untouched.
We must ask ourselves what’s more important: Halloween or human life? There’s a much bigger problem if we cannot correctly answer this question.
Missing out on Halloween is unfortunate but it’s not the end of the world. Unless you’re religiously celebrating the Celtic new year or All Saint’s Day on Nov. 1, you’re endangering human life because you want an excuse to dress up and forget about the world for a night. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than going to a house party dressed as a cowboy, but my desire to have fun is far less important than another person’s wellbeing.
The CDC released a set of guidelines to follow for those who will still choose to celebrate Halloween this year. They advise individually bagging treats for kids, incorporating masks into their costumes or skipping trick-or-treating altogether and hosting a Halloween movie night outside.
While the CDC recognizes that “traditional Halloween activities are fun,” the risks don’t seem worth being on a ventilator for.
At the end of the day, no one can stop you. As an American, you have the right to choose, at least if the government tells you so, which means you can decide if you want to dress up in a few days. Halloween will happen again next year, the year after that and probably for as long as any of us are here. You need to determine if a bag of candy and a night out is worth putting your community and your loved ones in jeopardy.
Max Schwartz can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @maxwschwartz