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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

Hooray! Halloween is on, though health officials caution that shouting or singing should be avoided. I can’t picture kids knocking on doors and whispering, “Trick-or-treat!” through their masks, but they just might – thrilled that COVID-19 hasn’t cancelled Halloween this year.

Last year, my daughter, donning a bright red wig and flinging a feather boa around her neck, rummaged through our bin of Halloween decorations. She worked fast to decorate our house that afternoon. Standing on the porch railing, she slung up little pumpkin lights – no real swag to them, just a clump here and there that stretched across the porch.

She plugged in the lights though it was still daylight, draped a red feather boa on the front door knocker and balanced a red devil-horns headband on top of it. She and her younger brother each carved a mini jack-o’-lantern. Happy faces with toothy grins.

“They look great!” I didn’t want to remind them that Halloween had been effectively cancelled that year.

I’d not bought any candy, on purpose, after Premier Doug Ford regrettably informed the province of Ontario that kids should not trick-or-treat in the hot spots. It was an unexpected blow, which hit hard. The Easter Bunny got through unscathed and I’d just assumed that Halloween, every kid’s dream holiday, with as much free candy as you could carry, would go on. After all, it’s held outside, and the hockey-stick distance rule could easily be followed.

My husband bought a box of chocolate bars and a huge bag of Rockets anyway, in case things changed. I told him he was being overly optimistic.

“We can eat them ourselves,” he said.

And we did.

During supper that Halloween night, the little pumpkin lights glowed on our house like an invitation.

We heard a knock on the front door.

As a family, we’d agreed not to give out candy (after countless discussions about the moral rightness of it all). I am a rule follower and sided with health officials, even though I felt like the Grinch.

But before I had a chance to react, my daughter beat me to the door and flung it open.

“Happy Halloween!” She beamed at two little kids at the bottom of the porch stairs. “Open your bags and I’ll throw you some candy!”

Baby Yoda and a tiny Princess Leia were delighted, as was their mother. “Thank you so much!” she called, seemingly ecstatic to be out of the house. “Happy Halloween!”

A family meeting quickly developed.

“I thought we were skipping giving out candy this year!” I said.

“Well, there are kids out there … we can’t just say no!” my son said. “It’s Halloween!”

“Besides, we’ve still got lots of candy to give away,” my husband said with a smile.

I was overruled.

We decided to leave a bowl of candy on the porch stairs, beside our plug-in jack-o’-lantern decoration, so kids could see it. We wouldn’t have to interact, so as to not give or get COVID. My daughter waved from the living-room window to the little masked marauders as they helped themselves.

Our street got quiet pretty quickly.

The moon was full that night, the breeze crisp. “Let’s go for a walk around the block,” said my daughter, donning the sparkly witch hat with orange feathers around the brim that she wore when she was in Grade 4. The group of us set out and we oohed and awwed at the decorations in our neighbourhood.

Orange lights and glowing jack-o’-lanterns lit up porches, iridescent skeletons crawled out of hedges and lawns, and two striped witch’s legs and half her broom stuck out of the side of a house. Giant inflatable ghosts, monster-sized spiders, creepy cobwebs and fake gravestones decorated houses and lawns. One house, with a thick cobweb that stretched across the front door to the second-floor porch, had an ingeniously angled eavestrough to drop candy into the bags of revellers below.

My kids – aged 25 and 28 – started trick-or-treating, too. Well, going up to houses that had leftover bowls of candy out, and helping themselves. They tiptoed up stairs, picked a treat and ran back to the sidewalk, giddy with the fun of it.

“Happy Halloween! A lovely night,” two middle-aged women called out from their porch. “Take some candy – it’s on the steps!”

“I know we’re kind of old for this,” my daughter replied as she chose a chocolate bar, “but we’re walking around the neighbourhood to see the decorations and all this candy is, just, outside.”

“Take lots and enjoy your walk!” We could see their smiles as they stood under the porch light, waving their wine glasses.

House after house had clever setups – a table at the end of a driveway with treats stuffed into surgical gloves or mini bags and tied with ribbon, a cauldron of chip bags beside a fake ghost, or simply a big bowl of candy on the front steps. The best was a house where small bags of Cheetos hung from ribbons on a tree and swayed in the moonlight like shimmering diamonds. Laughing, we all ran to grab one and stuffed them in our pockets.

As we walked home, all of us energized and happy, it struck me that COVID cannot take the spirit of community out of our world. Everyone we talked to on that moonlit night was so happy, so generous, so grateful to be part of some fun. We were safe, distanced from other people, mindful of the rules. Our neighbourhood got creative in making the night special for kids of all ages.

Our world and our family bubble have been small during the pandemic, but last Halloween night, under that full moon and in that leaf-rustling breeze, our world was big. We ran and laughed and ate candy and crunched Cheetos and felt grateful to be alive.

“This was the best Halloween ever,” my daughter said.

This year, my children are not living at home and look forward to their own Halloween fun in the city. But I’m hoping to greet some cute Cruella de Vils and pint-sized Ted Lassos in person. I’ll happily share the giant box of chocolate bars I bought – physically distanced of course – and enjoy the magic of the night from my doorstep.

Catherine Boase lives in Aurora, Ont.

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