COVID-19, in addition to taking more than 1 million lives around the world since its first victim on January 9 (as of Thursday, October 22, 222,000 of them in the United States) and tanking economies throughout the world, including the United States, seems to have taken special aim at our holidays.
Its first victim in this nation was St. Patrick’s Day, normally the embodiment of conviviality, which arrived on Tuesday, March 17, the day after President Trump announced that Americans should avoid congregating in groups greater than 10, close their schools, and stay away from restaurants and bars.
A Boston Globe columnist mulled that this St. Patrick’s Day likely was the least-joyous such holiday on record.
Next came Easter.
The president called for people to go to church on that day (even if his own personal attendance at that religious celebration over the years might have been lagging).
Americans, facing a pandemic taking lives at an accelerating pace, thought better of it and generally stayed home.
Many of them couldn’t attend services at their church even if they wanted to. Many houses of worship effectively had closed their doors in the interest of public health by the end of March, less than two weeks before Easter Sunday, April 12.
As the calendar moved on, and the pandemic worsened rather than disappearing (as President Trump had predicted would occur by spring), the virus took aim at classic American crowd-gatherers such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
Parades were canceled. So were fireworks. Individuals invited to the same holiday get-togethers that they had always had been invited to sat at a distance from their hosts. Who had the virus? Who knew?
With the decline of American unions over the past 50 years, Labor Day already had lost much of its crowd-gathering power. The holiday had morphed into the unofficial end of summer, a pause before the renewed onset of the “real year,” with schools and professional life back in gear.
Nonetheless, more socially distanced gatherings, if that, in the waning glow of summer 2020.
Now, however, it’s getting serious.
America’s top infectious disease experts are already making noises that people might want to reexamine their plans for Thanksgiving 2020: that maybe the Thanksgiving that they have celebrated since they were children, with extended family members both older and younger, isn’t safe this year.
Which brings us back to the secular holiday of Halloween, due to arrive eight days from now on Saturday, October 31.
People still alive on Cape Cod remember when Halloween wasn’t that big a deal.
About a week before the holiday, kids would figure out what they were going to wear.
On October 31 they would head out, anticipatory bags carried, preceded by the good do-bees who trick-or-treated for UNICEF on Halloween afternoon while there was still light in the sky.
As the dark late October night descended the costumed ghosts, witches, spacemen and princesses would roam their neighborhoods, shouting “Trick or treat!” at one residential door or another to gather all kinds of sweet things, casually engaging in the kind of un-accompanied geographical adventures that would send today’s helicopter parents into cardiac arrest.
After they ate candy for the following week, they’d start thinking about how they would see all their cousins at Thanksgiving later that month.
In the intervening decades, however, Halloween has taken off.
For kids, a day at the end of October now has become Halloween season, a long run-up giving them the opportunity to hop into their costumes—and get candy—multiple times, not just the one-shot evening that faced kids in decades past.
For adults, Halloween has become a full-fledged holiday. Rather than wait on trick-or-treaters, they head out to parties and bars to engage in a grownup version of what they had enjoyed as kids.
And then along comes the pandemic.
This time, though, people are fighting for their holiday.
The adults, sacrificing for months, may surrender their Halloween, but they are determined to give kids Halloween.
Here on the Upper Cape, you can see it this year in events such as the “6 Feet Trunk or Treat” held by the Town of Bourne at its DPW Building next Friday, October 30, or similar events set in Mashpee at the Quashnet School on Sunday, October 25, or at the Cape Cod Boys and Girls Club next Friday, or on yet another “Trunk or Treat,” this one held at Oak Crest Cove by the Sandwich Police Department during the day on Halloween.
As for traditional trick-or-treating on the evening of Saturday, October 31, town health departments are recommending that residents provide outdoors “grab-and-go” pickups of candy, a way to celebrate the holiday without violating social distancing.
The pandemic obviously isn’t going away anytime soon, and none of us know when the “normal” of pre-March 16, 2020, will return.
Until then, however, you can see and feel people here in our own communities stepping up to the challenge.
You may constrain us, they are saying to the coronavirus, but you will not stop us. These holidays will continue. We will survive you.