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What will Halloween look like this year? Families and communities look to revamp spooky traditions

Brady Maloof, 4, checked things out at Spirit Halloween in Foxborough. His mother, Lori, said she is pondering how to handle trick-or-treat.
Brady Maloof, 4, checked things out at Spirit Halloween in Foxborough. His mother, Lori, said she is pondering how to handle trick-or-treat.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Brady Maloof, 4, roamed the aisles of Spirit Halloween in Foxborough on a recent day, rifling through shelves of packaged costumes, examining decorations, and wincing at fake jumping spiders. He eventually landed on a Ghostbusters suit he will wear on Halloween, regardless of how celebrations are slashed this year during the pandemic.

Halloween is one of Brady’s favorite holidays, his mother, Lori, said. And the family is determined to celebrate, somehow.

“Everything’s been taken away from these kids this last year,” she said. “They deserve to have this holiday in one way or another.”

As new virus case clusters surface in cities and suburbs, college campuses, and even after weddings, the fate of the spookiest night of the year is uncertain.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first guidance on its website on Sept. 21.The agency urged people to forgo door to door trick-or-treating, costume parties, and public hayrides for lower-risk activities: pumpkin-carving at home, virtual costume contests, and socially distanced scavenger hunts outside.

“Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses,” the agency wrote. “There are several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween.”

Recently released safety tips from Massachusetts and New Hampshire say that if families do trick-or-treat, they should carry hand sanitizer and stay more than 6 feet away from those not in their household. Anyone distributing candy should be masked.

The Spirit Halloween store at Patriot Place in Foxborough.
The Spirit Halloween store at Patriot Place in Foxborough.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The CDC gave similar advice about Thanksgiving this week, encouraging people to attend “small outdoor dinners,” avoid travel, and stay away from crowded shopping centers, races, or parades.

Dozens of local holiday events have been canceled in accordance with the city and state safety guidelines.

That includes Salem, widely known as the country’s premier Halloween destination, which is facing a season without many of its traditional festivities. While Governor Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that some COVID-19 guidelines will be relaxed in lower-risk communities starting Oct. 5, Salem remains in the moderate-risk category, according to the state’s town-by-town data. That means indoor gatherings will remain restricted to 25 people or fewer, and outdoor groups to 100.

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Destination Salem executive director Kate Fox said the cancellation of much of the city’s “Haunted Happenings” series will take an economic and emotional toll. She expects only half the 500,000 people Salem usually sees in October will visit.

“Usually everything functions together from the visitors, street fairs, and performers to create the ambience and combine into the most fabulous month," she said. “But now, there’s no Grand Parade, no Mayor’s Night Out, no pumpkin walk.”

Still, some households are holding out hope for a festive Halloween.

Eighty percent of people believe they will find a creative way to celebrate this year, compared to 63 percent who thought so in July, according to data compiled by the National Confectioners Association. Halloween chocolate and candy sales nationwide were stronger in early September than in the same period in 2019. Total Halloween candy sales were up 13 percent overall, with chocolate leading the way, up 25.3 percent.

Brady Maloof, 4, of Wrentham looks over some masks.
Brady Maloof, 4, of Wrentham looks over some masks.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“Halloween is happening,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the association.

But the question remains: Does the 2020 version of the holiday include trick-or-treating?

Lori Maloof said her family plans to stock up on decorations and evaluate whether hoarding candy the traditional way is worth the risk closer to the night in question.

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“Most people wear masks and gloves, right?” she said. “I heard some people talk about using tongs to hand out the candy. It could work.”

Others already are exploring unconventional ways to replicate the experience.

Fall River resident Jordan Pacheco plans to plop buckets of candy around the yard near his towering Halloween decorations. That way, trick-or-treaters can avoid coming into close contact with strangers, he said.

“We might not be able to celebrate in the same way, but people adapt," he said. “Maybe it’ll be more like Christmas in that people drive around and see people’s lights, shelter in their homes, spend time together. I’m doing up the decorations, too, so it feels more normal for the kids.”

Pacheco also hopes to project horror movies onto his garage door for passersby.

Raquel Fornasaro of Newton said she’s already started creating a small network of friends and neighbors whose houses her kids can visit while trick-or-treating. But as an artist by profession, Fornasaro is more focused on creating the family’s annual homemade costumes — possibly with additional features geared for protection against the virus.

“It’s all just such a question mark,” she said. “That said, Halloween is the perfect time for you to put on a mask that’s not your everyday one and go incognito.”

Kati Sigel of Belmont scrapped her party plans weeks ago. She knows the 40-person throwdown she hosts on “Halloweekend” with platters of themed snacks, a flurry of decor, and loud music is unsafe.

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Instead, she is piecing together an outdoor celebration for her kids and one other family — complete with a movie and backyard camping.

“A makeshift Halloween, if you will,” Sigel said. “Almost a revised version.”

For one Somerville official, the holiday is a top priority. City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen of Ward 3 introduced a resolution last week that requires the council to “create safe guidelines for this year’s Halloween so kids can have a safe and spooky holiday.”

Ewen-Campen said the topic of Halloween frequently surfaces in conversations with his youngest constituents.

“Given how good Somerville has been with hand washing, distancing, staying indoors, there has to be a safe way to do this,” he said. “Trick-or-treating is certainly a possibility, though we don’t have any confirmed measures yet. And the city will still light up the streets and make it a nice, spooky night for all the Somerville kids.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_.