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Newton’s Halloween window decorating tradition gets a spooky new look

Sadie Harris points to her Halloween decoration in Newton's library.LIZA HARRIS

Newton’s looking spooky after hundreds of children filled store windows with witches, ghosts, pumpkins, and more as a part of the city’s 2020 Halloween Window Decorating Event, a spin on the annual contest due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Paula Gannon, director of Newton’s Office of Cultural Development, said there was no way they were “going to let the pandemic take it away,” especially for an event children have “waited and waited for their year to be able to” partake in.

“They are so anxious to participate in this,” Gannon said. “It’s almost like it’s a rite of passage.”

This is the 21st annual window painting event, organized by Newton’s Office of Cultural Development and Newton Community Pride, and this year, Halloween posters from 306 children were placed in windows of 80 businesses across six of Newton’s villages Oct. 23 and Oct. 24.

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Every year, hundreds of children grades 3 through 8 register to paint the windows of participating local businesses with Halloween art that is judged by a panel of community members. This year, however, rather than painting on windows, children created poster-board art pieces that were taped in the windows of their paired business.

Gannon said organizers eliminated the contest because it would have been difficult for judges to traverse the villages and assess the winners socially distanced.

Howard Sholkin, president of Newton Community Pride, said this decision might be here to stay, though. He said the contest is “arbitrary” and not the purpose of the event.

“All the decorations have value and are important to both the merchants and the children who designed them,” Sholkin said.

Multiple children said they missed the excitement of painting directly on the windows, but 10-year-old Chloe Carrano, who has participated for several years, took advantage of the poster board with a mixed media creation. She said it was nice to put “small details” in her artwork such as a picket fence.

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Gannon said the event is also “frequently victim of weather,” with storms that wash paint away “the very next day.” With posters indoors though, Gannon said, it’s not an issue.

Carrano also said the decorations were a great way for Newton to demonstrate “you can do fun things while being safe,” and she was glad she participated.

“It makes me feel like I’m sharing something with the whole community,” Carrano said. “I can see what other people share as well. So it means a lot to me.”

Carrano’s poster went inside a for-lease building, but other windows around town featured art related to the business, as well as typical Halloween decor.

Finn Cusick, 8, catered his art to paint store Sherwin-Williams, adding a ghost with a paint palette, which his mother Caitlin Cusick said was “fun, as a mom, to see” because he thought a lot about supporting the business in his design.

Learning Express, a toy store with a location in Newton Centre, has been a part of the Halloween tradition since the beginning, owner Richard Gibson said. It provides a great opportunity for people “to foster community involvement,” he said, and an avenue for people to discover local business.

“They may do a storefront of a store they’ve never heard before and never been in before and say ‘Hey, maybe we’ll come back next week,’” Gibson said.

Sholkin said the event provides ritual for all of Newton to “spruce up the villages.”

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“It’s the kind of thing that people have on their calendar as something to do to mark Halloween,” Sholkin said.

Charles Carrano, Chloe’s father, said with trick-or-treating up in the air, the Halloween Window Decorating Event is good to have guaranteed.

“Halloween means a lot more than you might think — they look forward to it for months sometimes,” Carrano said. “It’s nice to have at least some of the ceremonies continue.”

Liza Harris, whose 8-year-old daughter Sadie Harris participated in this year’s event, said it came at the time when “parents are just longing for anything to feel normal.” She said she was able to plan a “painting party” for Sadie and her friends to make posters together.

“It’s really bringing kids together to do an activity and to be social in some way,” Harris said.

Bfitt:60 Group Training,a new fitness studio in Newton, participated this year for the first time. Studio Director Dominique Bernabeo who is also new to the neighborhood, said it’s a company mission to support the community. She said this event also was “nostalgic” for her, as she did similar window paintings in her youth.

“This is the perfect opportunity to have young artists show their work and support them, get into the spirit of Halloween,” Bernabeo said.

As a Newton resident, Bernabeo said it’s an opportunity to “integrate into the community itself and hopefully be accepted as a neighbor.”

Businesses and artists can coordinate for when they would like the artwork to be taken down, but Gannon said she hopes most businesses will keep them up until at least the first week of November when the event ends.

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Gannon said the city’s Cultural Development team plans to approach future events with a similar mindset.

“We still recognize that we are Newton together,” Gannon said. “We’re going to make you know past this pandemic time, and we’re going to continue to offer these programs that means so much to us, even if we have to modify them a little bit.”

Melissa Ellin can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.

Finn Cusick holds his finished product one last time before it went in the Newton Centre Sherwin-Williams window. MELISSA ELLIN
Chloe Carrano, her parents and her dog went to Newton Highlands to tape up her mixed media poster.MELISSA ELLIN