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COVID-19 Alters Halloween Traditions

Visitors to Trenholm Road United Methodist Church's pumpkin patch in Columbia can look for pumpkins while staying socially distant in separate grids throughout the patch.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio
Visitors to Trenholm Road United Methodist Church's pumpkin patch in Columbia can look for pumpkins while staying socially distant in separate grids throughout the patch.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the traditions of many families, and Halloween in South Carolina is one of them.  Many families have decided not to Trick or Treat this year, and organizations have also changed their Halloween plans.  The annual Trunk or Treat event at Columbia's Trenholm Road United Methodist Church had to be cancelled this year, according to Anna Burrell, interim director of children and families ministry.  

"When I was asking our parents if they wanted to do a Trunk or Treat, a lot of parents did want to bring their kids to one, but we weren't going to have a lot of trunks to find treats from," she said.  "Participation was going to be down, so we made a really tough call  to cancel it for this year because we in good faith couldn't safely do a Trunk or Treat." 

However, the church's annual Pumpkin Patch has been a beloved community staple for two decades, and Burrell said organizers found a way they could make it work.  "Typically our pumpkins are in rows all across our lawn.  And then our youth pastor just kind of designed this grid system," in which groups of pumpkins are spread in squares several feet apart and visitors can look through one square at a time and be isolated from people in other squares.  "If I see there's a family in one grid square, then I know I need to go to another one," said Burrell.   There were dozens of squares, so there has been plenty of room to safely spread out, she said.  Visitors are also required to wear face masks, and plenty of hand sanitizer is  available.  

Nearby in the Melrose Heights neighborhood, West Jenkins's home has become a local legend as "the Halloween House" over the past 30 years.  A lifelong monster movie fan, Jenkins puts months of planning into making his yard a monster-filled spooky spectacle with a different theme each year.  While COVID hasn't stopped his tradition, he said this year it will be scaled back.  Normally visitors are allowed in the yard and on the porch, where they encounter monsters, ghosts and the like, as well as Jenkins himself in costume.

"Given the COVID situation, unfortunately we're not going to be able to have them come into the yard and up on the porch because there's just no real good way to keep everybody distanced, and I don't want parents to feel leary about their kids coming into contact with other kids and people that they may not know are free and clear with no problems," said Jenkins.  

Luckily, the fact that his house is on a corner gives people the chance to still see the lit-up displays from two sides on the sidewalk outside the fence, or the street.  Of his "Haunted Graveyard" theme, Jenkins said "this year we're orienting the graveyard display out to the sidewalk, rather than within" the fence.  "We are gonna be careful....it'll be all lit up and we are gonna pass out candy in a very clean, distanced way where we've got some skeleton-hand tongs that will do individual candies and drop them in the bag over the fence." 

For those who do choose to Trick or Treat, Burrell came up with a safe home innovation from her youth.  "Growing up, we had a tradition at our house where we would cook out or order pizza.  And our friends would all sit in the driveway and hand out candy as kids came up.  So I know at my house, we're gonna have family and neighbors, and everybody's gonna be in a lawn chair spread out across the yard, and we'll just have candy at the end of the driveway for kids to come and get if they want to." 

Animatronics and motion-sensing displays will make sure that visitors to the Halloween House will still be entertained, said Jenkins.  He hopes his witches, skeletons and fake graves will give some relief from the stress of dealing with COVID for the past seven or eight months.  "We're respectful of both adults and children and how they feel about this, but we also want to give 'em a little scare and let them come out and have a good time on Halloween.  I don't want COVID to completely stop Halloween," said the self-described "old monster man at heart." 

For Jenkins, seeing the number of new families with younger children moving into the community "makes me feel like this is gonna be a good Halloween regardless of COVID."  Burrell feels that while COVID has kept people apart physically, she thinks the determination for normalcy has inspired them to find ways to safely be together as a community in spirit.