That’s the Spirit!

P ublic health warnings to “keep a distance” are a nightmare for kids on Halloween. “Door to door trick or treating is not recommended” this year, a New Haven Health Department flyer warns.

But New Haveners are adapting. Families like the Pellegrinos of Fair Haven say they’ll be staying closer to home this year. “We’re lucky that we’ve got some families on this street, and we all are friendly and hang out quite a bit,” Beth Pellegrino says as her three children, ages 4, 6 and 8, play on the sidewalk in their costumes. In the past, a larger neighborhood gathering would have included pizza in the backyard and trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhood together. This year, the family plans to “just stick to our crew,” Pellegrino says. Close neighbors will likely make individual bags of candy to hand out to each other’s kids. Pellegrino’s husband Tony, a nurse, says he sees the compromise as a low-risk alternative.

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Halloween can attract as many as 500 kids to Grace Halsey’s neighborhood in Westville. She’s thinking she’ll put a bowl of candy on the porch for any kids who show up this year and wave from behind the glass door. “That’s the best part, is seeing the kids,” she says sadly. Halsey’s twins, seventh-graders Phoebe and Noah, have costumes ready and are hoping to visit friends for a small outside party on Halloween. Noah, who’s dressing as a pile of leaves, is considering what kind of mask will work with his camo look. He figures that if not too many kids show up at his house, he’ll score a big bag of leftover candy. Weighing the options, Phoebe (costumed as Mrs. Incredible) comes up with another possible scenario: a Halloween and Easter mashup involving a candy egg hunt.

Littler kids at The Learning Experience childcare center on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard will celebrate differently this year as well. Owner Dee Patel says a schoolwide costume parade traditionally attended by families in the parking lot will be scaled way back. One classroom group at a time will trick-or-treat down the hallway instead. “It’s lost a lot of excitement this year [because] we have such limitations in our building for parents to come in,” Patel says, adding that the center is operating at less than half-capacity while many parents keep their children at home. “You can feel that the energy is definitely different” around Halloween this year.

Big public events have had to adapt as well. The 10th annual Giant Puppet and People Making Mayhem Parade in Westville gave up its puppet-making workshops and turned the usual foot march into a car caravan through the neighborhood last weekend. Meanwhile, the neighborhood’s annual Trunk-or-Treat event will be a drive-through this year, to be held in Edgewood Park from 4 to 6 p.m. on Halloween. Those coming without a car can pick up goody bags inside Coogan Pavilion.

Among the Trunk-or-Treat volunteers giving out individually packaged bags of candy will be representatives of the New Haven Free Public Library, who, in the interest of healthy habits, will favor giveaways like library t-shirts, books, bookmarks, pencils and other readerly gifts, says Margaret Girgis, manager of the Young Minds & Family Learning Department. The library, which has given up its own trick-or-treating among the stacks, has been offering live Halloween-themed story times this week via its Facebook page, Monday through Thursday at 11 a.m.

The pandemic has forced not only adaptation but also innovation. In East Rock, for example, a five-year-old neighbor’s disappointment over canceled trick-or-treating led Addie Gorlin—a director, producer and educator—to dream up a whole new experience. A team of artists will transform four East Rock garages into mini-theaters where they’ll present Boitatá. Based on a myth from the indigenous Tupi-Guarani peoples of Brazil, Boitatá tells the story of a Giant Fire Serpent—one of many mythical creatures that’s said to prevent “devastation of the forests that’s still happening to this day,” explains Danilo Gambini, director and dramaturg. He’s excited to share the story from his native country in an effort to “create more empathy, create more knowledge” and build what he calls a “shared mythology.” Boitatá sold out more than a week in advance; those lucky enough to have scored a free ticket will walk or drive from garage to garage on a timed schedule to view the performance’s four scenes in small, socially-distanced groups.

Also on Halloween night and also sold out early, the Elm Shakespeare Company’s Teen Troupe will present three outdoor performances in Edgerton Park titled Taste of Fear, billed as “a socially distant evening of Shakespeare’s scariest moments.” The impetus was the teen actors’ desire to get off Zoom and onstage again, says Barbara Schaffer, development director. “We thought, okay, we’re desperate to perform, we had no summer, and what could we do that would be safe and manageable?” Meeting the city’s COVID protocols was “daunting” at first, Schaffer says, but the planning was worth it: “The kids are really pumped up.”

Despite all the challenges, it seems this Halloween will still cast a spell on the Elm City. There’s even a chance the magic will last. Schaffer, for one, says the thought has crossed minds at Elm Shakespeare: “This is really fun, and people seem to like it. Maybe we [could] do this every year.”

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 features Phoebe and Noah Halsey. Image 2 features the Pellegrino children. Images 3-6 feature paraders and puppets during the 2020 Giant Puppet and People Making Mayhem Parade.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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