"Whose turn to serve?"

Evanstonians were all in when it came to finding creative ways to adhere to guidelines set forth by the City of Evanston’s Health and Human Services Department for safe trick-or-treating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There were candy chutes, decorated treat tables, front yards filled with candy-on-a-stick, and party-favor bags clipped to spooky clotheslines.

Although public health guidelines did not allow for children to gather on doorsteps this year, many residents decorated their porches, windows and front yards with Jack-O’-Lanterns, Halloween characters, spider webs and colorful lights that delighted trick-or-treaters and passersby.

Tracy and Justin Froelich, parents of two children, ages 18 months and 6 years, said they did not hesitate to decorate their house and front yard this year, despite the changes brought about by the pandemic.

“It brings back the Halloween spirit and it brings some normalcy back into things. I just wanted to make it fun for people, and especially the kids. I’m happy to do it,” said Ms. Froelich.

Alexis Bell said she distributed candy in individual zip lock bags that she set outside her house, at a safe distance from the door.

“it was different this year. I just went along with it. It was interesting to see what people did. They got really creative,” said Ms. Bell.

“One man made a pulley system, and he had a menu. Kids would pick what they want from the menu and he would put it in this little box, and the pulley system would take it out to the kids,” said Mr. Froelich.

Some residents sat on their porches, sending candy down home-crafted chutes while trick-or-treaters waited at the other end for the candy to swoosh into their bags. Other residents sat socially distanced around small portable fire pits that added to the festive atmosphere.

A picture-perfect fall day added to the magic of a holiday that historians have traced back to the ancient pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on the night of October 31.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the areas that are now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, believed that the dead returned to earth on Samhain. It was a sacred night, when people gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices and pay homage to the dead. Some Celts wore costumes made of animal skins to drive away “phantom visitors,” according to history.com.

 Villagers left food on banquet tables to placate unwelcome spirits. Centuries later, during the Middle Ages, practice called “souling” emerged, in which people went house to house collecting food or money in return for prayers said for the dead on All Souls’ Day. Over time, this practice transitioned to a custom known as “mumming,” where people went house-to-house playing jokes, or “tricks” in exchange for food and drink. Historian believe this is the likely precursor to modern door-to-door rick-or-treating, which became popular in American culture by the 1950s.

Adults and children alike adapted easily to this year’s “trick-or-treating with a twist.”

“More young trick-or-treaters out than I thought would be out! Very respectful! A lot of tables were out on my block and homeowners out greeting the kids. Very fun, and as soon as it got dark, it was all over,” said Evanston resident Ed Jamieson.

Kelli Handel welcomed the change in trick-or-treating protocol.

“We thought it was great this year and fun to connect with the kids rather than just the grab and go at the door. We got lucky with the weather, so it was great to just hang out outside with so many of the neighbors. The kids all seemed so polite this year – lots of thank you’s and good manners, said Ms. Handel.

Evanstonians were able to maintain the mystery and allure of a holiday that many children look forward to all year by following what some health experts call the “Three Ws: Wear a mask; Wash hands; Watch distance.”


Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.