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Autumn is a time of after-dark festivals, when we all go doolally for illuminations, flashes and things that go bump in the night. With large gatherings banned, much of our traditional Halloween, Bonfire Night and Diwali celebrations will have to be set aside for the year. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun.
All of the suggestions below are for family activities that won’t have you mingling with other households.
What Will Halloween Look Like?
Halloween, on 31 October, will be a largely home-based event this year. The ongoing health crisis would make trick-or-treating irresponsible, if not illegal. Groups of people calling on dozens of households and accepting treats is clearly not a good idea right now. Likewise, Halloween parties and balls will be forbidden by the rule-of-six law. Here, instead, are a few ideas for enjoying a safe Halloween at home.
Trick or treating: Consider holding a home-based trick or treat. First, have fun making spooky costumes for dolls, teddies or action figures using odds and ends from the craft box. Then you can either have them pretend to visit one another at different points around the home, or else play a game of “Hide and spook”. Here, you conceal the costumed playthings around the house and the children have to find them. Whenever they spot one, make a scary, scary noise.
Scary costumes: There’s nothing to stop your child (literally) getting into the spirit, by dressing up in a spooky costume at home. How about organising a virtual haunted house party? Arrange a Zoom call with similarly attired friends. One of the adults could even read a ghost story if the children are old enough. Those with dogs might also consider making a spooky canine costume. Yes, it really is a thing.
Pumpkin lanterns: Here’s one activity that shouldn’t be scuppered. All the supermarkets stock pumpkins in the run-up to Halloween. If you’ve never tried carving a pumpkin before, consider buying the smaller, fun-sized ones to make the job a bit easier. You’ll be doing most of the work, as the task requires a strong knife with a serrated edge. First, cut the top off the pumpkin -- perhaps about a fifth of the way down. You should find a hollow seed-filled layer, which needs scooping out. Kids can help with this bit. (Remember to keep the seeds -- they’re delicious roasted with olive oil. The flesh can also be used in stews, soups and other warming meals.) Next, draw a face onto the pumpkin, then carefully cut it out using a smaller serrated knife. Don’t worry if it looks a bit wonky on your first effort… it’s not meant to be a pretty face, after all. Finally, place a tealight inside to make it glow, and pop the lid back on.
If you don’t want all the hassle of carving, simply get the kids to draw a face onto the fruit with a marker pen.
Halloween Riddles: Witches and supernatural beings have always been associated with trickery and riddles. Try out the following 17 Halloween-themed riddles on your children (or yourself).
Other crafting ideas: Why stick to the traditional Halloween activities? Find out how to make wool-wrapped pumpkins, print cartoon pumpkins using apples, and other autumnal hands-on ideas in our crafty guide. Also, discover how to make a pipe cleaner spider or an origami bat.
If you do go out... Although trick-or-treating is a big no-no, it should be perfectly safe for children to dress up and explore the neighbourhood with lanterns (accompanied by an adult from the same household). The chief risk here is that you encounter friends and get mingling, so only consider this if you’re sure you won’t break the rule of six. Alternatively, take advantage of the rules about wearing (or making) face masks by getting hold of some monster-themed coverings, for wearing out-and-about over the Halloween period.
What Will Bonfire Night Look Like?
It’s very doubtful that public displays can go ahead. It *is* possible to imagine a field full of socially distanced people, oooing and ahhhing at the fireworks, but getting a crowd to do this in practice would be impossible. Likewise, community bonfires and street processions (like the famous one in Lewes) are unlikely to go ahead in even a pared back form. The risk of attracting crowds is too great. Expect to see more fireworks launched from private gardens this 5 November.
Home fireworks: If done safely, holding your own miniature firework display can be a lot more exciting and memorable than a huge public display. You’ll be a lot closer to the action, and you can make each launch more fun by pretending it’s a rocket ship to the moon, complete with countdown. Sparklers are a perennial favourite, relatively inexpensive, and perfectly safe so long as you warn the kids about the dangers of touching the hot end. And remember to never do sparklers or any kind of firework from a balcony or roof terrace -- you need to be in a garden or yard.
Team up with the neighbours: If you happen to be friendly with your neighbours, and they’re also keen to launch fireworks, then synch yourselves up for a combined ‘display’, with fireworks launching from different gardens around the same time. You’ll all get more bang for your buck, while remaining safely distanced behind fences and hedges.
Make a Guy: How realistic a ‘Guy’ can your kids build, using their own initiative? Stuff some old clothes with other old clothes. Draw a face on a balloon for a head. Attach gloves and shoes to the limbs. Ta-da! One Guy Fawkes. Tell your kids it’s an age-old Halloween tradition to make a guy, though you might want to gloss over the bit about burning it as an effigy of an historical person.
What Will Diwali Look Like?
In recent years, the Hindu festival of light has well and truly crossed cultural borders, and is now celebrated by people of other faiths and none. Large public celebrations and fireworks now take place in many of the UK’s big cities. Not this year, unfortunately. That said, much of the traditional celebration of Diwali is based around the home. Join in on 14 November by lighting candles, tea lights and lamps, and adorning your walls with decorations. If you’d like to give the kids a hands-on introduction to Diwali traditions, then check out this guide to 17 Diwali craft ideas aimed at children.
See also: our guide to how Christmas will be different in 2020.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.