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Lockdown Halloween: the safe way to have grisly fun

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We’ve known devils, ghouls and bogeymen in Halloweens past, but 2020’s biggest villain – Covid19 – has been the scariest yet. Chief Medical Office Tony Holohan has already warned that this year’s celebrations won’t be like the Halloween we know and love.

“It can’t be,” he said earlier this week. “We can’t have children and families moving from house to house in the way that normally happens.”

Yet even in Level 5 lockdown, it’s possible to celebrate the feast of Samhain in all its grisly glory. With a little bit of creativity and ingenuity, there are several ways to get a real kick out of the scariest season of the year, while keeping yourself and everyone safe.

DO: Go virtual for fun

There are plenty of online events that can be enjoyed within the confines of home. The Big Scream, an inner-city Dublin celebration of Bram Stoker, will be happening free-of-charge on Zoom (bigscream.ie), while for bigger kids, Wicklow’s Historic Gaol at Kilmantin Hill is planning a number of terrifying virtual reality tours this year (wicklowshistoricgaol.com). Derry’s Halloween celebration is often one of the biggest in the country, and their huge free event will now be presented as an action-packed digital programme. derryhalloween.com for free online tutorials in cocktail making to spooky storytelling. And on the Wild Atlantic Way, the ever-popular Westival is not letting a pandemic get in the way of delivering its brilliant music and arts programme. All-ages events can be accessed at westival.ie. One of the biggest Halloween events, the Bram Stoker Festival, is also delivering virtual experiences, from an immersive audio experience for grown-ups to a storytelling experience alongside theatrical ensemble Macnas. bramstokerfestival.com has the details.

Gamers can also enjoy The Kracken’s Revenge; a live game in which Game of Thrones actor Iwan Rheon will be making his way around a treacherous ocean fortress as part of Screamfest IV. Tickets cost €10; eventbrite.com

If you head to facebook.com/rockyhorrorpitureshowireland tonight, fans will be able to enjoy not just a livestream of the beloved 1970s film, but also the cast in full costume watching on Zoom as well.

DON’T: Forget the mask when dressing up

If you are planning to be out and about, a mask is very much essential wear – and a typical plastic costume mask won’t pass muster. “The argument behind this is the same reason why visors aren’t as good as standard cloth masks,” explains Dr Pádraic Dunne from the Centre for Positive Psychology and Health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. “If you sneeze into a plastic mask, it’s likely to go up and down, as it would with a visor. You’re better off incorporating a medical or cloth mask into your costume.” Pinterest and Etsy, incidentally, also have great ideas if you want to get inspired.

DON’T: Bother with the bonfire and fireworks

Dublin Fire Brigade has revealed a whopping 300 per cent increase in bonfire callouts this year already – that’s about 700 bonfires in the last six weeks. Putting the clear coronavirus risk when groups gather aside, other good reasons to give them a miss are manifold: they often result in huge environmental damage to local amenities and grassland parks, and can often be unsafe.

DON’T: Go the full ‘corona’ with your costume

Look, it might be tempting (not to mention easy) to dress up as the virus by donning red tentacles, but some might deem your costume choice a bit tone deaf/triggering. Topical, with a cheeky nod to pop culture, is usually the way to go if you want to raise the LOLs. This year’s most popular choices are already Tiger King’s Joe Exotic (blonde wig, dodgy ‘tache), Billie Eilish (green wig, baggy T-shirt and baggy shorts) or Emily in Paris (em, a beret and good shoes). Or you could recreate the truly iconic look of the year: Paul Mescal in his GAA shorts (two cans of pink gin and tonic: optional). Feeling super lazy (and don’t mind explaining yourself a lot)? Wear a brown T-shirt and brown trousers. Hey presto, you’re now a loaf of banana bread.

Of course, 2020 is also the year of keeping things simple and cutting out complications, so we are in full support of cutting corners and begging, borrow or “stealing” a ready-to-wear number.

DO: Get ghost hunting

Thanks to the people at Paranormal Researchers Ireland, you can be part of a real life ghost hunt at what is supposed to be the most haunted house in the country. Enjoy this live stream paranormal investigation at Loftus Hall on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a fee of €9.99. loftushall.ie has all the details of how to book.

DON’T: Go trick or treating

Under new restrictions, which means that no social or family gatherings are permitted indoors or outside, door-to-door trick or treating is essentially out for this year, and could potentially be quite stressful for older/vulnerable neighbours who are keen to social distance.

“Treats are the central component here, and adults will be the same, ‘I’ll just dip into that bowl of sweets’ – it’s just not safe to do,” says Dunne. “To keep Covid at bay, we really are better of keeping safe among our own household. Halloween is all about connecting with people, and it’s usually a very social event, but that’s exactly what the virus wants.”

There are “moderate-risk activities” being suggested by the US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “One-way trick-or-treating”, where individually wrapped bags of sweets are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway) – however, mindful of NPHET’s regulations, Dunne advises against this.

“With the best will in the world, all it takes is one person to make this go viral, no matter how well we know them, even if it’s the person from two doors up,” he says. “This idea has the best intentions and sounds like a good idea, but we really do need to go the whole hog.”

Similarly, bundling up into the car and driving around to see various decorated houses does not, according to guidelines, classify as an essential journey.

To eliminate the risk of getting the virus, you could always move your costume parade into the virtual sphere and have a “who wore it best?” contest over Zoom.

DO: Recreate your own childhood Halloween

Nope, not with monkey nuts and a scratchy plastic mask (brrrrr): we’re talking all the old Halloween games like bobbing for apples, and snap apple.

“These games are perfectly fine, once they’re played within the home, and with members of your household only,” advises Dunne.

If bobbing for apples is your thing, float apples in a large basin filled with water. The object of this game is to grab one of the apples and remove it from the water using your mouth, with hands kept behind player’s backs (if you want to add a bit of jeopardy, throw in a bar or soap to keep players on their toes).

For snap apple, tie strings around apples and suspend them from the ceiling, a tree branch, or even the washing line.

You can always introduce your kids to the hidden charms of Barm Brack; traditionally, rings, coins, peas wrapped in greaseproof paper or even rags were baked into the loaf – which will either entertain or horrify your children. There are two handy brack recipes below.

Others might remember a game where saucers with water, clay, a ring or thimble were placed on tables. Players were blindfolded and spun around and directed at the saucers. Choosing the saucer with water meant they would travel abroad: the ring means they will get married, the clay signified an early death, while choosing the thimble means that a life of singlehood awaited.

DO: Explain the situation to your kids

If your kids have enjoyed Halloweens past, the new-look celebration might come as a bit of a culture shock. “For me, this is about projecting onto the other person and telling them that this is not about killing their joy, but about protecting others, their granny or their teacher,” advises Dunne. “Remind them that it’s not about punishing them, but being a protector of everyone around them.”

Do: Sort out a super spread

There is no shortage of Halloween recipe ideas all over the Internet, from devilish dinners and seasonal warmers to scary cupcakes and creepy treats. The Irish Times Food and Drink section is replete with suggestions for easy and quick party food ideas that the whole family can help with. Try Vanessa Greenwood’s frighteningly devilish cupcakes (click here for the recipe) or some simple and tasty treats from Shane Smith that are perfect to try with little ones. (click here for recipe)

To make your own traditional brack, try Donal Skehan’s step-by-step guide for the perfect fruit loaf (click here for recipe) or for something a little different, Martin Dwyer’s Easy Whiskey & Tea Brack has plenty of kick. Just go easy on the whiskey if you reckon little ones might indulge (click here for recipe).

DO: Figure out where the sweets are going to be coming from

Trick or treating may be out, but overlook the sweets at your peril. There’s always room for a scavenger hunt around the house for treats. Make it even more fun by putting fun, family-related clues in every room (“You’ll find the toffee apples where Daddy likes to leave his mobile phone”). Or, if the great outdoors are calling, try a scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed items to look for in the back garden.

DO: Remember that all Level 5 rules still apply

Even amid the merriment and monstrous good fun, public health advice on social distancing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, mask wearing and hand washing must still be adhered to, no matter what age you are.

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