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Trick or…? Ideas to Replace Trick-or-Treating If It’s Cancelled This Year

by David Engle | Sep 22, 2020 | 4 min read

Halloween without trick-or-treating? That’s like Christmas without Santa Claus. Or Easter without the bunny. Or Thanksgiving without the turkey. You get the idea. Inconceivable (insert Princess Bride meme here), right? Yeah, well, this is 2020, the most ridiculous year that most of us have ever experienced. And anything goes in 2020.

And one of the (many) things going in 2020 might be trick-or-treating. Before you scoff, note that Los Angeles County had already cancelled it due to COVID-19 before walking back on the ban last week. Los Angeles County health officials are now telling citizens that trick-or-treating is not recommended due to the inability to practice social distancing…plus, wearing a mask over a Halloween mask isn’t a great look.

We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks as far as trick-or-treating goes. Depending on where you live, it might be business as usual–in others, people may be seeking alternatives to trick-or-treating and other traditional Halloween events (many towns across the country have already cancelled haunted houses, parades, and similar gatherings).

While nothing can really replace the trick-or-treating experience, there are some activities that can serve as entertaining options for Halloween 2020. Hopefully you don’t have to use them, but if you do…

  1. A Halloween scavenger hunt/treasure hunt. Get the kids dressed up (I mean, it’s Halloween…they still HAVE to get dressed up, right?) and send them on an adventure at home. First, hide candy (I mean, it’s Halloween…they still HAVE to get candy, right?) and/or other prizes and treats–as well as scavenger hunt props–around the house and in the yard. Then, come up with some clever clues, or use these, and set the kids loose.

    While it’s not trick-or-treating, the results are still pretty much the same. Think about it–kids get dressed in their costumes, they run around outside, they laugh and have fun, and they come back with bags full of candy! If you’re comfortable enough having family or the kids’ friends join you, make it a socially distant, small-group activity!

  2. Halloween movie marathon. So, this isn’t really anything close to trick-or-treating, but a scary movie marathon is a fun activity that can distract the kids from the fact they’re missing trick-or-treating this year. Get the kids dressed up (I mean, it’s Halloween…ok, I’ll stop), make a ton of popcorn, put out bowls of everyone’s favorite candy, and cue up the big screen.

    You’ll obviously have to plan accordingly as far as age-appropriate movies for the kids. If they’re older, there are some classics like the original Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Carrie, The Shining, and Child’s Play. If you want to get really intense, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Midsommar, Rosemary’s Baby, and the recent It movies are pretty terrifying. For the less adventurous, there are relatively gore-free classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and The Birds, Tim Burton’s holiday hybrid The Nightmare Before Christmas, Poltergeist, and The Sixth Sense. For younger kids, there are some fun animated specials and movies, such as It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, the Hotel Transylvania trilogy, Frankenweenie, and a gem that NBC aired in 2017 (I found it absolutely hilarious) based on an absolutely ridiculous Saturday Night Live skit from 2016, The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special. With the title character voiced by none other than Tom Hanks.

    For everyone else, there are literally thousands of movies from which to choose. Some recent films that put a good scare into me and/or kept me entertained include The Conjuring, Insidious, The Haunting of Hill House miniseries on Netflix, Summer of ‘84, Get Out, The Babadook, and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Common Sense Media has a pretty impressive list of their best horror movies for teens. Scary movies, popcorn, and candy? Sounds like my kind of Halloween!

  3. A Halloween bake-off. It doesn’t really have to be a competition, of course, but get the whole family involved (costumes, of course) and bake some delicious Halloween treats! Cupcakes, Rice Krispies squares, cookies…add some candy corn, mini candy bars, and other sweets, and have fun decorating. Obviously the best part will come later when you can eat all the deliciousness you just baked!

    If sweets aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other snack ideas to try out, like salty treats and even appetizers. Now, it IS Halloween after all, so there will be some sweetness in some of these snacks. But there’s also enough savory in these recipes to satisfy the salt lover.

  4. Pumpkin-carving contest. Last but not least, why not a good, old-fashioned jack-o’-lantern competition with the family? Now, if you have younger children, you probably want to put them on teams with an adult–we don’t want anyone spending Halloween in the emergency room. In these cases, let the kids create the design of the pumpkin while the adult does the carving.

    You can pick a theme, like traditional designs, Star Wars, sports, Disney characters, or go for something really crazy. Unlike the bake-off, make this an actual contest, with the winner(s) getting a homemade family trophy or championship belt. That way, you can continue the tradition every year–even when everyone’s able to trick-or-treat again!

Let’s face it–trick-or-treating is awesome. I still have vivid remembrances of my days trick-or-treating with friends and family as an elementary school student. Amazing memories are made on Halloween, and trick-or-treating is such an integral part of that. But if trick-or-treating is off the table for 2020, there are still plenty of ways to have a truly enjoyable and memorable Halloween. Hopefully it’s just one year, but who knows….you might have so much fun that you’ll make some of these ideas a yearly Halloween tradition! After all, you’ve got family, maybe a couple of friends, awesome costumes, scary movies, and lots of candy…what more could you want?

How do you plan on spending Halloween this year? If you’re not trick-or-treating, what do you plan on doing instead? Share in the comments below!


David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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