Crowds are scarier than creepy costumes: Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos adapt in a pandemic

Masks may be the only constant from past years for fall celebrations upended by COVID-19.

Halloween decorations, here at a South Berkeley home on Oct. 13, are one thing that’s still possible during a pandemic. Photo: Pete Rosos

About this time most years, Pinkie FitzGibbon-Flad is busy with city street closure permits, spooky decorations, creepy costumes and candy for thousands. She is joined by many of her Russell Street neighbors in Berkeley, preparing for their annual Halloween bash.

This year will be different.

“We personally will probably make a big batch of margaritas and have a group dinner outdoors with our ‘pod’,” she said

“Perhaps watch a classic film like Dracula (’31 version!) or maybe a Halloween Jeopardy?” she added


Gone is the street closure, the spectacle of elaborate front-yard Halloween installations, the crowds, the buckets and baskets of treats being passed from hand to hand. Like many Berkeleyans — and indeed, people everywhere who usually enjoy a lively Halloween celebration — the Russell Street Halloween extravaganza is adapting to life in a pandemic.

Masks may be the only constant from past years.

“This year the mere thought of those crowds interacting  — even if outdoors — is much scarier than any creepy Halloween fright!” FitzGibbon-Flad said. “We hope that our young community members will not be too disappointed by the cancellation, but we felt there was simply no way to pull off the celebration in good conscience.”

City health officials would approve.

Health officers from around the Bay Area, including Berkeley, issued a press release a few weeks ago asking people to celebrate Halloween in ways that reduce changes of COVID-19 spread.


“[We] urge everyone to limit Halloween and Día de Los Muertos activities to those you live with and use the time to focus on activities, like decorations and virtual costume parties, that keep physical distancing and other safeguards in place,” read the statement.

The officers ranked Halloween activities from lower risk, carving pumpkins outside staying six feet from others; to moderate risk, a very small group socially-distanced outdoor costume parade; to higher risk, traditional trick or treating; to very high risk and not legally allowed, a crowded, indoor party.

Josephine Street residents in North Berkeley are also resigned to the new coronavirus reality. Traditionally, a stretch running from the intersection with Cedar Street is closed off to traffic for neighborhood trick or treating. This year, a sign posted on utility poles, signed by “Your friends The Pirates,” reads: “After a long discussion, Josephine Street will not be hosting its usual Halloween spectacular. As pirates, we don’t follow the rules, but in this case we prefer to keep things safe and healthy. The crowds are just too big to safely hand out (or shoot) candy.”

Fall celebrations will be different in a year when crowds are actively discouraged. Oct. 13, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Transitioning Halloween is necessary but a blow for struggling businesses along Solano Avenue in Berkeley and Albany, said Allen Cain, director of the Solano Avenue Association. Events and celebrations fuel the street’s economic vitality.

Solano is normally home to year-round events including the popular annual September street festival, Solano Stroll, which was canceled this year. Halloween usually features avenue-long trick or treating, a costume contest and more.


But this year, the association isn’t hosting any special events, Cain said, clearing up confusion stemming from the association’s website, which suggested Halloween was on before the page was updated Thursday.

Merchants are being encouraged to decorate their windows, and the association plans to send out volunteer monitors on Halloween Eve to help keep calm if needed, Cain said. Many individual businesses have festivities planned, he said.

Canceling Solano’s special events is hard, but necessary, Cain said. Safety is paramount, he said. “Now is not a good time to gather.”

Know of other events? Have plans of your own that could inspire others? Let us know in the comments.