Alexandria’s Halloween festivities adapt to the pandemic

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Alexandria’s Halloween festivities adapt to the pandemic
A skeleton observes the city’s mask mandate in Old Town. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)
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By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

For the first time in more than a decade, Lee Street won’t be the Halloween spectacular it usually is.

With COVID-19 cases still on the rise and the Alexandria Health Department advising that residents forego trick-or-treating this year, several of the city’s Halloween traditions have been reimagined.

Trick-or-treating on Lee Street, the city’s biggest unofficial Halloween celebration that attracts thousands every year, is cancelled, according to Lee Street residents.

While police typically close Lee Street to vehicles on Halloween each year, the event is not city-sponsored, so the city cannot officially “cancel” Halloween on Lee Street. Instead, residents of Lee Street are taking it upon themselves to let people know most porch lights
will be dark this Halloween. In addition, the Alexandria Police Department will neither barricade the street nor station officers at the event.

“Many of the neighbors on the street have said they’re just going to turn their lights out and take a year off,” Lee Street resident Lee Dunn said. “… There’s just not as much of a sentiment from neighbors that I’ve heard about opening up their homes to hand out candy. I think people are nervous.”

Skeletons protect this house on South Lee Street in Old Town. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

Dunn has received a lot of calls from friends about whether Lee Street will be open to trick-or-treaters. She said she’s been trying to discourage people from gathering on Lee Street to minimize the health risk that a massive crowd of trick-or-treaters would pose.

Like many people throughout the city, Dunn and her neighbors are finding other ways to celebrate Halloween this year. Dunn is planning to organize a scavenger hunt for her kids and some of their friends who have been quarantining, as well as a scary movie night. It’s not the same as the regular Lee Street festivities, but Dunn said she is hopeful that next year will be even better.

“It’s the best night of the year on Lee Street, but we’ll be here next year and we’ll save all our candy budget from this year and hopefully we’ll be ready next year with, who knows, maybe even double the candy,” Dunn said.

Both AHD and the city are advocating that residents choose “lower risk” activities to celebrate the holiday this year, according to the city website. These include pumpkin carving with family or friends, house decorating, hosting a virtual Halloween costume contest, watching scary movies or organizing a scavenger hunt.

AHD does not recommend that residents go trick-or-treating or participate in “one-way trick-or-treating,” an emerging trend where homeowners leave individually wrapped bags of candy on their porches for trick-or-treaters.

In addition to Lee Street, other neighborhoods are hosting safe ways to celebrate Halloween.

The Del Ray Business Association’s annual Halloween parade is cancelled this year, but the DRBA is still organizing a number of other events.

“Our primary concern is always the health and safety of our community,” Del Ray Halloween parade organizer Gayle Reuter said in a statement. “While we are heartbroken that we can’t bring 7,500 ghosts, goblins, superheroes and princesses to the Avenue for a parade, we’re excited about hosting some of our favorite Halloween traditions in a safe, socially-distant format.”

The best costume awards that are given out every year at the parade will move online this year. Those who wish to submit their costumes in the best group costume and best pet costume categories must enter online at www.visitdelray.com/halloween. The deadline is noon on Nov. 1.

Homeowners, business owners and neighbors will also be able to enter to win in the best decorated house, best decorated business and, for the first time, best decorated block categories. The deadline to enter for these awards is noon on Oct. 25.

Werewolves, ghost and ghouls haunt a Del Ray home. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

The best decorated block category was inspired by the creatively decorated porches throughout the neighborhood that came about as a result of Del Ray’s socially distant First Thursdays, according to the DRBA.

“During the pandemic, we have constantly been in awe of how our community has figured out new ways to connect with our neighbors, safely,” DRBA President Sue Kovalsky said in a statement. “We’re excited to see the creativity of neighbors coming together in the group costume contests and block dec- orating contests.”

The DRBA will also hold a Halloween scavenger hunt starting on Friday. Residents will be able to explore the neighborhood to find Halloween-themed items in Del Ray’s murals and businesses. Four people will be selected randomly from all the entries to receive a $50 gift card to spend at Del Ray businesses, according to the DRBA website.

In lieu of the DRBA’s annual collection of gently used Halloween costumes for children in need, community members will also be able to purchase a costume for a specific child via an Amazon wish list. More information is available at www.visitdelray.com/halloween.

The Carlyle Vitality Initiative is also holding its own pandemic-era Halloween celebration at the Carlyle Farmers Market on Oct. 30. The festivities will include a Halloween concert from Jesters to the Left in the evening, trick-or-treating with farmers market vendors and a pumpkin carving challenge where contestants bring their pre-carved pumpkins to be judged in competition.

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