The year without Halloween

Is it possible to celebrate Halloween after Sandy?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published October 31, 2012 7:20PM (EDT)

         (<a href=''>Stuart Miles</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Stuart Miles via Shutterstock)

It hasn't quite been like the Sheriff of Nottingham stomping around and demanding everyone "call off Christmas" — but it's the closest many of us will come in our lifetimes. In the aftermath of Monday's Hurricane Sandy, a vast population of candy-hoarding families and sexy Muppets alike who weren't severely impacted by the storm now wonder how — or even if — they can celebrate Halloween. The fact that the holiday this year happened to fall less than 48 hours after the brunt of Sandy's impact presents a unique challenge: How do we strike the balance between a reserved, respectful distance from a disaster and when do we press on? How do we acknowledge the scariest day of the year immediately following the truly scariest day of the year?

The answer for many right now is still straightforwardly logistical. In a downtown Manhattan still ravaged, the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management and the NYPD were forced to make the choice to cancel the legendary Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. This marks the first time in its nearly four-decade-long history the parade won't happen, leaving the streets, normally teeming with upward of 50,000 revelers, empty this Halloween. Similarly, other events, from Ms. Dita Von Teese's Halloween "StripStripHooray" at the Gramercy Theatre to the Park Slope Parade, have been forced into cancellation. And on Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made good on what he'd promised earlier in the week and signed an executive order to officially postpone Halloween "in all parts of New Jersey" until Monday, Nov. 5.

And so, Halloween this year has been shrunk down to fun-size. It meant that WNYC has gamely offered up a "virtual" Halloween parade and call for photos. And "Today," acknowledging that the holiday is still "a very big deal" for kids, has offered ideas for a toned-down, "Plan B" Halloween.

In my own uptown neighborhood, Halloween is generally celebrated in our local park, where kids meander around swapping treats and the park rangers turn the hilly woods into a haunted forest. But with all city parks still shut down, a last-minute, coordinated alternative has in the past day turned the celebration into a logistical challenge. Frankly, I'm just dressing my kids up, taking them outside, circumventing all the debris and assuming people will hand them candy.

Despite the way that Sandy barreled into our lives and made the notion of dressing up funny and trolling for tiny Milky Way bars seem like the least important thing in the world, the desire to celebrate – and more significantly, to connect – exists. Too many of us in the Northeast right now don't have a choice about where to take our children out tonight and how to revamp our plans. For those of us who can, though, a few hours of laughter and silliness are exactly what we need. And what is Halloween for, after all, if not to chase away the demons for a moment, to show that we're not afraid?

A friend who lives further north, in a beautiful, storm-damaged town along the Hudson River, told me Wednesday of his plans. "We're all taking our kids to a costume-required trick or treating party at a friend's house," he said. And then he added, "Presently none of the houses in question have power, so any party will be gasoline-powered if electricity is still out tonight. The plan was hatched over impromptu beers yesterday at another friend's house, to the strains of a generator."

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Bloomberg Chris Christie Halloween Hurricane Sandy New York City Parenting