One good thing: Wickedly creative pandemic trick-or-treating

A couple is in front of their home decorated for Halloween
Carol McCarthy and her husband, Tom, pose for a portrait at their home they decorated for Halloween on Monday in Palmyra, N.J.
Michael Perez | AP Photo

Dropping candy down a chute for little costumed Baby Sharks, Mulans and Black Panthers. Flinging full-size candy bars to them via mini-catapults, “Game of Thrones” style, or with decorated slingshots.

Scattering candy at social distances across the front yard, placing it in Easter egg containers. A church near Cincinnati is offering to hand treats to drive-by families. And in San Francisco, a haunted house has become a haunted drive-thru.

A favorite American festivity is being tested by the pandemic. And people are rising to the challenge for trick-or-treating that's both safe and fun during a pandemic.

“I've always loved Halloween. This has been a rough year for everyone,” said Carol McCarthy, of Palmyra, N.J. "I'm going a little more over the top than usual. There's something about this year that I have to try a little harder to keep the magic going."

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She's not the only one.

The National Retail Federation's surveys indicate Halloween spending and participation will be down a little this year, projecting spending of $8.05 billion after $8.78 billion last year. But many of those who are participating plan to spend more, it reports.

“Consumers continue to place importance on celebrating our traditional holidays, even if by untraditional standards,” federation CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

McCarthy said she will make sure trick-or-treaters and their parents will feel safe. Her husband, Tom, took some PVC pipe to make a 7-foot chute. She plans to use a spray bottle of alcohol to regularly disinfect the chute's end and she's going to offer a safety message while dressed as a pirate:

“Mask up, maties! Stand a plank's length apart.”

In her Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood, Julie Schirmer has been practicing with her candy slingshot.

“I wish there were a handbook, but you know, I love Halloween and have always made it a thing,” she explained.

“It breaks my heart to think that all that fun may not be well-advised this year,” she said. “So I was thinking about it and trying to be creative.”

Instead of the usual bags of miniature candy bars for trick-or-treaters, she is stocking up on a variety of full-size bars, so children will feel like they've "hit the mother lode.”

Schirmer will don a black witch’s cape and hat, with a mask, for the festivities. Her slingshot is outfitted with a creepy, old doll’s head and orange ribbons with black spider webs.

If the kid asks for a Hershey's chocolate bar, she will wipe and wrap it in a sanitizing wipe, drop it into a zip-close bag, aim it in the direction of the child's hands and fire away.

Usually, she and neighbors gather inside for Halloween for a potluck dinner and wine. This year, she plans a front-yard fire pit with socially distanced seating.

While some haunted attractions aren't open this year, others have tried new approaches. The “‘Pirates of Emerson” haunted house in the San Francisco Bay area has become a drive-thru this year.

“My parents and I, we started it in their backyard on Emerson Street 29 years ago. It was a keg and some friends scaring the neighborhood kids, and it got bigger and bigger,” Brian Fields said of the popular attraction.

Visitors used to creep through narrow hallways while ghosts and goblins jumped out in close quarters. Now, the spook show is watched from inside visitors’ vehicles as they wind their way through a route dotted with ominous shadows and creepy characters.

It means guests can maintain social distancing from the safety of their slow-moving cars for a 20- to 25-minute drive.

Although they might not feel so safe when a brain-eating zombie or a maniac with a chainsaw springs out at them.

“It’s a great way to have the Halloween spirit in 2020 when we really need it," said cast member Shi Tuck. “And we’re doing it in a way that’s super safe."