Dressing up in costume and heading out for trick-or-treating or a Halloween party is a staple of Halloween. And if your family has older kids, so too is visiting haunted houses. But this year, our annual traditions will look different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines for celebrating a safe Halloween in 2020. They include skipping indoor haunted houses, large parties, and trick-or-treating — at least the traditional way.
That doesn’t mean Halloween is canceled. But the ongoing global pandemic has many families looking for safer alternatives.
In fact, according to a Harris Poll survey conducted for the National Confectioners Association (NCA), 74% of millennial moms and young parents say Halloween is more important than ever this year. And an Insight to Action survey found that 70% of moms plan to celebrate Halloween with their kids.
And that’s still possible. Even without haunted houses, Halloween parties, and trick-or-treating, there are plenty of activities to make Halloween memorable in 2020. And many alternate activities may turn out even more fun than the old standbys. Skipping out on those risky activities in favor of a new family tradition could make this year’s Halloween celebration one of the best yet. And fortunately, that doesn’t have to require spending a lot of money, as there are plenty of budget-friendly ways to celebrate.
So get your costume ready, stock up on candy, and get ready for a fun and safe Halloween.
Budget-Friendly Family Activities for Celebrating Halloween During COVID-19
Like everything else this year, celebrating Halloween in 2020 means getting creative about having fun in safe ways. Fortunately, according to a poll conducted by Morning Consult, also undertaken on behalf of the NCA, 63% of adults believe we can do just that. But in addition to curtailing our usual holiday traditions, the nature of the ongoing pandemic means finances are tight for a lot of us. But saving money doesn’t have to mean forgoing fun when it comes to Halloween — especially since many stay-at-home activities are also budget-friendly.
It’s safest to participate in activities that involve only immediate household members (or pandemic bubble). But depending on your risk tolerance and the prevalence of viral spread in your area, there are also options for getting together with friends or neighbors from a safe social distance.
To help make your decision about whether to celebrate with those outside your household or bubble, check out the Halloween & Costume Association’s Halloween 2020 website. It features a Harvard Global Health Institute-developed interactive map to help you gauge the risk level of certain activities — like Halloween parties and trick-or-treating — based on the number of confirmed cases in your area.
Once you know the level of risk — designated by the colors green (safest), yellow, orange, and red (least safe) — you can pick appropriate activities. For example, if you’re in a green zone, you can celebrate Halloween with only minor modifications, such as mask-wearing and trick-or-treating through glass doors. On the other hand, people in red zones should avoid any activities with those outside their immediate household or pandemic bubble.
Alternatives to Traditional Trick-or-Treating
According to the Harris Poll’s research, 80% of the general public and 90% of millennial moms and young parents can’t imagine Halloween without candy and feel trick-or-treating is irreplaceable. And while it is possible to trick-or-treat safely, as long as you and your community follow the CDC guidelines, there are numerous fun alternatives for kids to get their traditional sugar rush.
1. Set Up a Candy Graveyard
There’s no reason Easter egg hunts have to stay exclusive to Easter. Dust off your plastic eggs from the spring and use permanent markers to draw jack-o’-lantern faces on the orange ones, Frankenstein faces on the green ones, and skeleton faces on the white ones. Every other color gets funny monster faces. Then fill them with candy. For older kids who can stay up late to hunt for candy at night, make the eggs glow in the dark by putting mini glow sticks inside them.
Then make some do-it-yourself tombstones from cardboard recycled from all those home delivery boxes you’ve acquired during the pandemic. Just cut cardboard in tombstone shapes, glue or tape some wooden dowels to the back to act as ground stakes, paint them gray, and write some creepy messages like R.I.P. on each. Hide the eggs around the tombstones to make a candy graveyard.
2. Hold a Scavenger Hunt
Instead of an outdoor egg hunt, try an indoor scavenger hunt. Hide candy and toys around your house for your kids to find. Create your own clues for them to follow to find the treats or use the free printable cards on Play Party Plan. You can put a treat at each stop along the trail of clues or a big prize — like a pumpkin bucket full of candy — at the end.
Alternatively, take a family walk around your neighborhood to check out the Halloween decorations. Set kids up with a list of Halloween-themed sights to find while you walk, including things like witches, spiderwebs, and black cats. The family member who’s first to spy something on the list gets a point. The winner receives a prize. (Of course, everyone else gets treats too.) Or give out candy based on how many of each category everyone finds. For example, spotting three scarecrows gets you three fun-size Snickers.
Get a free scavenger hunt printable from USA Today.
3. Play the Pinata Game
Hitting a pinata to make it break open and rain down candy is another fun way to get kids their Halloween treats. It gives them a way to work for their candy instead of just handing it to them, which is what makes it more fun.
4. Have a Halloween Candy Taste Test
Stock up on your favorite Halloween candy or try one of the new flavors for the year, like Witch’s Brew Kit Kats or Vampire Hershey Kisses. Stop by your favorite online store and browse their selection to choose interesting new candy to experiment with. Or visit Delish for a list of candy to try.
Then stage a candy taste test. Set out all your finds, and have everyone take turns sampling the treats. Rate your favorites and then distribute the leftover candy accordingly.
Or turn it into a science experiment and have kids use all five senses — sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste — to decide on a favorite. Make a chart with sense categories to rate each candy. Then give each child four to five sweets to sample. Have them use the chart to rate which one looks the best, smells the best, has the best texture, and so on.
Get the full instructions on Little Bins for Little Hands.
5. Go “Ghosting”
Instead of having your kids collect candy from neighbors, they can give candy to them through “ghosting.” Also referred to as “booing,” ghosting involves making a bag of candy or other Halloween-themed goodies and leaving it on friends’, neighbors’, or relatives’ doorsteps. And it’s a perfect activity during a pandemic. It’s contactless, and it’s a way to show others you care and are thinking about them even if you can’t get together in person.
To make the gift extra-special, put the treats in a Halloween-themed container like a pumpkin bucket, a plastic cauldron, or a plain white bucket dressed up to look like a ghost. Make it by cutting eyes and a mouth from black construction paper and gluing or taping them onto the front of the bucket to look like a ghost face. If you plan to leave it on a doorstep on Halloween night, add a large gift tag so trick-or-treaters don’t think it’s for them to take from.
Get even more ideas and free “You’ve been Boo’ed” printable gift tags on Princess Pinky Girl.
6. Observe Safe Trick-or-Treating
Although the CDC guidelines warn against traditional trick-or-treating — going door-to-door and having children stick their hands in a communal candy bowl — there are safer ways to do it. These include CDC guidelines to package candy in individual bags for children to grab and line them up at a safe distance from yourself at the edge of your yard or the end of your driveway.
For those going trick-or-treating, the guidelines suggest using hand sanitizer after every stop and avoiding walking in a group with anyone outside your immediate household. And everyone — including trick-or-treaters and those passing out candy — should wear a face mask, even if you’re waving from a safe distance on your porch. Or you can skip the mask and wave at trick-or-treaters from behind a glass door.
Additionally, if you’ll be handing out candy, the Halloween 2020 website offers a safe house pledge (scroll to the bottom of their home page for the pledge). After signing it, you can print a safe house certificate to display in your yard so trick-or-treaters and their parents know you’re following all the appropriate guidelines.
Additionally, there are a few other ways to trick-or-treat safely. These include:
- Trunk-or-Treating. Trunk-or-treats involve community members decorating their car trunks and passing out candy in a designated parking lot. Because community organizations typically run them, they’re more easily controllable with strict participation guidelines than neighborhood trick-or-treating. And that means even if you don’t trust all your neighbors to handle trick-or-treating according to the CDC’s guidelines, organizations can set up a trunk-or-treat that follows them. And even though private organizations like churches typically run them, they’re often welcoming and open (and free) to the public. To find one, search your local community calendar through your town’s parks and recreation department or do an online search for trunk-or-treats near you.
- Community Trick-or-Treat Events. As with trunk-or-treats, community-sponsored events are also more likely to follow safety guidelines. Your local parks and recreation department or chamber of commerce set these events up. For example, some towns sponsor events where you can trick-or-treat from business to business along a town’s main street. Additionally, although it’s not a budget option unless you have a family membership, zoos and other recreation centers like amusement parks and museums often host trick-or-treat events. And depending on local mandates in your area, they are required to follow safety guidelines.
- Reverse Trick-or-Treating. Reverse trick-or-treating involves having kids remain in their own yards, dressed up in costume, while neighbors parade through the street and gently toss candy toward the kids for them to pick up — just like in an actual parade. This method’s benefit is that it allows everyone to stay a safe distance from each other, while the kids still get to wear their costumes and collect candy. Coordinate with your neighbors or keep an eye out for your local community’s decisions on safe trick-or-treating to see if someone’s putting one together.
- Trick-or-Treat for Unicef. While not the same as in-person candy collecting, Unicef USA has launched a virtual Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF experience. Kids can collect donations online while learning about the importance of giving back and helping others. Teachers, parents, and children can register for a digital orange box and participate in fun activities that earn them “coins” to donate to lifesaving causes. Focusing on children, the charity’s causes include supporting child health and nutrition in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world. It also provides education, HIV treatment and prevention, and protection of children from violence and exploitation. And particularly apropos for this year, Unicef is one of the world’s largest providers of vaccines.
Alternatives to Halloween Parties
Large gatherings are also out this year, according to the CDC guidelines. Halloween parties are staples for many families and one of the common ways adults celebrate the holiday. And with Halloween falling on a Saturday in 2020, in ordinary times, attending a party on Halloween would likely be even more popular than trick-or-treating. But there’s no need to feel like you’ll be missing out this year. There are plenty of safe ways to get your party on, even if only with your immediate household.
7. Host a Halloween Dinner Party
Make family dinner feel like a party by cooking up some spooky recipes. Just like Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas meal, holiday foods can make any dinner feel festive and special. Plus, making the recipes together as a family can be a fun activity in itself.
A few ideas to try include:
- Ghost Pizza. Start with premade store-bought pizza crusts (prebaked or refrigerated), and add a layer of pizza sauce. Bake the pizza according to package directions. While the pizza is baking, use a ghost-shaped cookie cutter to cut ghosts from mozzarella cheese slices. Layer them on top of the hot pizza, and bake for another five minutes. If desired, use capers or bits of black olive to make ghost eyeballs, as shown on My Recipes.
- Stuffed Pepper Jack-o’-Lanterns. Elevate ordinary stuffed peppers to holiday level by cutting faces in hollowed-out orange peppers so they look like jack-o’-lanterns. Then stuff them with a precooked mixture of rice and ground beef and bake as usual. Get the full recipe on Delish.
- Mummy Dogs. Cut store-bought crescent roll dough into very thin strips. Place a piece of American cheese cut to about the hotdog’s width underneath it, and then wrap the whole thing with the dough strips as though it were a mummy. Bake in the oven, and then dot on eyes with mustard. Get the full recipe from Pillsbury.
- “Hocus Pocus”-Themed S’mores. To create a sweet version of the spellbook from the Halloween classic, spread marshmallow creme on squares of graham cracker. Lay down a craft stick to make it a pop and cover the schmeared graham crackers with another graham cracker square. Melt chocolate chips in a double-boiler, and dip the graham cracker pops into the chocolate, making sure they’re entirely covered. Lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and affix one candy eyeball in the center of the right edge of each while the chocolate is still melty. Then refrigerate them to harden the chocolate. Make the pops look just like the spellbook from Hocus Pocus by drawing on lines with black cookie icing. Get the full recipe on Delish.
- Pumpkin Patch Brownies. Bake a brownie mix according to the instructions on the box. Once cooled, spread the top with green frosting, reserving some for decorating. Make rows of “dirt” with crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, and arrange candy pumpkins down each row as though it’s a pumpkin patch. Use the reserved green icing to make vines connecting them from stem to ground. Finish with coordinating sprinkles. Get the full recipe from Betty Crocker.
- Spiderweb Cookies. Bake round sugar cookies. Once cooled, frost each cookie with white royal icing. Then draw a spiral on each cookie, starting from the center, using black royal icing. Use a toothpick to pull lines radiating from the center through the spiral to look just like spiderwebs. Get the full instructions on Sweetopia.
- Witch Hat Cupcakes. Bake up a batch of chocolate cupcakes (use black or purple cupcake liners to go with the theme). When they’re cool, frost them with green frosting to create the witch’s hair. Press a chocolate sandwich cookie into the center of the cupcake horizontally, and make witch hats by using orange icing to affix Hershey Kisses to the top centers of the cookies, pressing gently to push some of the frosting out to create the hat’s band. Cut off the yellow end of a piece of candy corn, and place it in the icing to make a buckle for the hatband. Get the full recipe on Homemade Hooplah.
8. Order Takeout
If you don’t feel like cooking, take advantage of one of the Halloween food deals offered by restaurant chains and order takeout from DoorDash. Some chains have Halloween-themed foods throughout October. For example, Papa Johns makes a jack-o’-lantern pizza, Sonic makes a trick-or-treat Sonic Blast, and IHOP makes a mummy pancake for kids and seasonal pancakes like pumpkin spice and Cinn-a-Stack for adults.
Additionally, multiple restaurants have deals on Halloween if you come in (or order takeout) in costume. For example, every Saturday from Oct. 10 through Halloween, Krispy Kreme customers can get a $1 Sweet-or-Treat dozen after purchasing a dozen doughnuts. It includes a special-edition jack-o’-lantern doughnut. Though you may not be able to chow down on two-dozen yourselves, the purpose behind the deal is to encourage sharing with friends or neighbors. So that makes this the perfect gift for ghosting or booing.
Krispy Kreme is also offering a free doughnut of choice on Halloween for customers dressed in costume. You can have any doughnut you want, but if you want to stick with the Halloween theme, beginning Oct. 5, Krispy Kreme is offering monster-themed doughnuts. The holiday assortment includes the Frank Monster doughnut filled with cream and decorated to look like Frankenstein, the Drake Monster with raspberry filling and decorated to look like a vampire, and the original glazed Wolfie Monster doughnut that’s dipped in chocolate icing and decorated to look like a werewolf.
As the month progresses, keep an eye out for other deals, including offers from food-delivery services, which let you save on your restaurant of choice. For example, last year, DoorDash offered a $10-off deal called #DashOWeen for customers who dressed in food-themed costumes and posted pics to Instagram. Restaurants and delivery services may offer similar deals again this year as last year.
No matter where you eat, make ordering takeout even more fun — and feel more like a party — by dressing up in costume while you eat. Bonus points if you also eat and act as your costume character.
9. Have a Family Movie Night
Movie-watching is the perfect excuse to binge on sweet treats. So pop some popcorn, break out the bags of candy, and settle in for a night of Halloween movies. Fortunately, streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Max, and Disney+ offer a wide range of films to suit every taste — from terrifying horror films to psychological thrillers to family-friendly flicks.
Horror films are doable for teens, and if you have a subscription, you can get them on Hulu’s annual Huluween event. Or check out the terrifying thrillers available on HBO Max.
But if you have younger kids at home, check out Disney+ or Netflix. If you don’t have a subscription to either channel, you can find movies on Prime Video for rent or purchase. A few movies to try include:
- “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” King of Halloween Jack Skellington decides to abdicate that role and play Santa instead in this Tim Burton classic that works equally well for either holiday. Available on Disney+.
- “Coco.” Kids can learn about the Mexican Day of the Dead with this animated film that takes a young boy who dreams of being a musician on a journey into the underworld to correct an error in family history before his ancestor is forgotten forever. Available on Disney+.
- “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S.” The government created a device that prevents zombies from craving brains, which means zombie teenagers can now go to high school with regular kids. But they’re treated as outcasts until a popular cheerleader befriends a zombie in this Disney musical. Available on Disney+.
- “Halloweentown High.” A supernatural teen from a family of witches brings her monster friends, disguised as foreign-exchange students, into her mortal-world high school, and an evil enemy threatens both her magic and high school as a result. It’s the third movie in the Halloweentown series. Available on Disney+.
- “Hocus Pocus.” A group of children accidentally awaken three Salem witches bent on achieving immortality in this highly beloved film that’s become a Halloween classic. Available on Disney+.
- “The Haunted Mansion.” Along with his wife and two children, a real estate agent tries to rescue a historic haunted mansion from its cursed existence in this spooky tale. Available on Disney+.
- “Goosebumps 2.” A group of kids tries to stop a magical book that brings to life characters from the Goosebumps novel series. Available on Netflix.
- “A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting.” A monster intent on unleashing nightmares on the world kidnaps a teenage babysitter’s charge. While working to get him back, she learns there’s a secret society of babysitters that hunt monsters. Available on Netflix beginning Oct. 14.
- “The Addams Family.” There are few movies more classic for Halloween than this tale of a zany family made up of bizarre characters. This film has undergone numerous remakes, but the most recent is an animated version. Available on Prime Video.
10. Host a Family Game Night
There are many board games with spooky themes perfect for Halloween. So if your family is all about family game night, try a new murder mystery, ghost, or monster-themed game. While board games can be pricey, there are many under $25, including:
- Cauldron Quest. Using strategy, problem-solving, ingredient tokens, and dice rolls, aspiring witches and wizards must work together to make a potion to lift a magic spell from the kingdom. For two to four players ages 6 and up.
- Zombie Kidz Evolution. Zombies have invaded your school, and it’s up to players to cooperate to get rid of them. Mystery cards and special missions transform the game each time you play. And players can give each other superpowers and mutate the zombies. For two to four players ages 7 and up.
- Haunted Mansion. This game is based on Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” and requires players to collect ghost cards worth points as they move around the mansion’s different rooms. For two to six players ages 8 and up.
- One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Players must work out which one of them is a werewolf while lying, deceiving, and accusing to throw fellow players off the trail. For three to 10 players ages 8 and up.
- 13 Dead End Drive. Players gathered for the reading of Aunt Agatha’s last will and testament traverse her mansion, a pop-up game board, trying to bump off their rivals. The winner gets the loot. For two to four players ages 8 and up.
- Clue. Instead of offing each other, this classic game requires players to solve a murder. Through a process of elimination, the winner successfully figures out who did it, with what weapon, and it what room. For two to six players ages 8 and up.
- Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core. You can play this expansion pack to the original Villainous board game alone or with other games in the Villainous line. In this strategy game, players get to be their favorite Disney villain while working against each other, as villains do, to achieve their own goals. The game comes with cards, tokens, and villain guides to help each character achieve their objectives. For two to three players ages 10 and up.
11. Set up a Halloween Festival
You don’t have to limit family game night to indoor activity. In addition to Halloween parties, CDC guidelines warn against traditional outdoor fall activities like hayrides and festivals. But your family can still enjoy their own backyard festival. So bundle up in your cozy fall sweaters and venture outside for some festival-like Halloween games. A few DIY games for a night of family fun include:
- Pumpkin Mini-Golf. Make your own mini-golf course, including one or more faux pumpkins. Cut a jack-o’-lantern face into the pumpkin, making sure the mouth goes down to the bottom edge so kids can knock a golf ball into it. Then make a putting “green” from red felt to be the pumpkin’s tongue. Whoever gets it in the pumpkin’s mouth with the fewest tries wins. Get the full instructions on Eighteen 25.
- Tin Can Bowling. Save up some tin cans and paint two white and one each orange, purple, black, and green. Once dry, paint ghost and mummy face on the white cans, a jack-o’-lantern face on the orange can, a monster face on the purple can, a cat face on the black can, and a Frankenstein’s Monster face on the green one. When finished, stack them up in a pyramid and take turns knocking them down with a tennis ball. Get the full instructions on Red Ted Art.
- Skulls and Ghosts Bean Bag Toss. Draw Halloween characters like ghosts and skeletons on white foam board. Use a craft knife to cut out the eyes and mouths to make holes to toss bean bags into. You can make bean bags by filling socks with uncooked beans or rice and knotting them closed. Get the full instructions on Danya Banya.
- Halloween Ring Toss. Paint orange traffic cones to look like candy corn. Then set them out and take turns attempting to toss glow necklace rings onto them like they did on Kid Friendly Things to Do. Alternatively, recycle soda bottles, and paint them to look like monsters. Glue on some large googly eyes, and then secure them to a large cardboard square using mounting squares to prevent them from getting knocked over when kids toss rings onto them.. Note the tutorial has instructions for making your own rings, but you can easily substitute glow bracelets from the dollar store. Get the full instructions on A Crafty Spoonful.
If you’d rather not DIY, Amazon has numerous inexpensive carnival-like Halloween games, including a spider ring toss, a witch hat ring toss, a Halloween bean bag toss, and a pin the eyeball on the zombie game.
12. Host an Escape Room
Escape rooms trap players in a room and require them to work together and solve puzzles to unlock a door to escape. Escape rooms involve racing against a clock. And in many, if players don’t escape in time, there can be consequences like getting “bitten” by a zombie (an actor that tags you out). Monster-themed escape rooms like these are perfect for Halloween. But visiting an in-person escape room isn’t possible in areas where the pandemic has forced them to shut their doors. Fortunately, there are digital and board game versions that are both pandemic-safe and budget-friendly.
A few free virtual escape rooms to try include:
- Escape from Wonderland. Created by the Moultrie-Colquitt County Library System in Moultrie, Georgia, the Escape From Wonderland virtual escape room is based on the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. It’s intended for all ages, which makes it perfect for family fun. Even better, it’s completely free. So follow the white rabbit and let the fun begin.
- Hogwarts Escape Room. Centered around a world of witches and wizards, the “Harry Potter” series practically shouts Halloween. And what better place to have a mysterious room to get trapped in than Hogwarts itself. The Peters Township Public Library, located in McMurray, Pennsylvania, created the Hogwarts Escape Room, and it’s free to play.
- Spy Apprentice Digital Escape Room Adventure. The spy-themed Spy Apprentice Digital Escape Room Adventure takes you around the world solving clues. Created by the Washington-Centerville Public Library in Centerville, Ohio, this escape room is rather tricky to solve, making it most appropriate for teens and adults.
A few boxed game escape rooms under $25 include:
- Exit: The Haunted Roller Coaster. Exit: The Game comes in a number of versions, several of which are perfect for Halloween. Perhaps the most Halloween-themed, The Haunted Roller Coaster traps players in an amusement park filled with dark passages, bloodcurdling howls, and gruesome creatures. For one to four players ages 10 and up.
- Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor. After the untimely death of his wife, the town’s astronomer disappears. But strange things are suddenly happening at Stargazer Manor. Players must work together to uncover the mystery and escape. For three to eight players ages 10 and up.
- Escape Room the Game: Jumanji. This escape room board game uses the premise of the second “Jumanji” film: Players must race against the clock to escape the Jumanji video game they’re trapped in or else get stuck there for a decade or longer. For best results, play the three included games successively. For three to five players ages 10 and up.
13. Host a Murder Mystery
If you have tweens or teens at home, combine a Halloween-themed dinner with a family game night and host a murder mystery party. These games involve acting out characters, which makes them ideal for Halloween. Invite everyone to dress the part and wear a costume befitting their character. These games are also ideal for playing over Zoom with friends and relatives since they don’t require a shared game board or game pieces.
To keep it low-cost, skip buying the premade party kit and opt for a free murder mystery game from the Web. Many of these downloadable kits contain everything you need to throw a murder mystery dinner party, including character descriptions and scripts.
A few to try include:
- Murder Mystery Game for Tweens. Taking place during the reading of a last will and testament, this free murder mystery party game includes a master plot spreadsheet and a list of characters, character instructions, and printable props. Additionally, users have contributed material to make the game adaptable for any number of guests and for ages as young as 9. It’s one of the few murder mysteries developed for kids, intended for ages 10 to 12 and any number of players.
- Jazz Age Jeopardy. This mystery game is set in a 1920’s jazz club in New York City. Jazz Age Jeopardy is a PDF file containing an introduction, instructions, party guidebook, character sheets, clue cards, and voting sheets. For up to 15 players ages teen and up.
- The Movie Murder Mystery Party. The director suddenly dies during a wrap party following the completion of shooting a film. But fortunately, he hid plenty of clues for the cast and crew to find in this scavenger hunt-themed mystery. The free download includes the premise, instructions on how to play, character descriptions, clues, and scavenger hunt items. For up to 16 players ages teen and up.
14. Party Virtually
Zoom has become a part of everyday life for many of us, so why not involve it in our Halloween celebrations? If school can happen on Zoom, so can parties. So pick a theme and invite friends and relatives to join you for a virtual party.
Some ideas include:
- Costume Contest. Just because you can’t party in person doesn’t mean you can’t show off your Halloween costume. Invite everyone to dress up and award prizes for the most creative, funniest, scariest, and best overall. Although you’ll have to send them in the mail, the party host can provide award ribbons for the winners.
- Dance Party. Make a playlist of family-friendly Halloween tunes, including songs like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” and “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. Then invite everyone to shake their boo-thang to your playlist. Find more music inspiration on the Sits Girls. Or for even more fun and laughs, learn the choreography to “Thriller” or the “Time Warp” from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
- Gingerbread House Decorating. Who says gingerbread houses are only for Christmas? Decide in advance if everyone will buy kits, use graham crackers, or bake cookie walls. Then challenge each other to make the spookiest haunted gingerbread houses you can.
- Cupcake (Or Cookie) Wars. Have everyone cook up a batch of cupcakes or cookies and challenge party guests to make the prettiest, scariest, or most creative sweet creations using colored icing, candies, sprinkles, and other edible embellishments. Then have everyone vote on the winner. Those who don’t bake can use store-bought refrigerator cookies or a boxed cake mix.
15. Carve Pumpkins
Pumpkin-carving is a fun stay-at-home activity that’s also a time-honored Halloween tradition. Extend the activity into pumpkin picking by visiting a local pumpkin patch that observes safe social distancing guidelines. Or you can pick your pumpkins up from the grocery, which can also save you money, as grocery store pumpkins often sell for half or less than the average farmers market pumpkin. And that means you can buy more of them.
Carve your pumpkins freehand or print a free stencil off the Web, like the beginner-friendly ones from HGTV. If you have little ones at home, opt for a no-carve alternative. It can involve pouring paint on your pumpkins (as demonstrated on Homegrown Friends), covering them in glitter (like the ones on HGTV), or melting crayons over them with a hair dryer to create drips of color (Good Housekeeping has instructions).
16. Decorate the House
Decorating the house for the holidays is an essential part of celebrating, and Halloween is no exception. Few things get you more in the Halloween spirit than decking out your home with spooky ghosts, creepy cobwebs, and chilling tombstones.
And this year, when many of us need a little fun to look forward to, decorating your house to the max can provide it. And making your own decorations is a way to celebrate Halloween as a family. Everyone can participate in planning, crafting, and hanging decorations. And there are plenty of DIY ideas accessible for kids. So grab the cheesecloth, pumpkins, and black construction paper and check out our lists of indoor DIY Halloween decorations and homemade outdoor decorations for Halloween.
17. Make Costumes
Making costumes is another idea for creative family bonding. To make it even more fun, challenge each other to create something unique using only the supplies you have on hand — whether that’s clothes and accessories from your closets or glue and glitter from your stash of craft supplies. Then get together at a designated time and make a party of it. When you’re all done, commemorate your costumes by taking some porch pics of the whole family. See our article on DIY Halloween costumes for inspiration.
18. Make Crafts
If you’ve already decorated the house and bought the costumes, get creative with some Halloween crafts instead. You can purchase preassembled craft kits like treat bags kids can color or Halloween figurines kids can paint at the dollar store. Or find household materials kids can repurpose as Halloween crafts.
A few ideas include:
- Egg Carton Bats. Turn empty egg cartons into adorable bats with this craft perfect for little ones. Cut a single egg cup out of a cardboard egg carton. Paint it black. Then cut a pair of wings and bat ears from black construction paper. Glue them onto the painted egg cup along with a couple of small googly eyes. Get the full instructions on Crafty Morning.
- Mummy Candle Jars. Light up the night with a set of mummy candle jars made from repurposed glass jars. Raid your first-aid kit for some gauze tape or cut cheesecloth into strips. Mix some flour and water to make a glue, and then soak the strips in it. Wring out the excess water and layer the strips over the jars. Let them dry overnight, and then cut eyes and mouths from black construction paper and glue them onto the candleholders. To keep them fire-safe around younger children, put battery-operated votives in the jar. Get the full instructions on Crafting a Green World.
- Spiderwebs. Make some spiderweb ornaments to decorate the house using craft sticks and yarn. Glue three sticks together to make a spider web form by making an X and then bisecting it with the third stick. Then wrap white yarn around the sticks, starting near the center and weaving yarn over and under each stick, spacing the rows slightly apart so they look like spiderwebs. When you finish the web, tie a knot at the end of the yarn. Then cut a long piece to hang the finished web. Decorate it with a plastic spider. Get the full instructions on Happy Hour Projects.
- Spider Soap. Make Halloween soap by melting glycerin soap base and adding some liquid soap coloring or powdered mica pigment. Then pour it into a rectangular soap mold. Before it sets, drop in a creepy plastic spider (if you buy rings, which are an inexpensive choice, you can clip off the ring part first). The soap will harden with the spider inside. Get the full instructions on Happiness is Homemade.
- Halloween Painted Rocks. Gather some smooth rocks from your yard. Then use paint pens, puffy paint, or acrylic craft paint to draw Halloween designs and pictures on them. Or go with a rock painting kit that includes everything you need — rocks, paint, paintbrushes, and a booklet of painting ideas. When finished, spray them with a clear sealer to make the painting last. Find Halloween ideas for rock painting on Color Me Happy.
19. Do Some Mad Science
Turn your home into a laboratory and do some mad science for Halloween. Watching things “explode” is always fun for kids, as is squishing their fingers into gooey slime. So try a Halloween-themed science experiment or whip up a chemical potion.
A few to try include:
- Tea Bag Ghosts. Teach kids about convection and air pressure with easy tea bag ghosts. Cut the top off a tea bag, and empty its contents. If desired, draw a fun ghost face on the tea bag with a black marker. Then light it. As the tea bag burns, the hot air takes up the space inside the tea bag, causing it to fly into the air. Get the full instructions and an explanation of the science on From Playdough to Plato.
- Ghost Rockets. Use a permanent marker to draw ghost faces on clear film canisters. Add a tablespoon of cornstarch and fill it with water, stirring to combine. Then, very quickly, add a quarter piece of an Alka Seltzer tab, put the lid on, flip it over, and stand back. The mixture will quickly explode, sending the rocket shooting into the air. Get the full instructions on Growing a Jeweled Rose.
- Pumpkin-cano. Using the same general technique as the erupting volcanoes kids often make for science projects, turn a pumpkin into a “pumpkin-cano.” Hollow out a small pumpkin, and then fill it three-quarters full with warm water. Add a drop of orange food coloring, four to five drops of dish soap, and a few tablespoons of baking soda. When you’re ready for the eruption, add a quarter cup of vinegar, and then stand back and watch what happens. Get the full instructions on Little Bins for Little Hands.
- Halloween Slime. Make this creepy slime with glitter and Halloween confetti. Start by dumping two 5-ounce bottles of school glue into a large bowl. Add 10 ounces of water, a quarter cup of glitter, and a quarter cup of confetti. Very slowly stir in 8 ounces of liquid starch, a little at a time, until it turns into a glob. Get the full instructions on The Tiptoe Fairy.
- Glow-in-the-Dark Slime. Make this fun slime with school glue, glow-in-the-dark paint, and liquid starch. Start by emptying two 4-ounce bottles of school glue into a large bowl. Fill the glue bottles with warm water, give them a shake, and then empty the water into the bowl as well. Mix in 2 ounces of glow-in-the-dark paint and a few drops of neon green food coloring. Then add one-half cup of liquid starch a little at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Get the full instructions on From Playdough to Plato.
20. Tell Scary Stories
Fall is the perfect time to pitch a tent in the backyard, get out the flashlights, and tell some scary stories. If you have a fire pit, light it up and roast some s’mores. Make them Halloween-style using peanut butter cups or another chocolate candy that will get all melty (and yummy) on top of hot, roasted marshmallows.
If the weather’s not cooperating or you’d rather stay inside, you can still pitch a tent — or build a fort — in the living room, flashlights and s’mores included. Make them by roasting the marshmallows under the broiler in your oven like they did on Butter with a Side of Bread, use your air fryer like the ones on My Forking Life, or purchase an indoor electric s’mores maker.
And if you need some age-appropriate scary story inspiration, just ask Amazon’s Alexa. If you have an Alexa-enabled device, like an Echo Dot, say: “Alexa, tell me a spooky story,” and you’ll hear a short story voiced by Alexa. They’re relatively cheesy, so they’re perfect for younger audiences. For older listeners, use Alexa’s Scare Me skill. Say, “Alexa, ask Scare Me to tell me a scary story.” It only reads a two-sentence story, but it’s a scarier one. To discover even more Halloween-themed Alexa skills, including scary music and games, visit CNET.
21. Read Halloween Books
If scary stories are too frightening, reading kid-appropriate Halloween books is a tamer alternative. While some Halloween books are all about the scares, others are just about having fun. Regardless, reading together still makes for a fun seasonal treat. Some younger child-appropriate Halloween books include:
- “Zomeblina” by Kristyn Crow. Zomeblina loves to dance alongside her monster friends, but she develops stage fright when she signs up for ballet classes with real human girls. The book’s message is about being different and the longing for acceptance.
- “Room on the Broom” by Julia Donaldson. A kind witch keeps inviting helpful animals to share her broom. Eventually, it snaps in two, and a hungry dragon pursues the witch. But the animals she befriended help her escape, and the witch makes them a new, luxury broom with enough room for all.
- “In the Haunted House Touch & Feel Lift-the-Flap Book” by Eve Bunting. This book is full of monster surprises behind every flap as a father and daughter traverse a haunted house.
- “No Such Thing” by Ella Bailey. Georgia doesn’t believe in ghosts despite household items disappearing and turning up where they aren’t meant to be. But still, she’s very confident there are no such things as ghosts.
- “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything” by Linda D. Williams. When a cheerful old lady heads out at dusk for a walk, she runs into a series of very eerie surprises in the middle of the dark forest.
22. Host a Socially Distant Block Party
If you’re in a lower risk area with fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19, the CDC guidelines say it’s OK to mingle with others as long as you remain outdoors. According to the CDC, outdoor air is safer. Coronavirus particles are more dispersed in outdoor than indoor air, so there’s less chance of catching the virus in the open air. However, social distancing still matters, as does wearing a face mask. Even outdoors, the risk increases when you spend time near others, especially people you don’t normally interact with.
But you can still host an outdoor party as long everyone wears masks and heeds social distancing guidelines. One way to do it safely is to gather with neighbors for a block party. Everyone participating can set up craft or game stations in their driveways for kids and families to rotate through one household at a time. That way, groups stay small, and hosts can wipe down tables and games between families.
Food stations should be grab-and-go, as buffet-style dining is risky. But things like cookies and cupcakes and prepackaged drinks like juice pouches reduce the chances of spreading germs. The same goes for one-time-use plastic utensils, paper plates, and paper napkins guests can toss when they finish eating.
Alternatives to Haunted Houses
For many, haunted attractions are another staple of the holiday. Yet while outdoor attractions can be OK, indoor haunted houses are out. But it’s possible to enjoy a fun alternative that won’t break the bank.
23. Drive Through a Haunted House or Walk Through a Haunted Forest
Because the CDC considers indoor haunted houses high risk, many areas have gotten creative with drive-thru hauntings. And while these can still be budget-busters, they’re typically more affordable than the indoor haunted houses they’re replacing. For example, one local drive-thru in my own area is $30 per car, and some are as low as $15 per car. But when you consider that a regular ticket for an indoor haunted house averages $15 to $30 per person, a family carload means considerable savings. So if yours enjoys haunted houses, it’s worth investigating what’s available in your area. Search online for “drive-thru haunted houses near me” or “haunted roads near me” to find one in your area.
If there’s nothing around you, get together with neighbors or a community organization you belong to and create your own. While a haunted drive-thru is often too costly to recreate, a haunted forest is manageable. Plan a path through a local park or forest and line it with Halloween decorations, props, candy, and other surprises. Neighbors can dress up as scary characters and hide behind trees. Or you can plan stations where storytellers tell spooky ghost stories as visitors stop by. Light it all up with glow sticks and flashlights.
While the CDC has said open-air hauntings are less risky, everyone should still follow appropriate guidelines. Make the walking route one way, keep people who aren’t members of the same household 6 feet apart, ensure people wear masks at all times. They also note that if screaming is likely to occur, guests should maintain greater distance, as the coronavirus primarily spreads through respiratory droplets expelled when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes, talks — or screams.
24. See a Drive-In Movie
Drive-in theaters have made a major comeback since the start of the pandemic. While regular theaters are risky, drive-ins are not only outdoors, but people also remain isolated inside their cars. And while not exactly a haunted house, there’s something a bit spooky about sitting in your car in a remote area in the dark of night. There’s a reason the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” begins at a drive-in.
In anticipation of the Halloween demand, many drive-ins plan to show Halloween movies and sponsor Halloween events. So search online at DriveInMovie.com to find a theater near you and discover what’s playing.
25. Observe the Halloween Blue Moon
October 2020 will feature the moon event of the year — on Halloween itself. The month will have two moons, with the second falling on Oct. 31. This year’s Halloween moon is called a “blue” moon because it’s the second full moon of the month. Typically, full moons happen only once per month. However, because a moon cycle is 29 days and months are 30 or 31 days, every so often, a month has two full moons. But it only happens once every two and a half years, according to NASA.
But having a full moon fall on Halloween is even rarer. The last time a Halloween full moon was visible in the U.S. was 1944, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, and the next time it will happen isn’t until 2039.
So while not exactly a haunted house, this spooky occurrence can make this year’s Halloween feel a bit more like a haunted Earth. So it’s time to dig out those werewolf costumes and howl at the majesty of nature.
You can do it from the comfort of your front porch if you live in a prime viewing spot. Or pile everyone into the car for a haunted ride. An adult passenger can tell a spooky werewolf story, adjusting it to include this year’s Halloween blue moon, on the way to a more remote viewing location. Make up one of your own using the folktale the “Curse of the Werewolf” as inspiration. Or play the audio version of Stephen King’s ode to the folktale, “Cycle of the Werewolf” (novel version of the movie “Silver Bullet”), available as one of the stories on the “Different Seasons” audiobook collection. Just remember these are horror tales best suited for teens and adults.
For younger kids, opt for a not-too-scary children’s picture book like “Werewolf Moon” by Juliana Hanford. This story gives science facts about the moon’s phases from the perspective of two kids who think their neighbor might be a werewolf. As a bonus, it includes a science experiment kids can do once they get home to learn about the moon’s phases.
According to the National Retail Federation’s annual 2020 survey of shoppers, over 148 million U.S. adults plan to participate in Halloween activities this year. For many, that doesn’t include trick-or-treating — plans to participate in the annual tradition fell from 29% in 2019 to 23% in 2020.
But while door-to-door candy-collecting may be on hold this year, there remain plenty of other Halloween activities for families to make the holiday special. The pandemic has cast a gloom over a lot of things this year. But Halloween doesn’t have to be one of them. It’s possible to celebrate this fun holiday while keeping ourselves and others safe. And a lot of safe activities are things families do anyway — like watching Halloween movies, carving pumpkins, and eating Halloween-themed treats.
And while parents always strive to do what we can to make our children’s childhood memorable, what kids remember most is their time spent having fun with their families. Plus, as long as they get to wear their costumes and eat their candy, they’ll be happy.
How do you plan to celebrate Halloween with your family this year?