Although the air has turned crisp and the leaves are dyed orange and red, there’s something missing from this year’s fall atmosphere. Despite the fact that Oxford’s Wal-Mart has plenty of costumes for sale and Kroger is hawking mountains of spooky-themed candy, COVID-19 and the restrictions it brings means that Halloween 2020 will likely look very different than in years past.
Large parties, groups of students wandering the streets in costumes and droves of children roaming the roads trick-or-treating have been diminished if not eliminated entirely by the necessity of maintaining safety and sanitation during this global pandemic.
But one Halloween tradition stands strong in the face of the coronavirus. One activity can be safely and enjoyably undertaken, no matter the conditions of the outside world: pumpkin carving.
Throughout the streets of Oxford, pumpkins still adorn the porches of house after house, just like they have every year in October. From intricately-carved masterpieces to the tried and true Jack-o’-lantern face, their designs evoke a feeling of fall festivity and spooky splendor.
For some aspiring carvers, making pieces of pumpkin art is a welcome spot of normalcy in an otherwise unusual year. Julia Spencer, a junior political science major, said she and her housemates were more than ready to undertake pumpkin carving once the spooky season rolled around.
“It was so much fun,” Spencer said. “We got special kits from Wal-Mart, put on spooky music, lit candles, watched scary movies and just made a whole night of it.”
Spencer said the festive evening filled the void she’d been feeling in terms of Halloween this year.
“My friends and I won’t be able to go to any parties, obviously, so [carving pumpkins] was a way to still get some of that Halloween fun even when everything else is so weird,” she said.
For others, just seeing pumpkins perched on people’s porches was enough to stir feelings of Halloween festivity. Susie Bernhardt, an Oxford resident, said she loves seeing spooky decorations every year and was concerned that this year, with all its pandemic-fuelled weirdness, might have been different.
“It might seem like a little thing, but taking walks around my neighborhood and looking at decorations was always something I loved to do,” Bernhardt said. “I know that I was feeling less festive this year, though, so I was worried others would be, too.’ But there are plenty of decorations and plenty of pumpkins and it warms my heart to see them.”
Bernhardt said that while she rarely participates in the carving herself, she and her husband like to take walks through Oxford’s streets and rate the pumpkins they see.
“Some, you know, aren’t the best, but others are really very impressive,” she said. “We saw one the other day that was a cat on a hill, but the craftsmanship was so good it looked like it belonged in a competition.”
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Bernhardt confidently gave that pumpkin a 10 out of 10.
So while the streets of Oxford might be more devoid of ghouls and ghosts than they normally would be this Halloween, the flickering flames of Jack-o’-lanterns are still here as bright spots amidst the dark of the spooky season.