Merriment Turns to Mayhem When Halloween Prank Goes Wrong! Every year we see headlines about practical jokes taken too far. Like the October 31st my friend returned from college to find the family home empty, furniture overturned, the kitchen splashed with what looked like blood. She freaked, fled, and called the cops, who tracked down her mother and step-dad at a party, laughing over their hilarious trick. I suspect my friend still has trust issues to this day.
Then there was the high school teacher who wanted to foster Halloween spirit, so he burst into a classroom wearing a ski mask and brandishing a chainsaw roaring at full throttle. A prank about killing children in a school — who could object? The really surprising thing was that in the chaotic stampede only one student broke a leg. The lawsuit was settled out of court for $100,000.
And of course, there’s the famous 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, in which a (fictional) Martian invasion was presented in a breaking-news format so real it had viewers calling the authorities in a panic. Cops tried to storm the broadcasting studio to stop the show; the press turned the tale into living legend.
Americans have a history of going overboard at Halloween, and judging by all the skeletons, pumpkins, and giant spiders in my town, families are making the most of the season despite the specter of Covid-19 hanging over our heads. In fact, Halloween — with its apocalyptic atmosphere and emphasis on masks — fits fairly naturally into the pandemic landscape. No doubt pranksters are busy planning over-the-top stunts via Zoom.
Other upcoming holidays —Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Las Posadas, Diwali, Chinese New Year, Winter Solstice, New Year’s Eve — are a bit trickier to navigate.
Let’s start with the big question: is it safe to travel home for the holidays?
The short answer is “no.” But you already knew that.
“Thanksgiving and the winter holidays may look like the only bright spots in the hellscape that is the end of this year, but they come with a unique-to-2020 set of logistical challenges,” writes JR Thorpe in Bustle. “This year, spreading COVID-19 to your community and the people at your table is much more of a threat than your aunt's awful sweet potato casserole.”
“I happen to like my family. But I’m not insane enough to risk death,” 82-year-old Mort Zwick told the NY Times. “I’m not going to rend my garments and cover up the mirrors because I can’t see my children … Every time I miss them, I think of how lousy they were at one stage of their growing up.”
“Mort’s got a point,” Rich said. “It’s the same for holidays; there were plenty of good times, but let’s not forget the lousy parts.” I flashed back to various verbal brawls and embarrassingly inappropriate jokes. The year someone didn’t show up because he was in jail. Close friends who said they never ate any dish their relatives brought because they suspected the food had been poisoned. The time a guest showed up drunk accompanied by a young girlfriend with whom he canoodled on the couch for hours, surrounded by twenty-five guests including his horrified mother and several fascinated adolescents.
Obviously we won’t have that kind of entertainment this year, so we’ll have to rely on our own resources to make the holidays fun and meaningful.
Trick-or-treaters won't be coming to our door this Halloween, so at dusk Rich and I are taking a driving tour of the most spectacular decorations we've found on our daily walks; I can’t wait to admire them in their full, spooky glory lit up after dark. As we cruise around, we’ll listen to songs like "Monster Mash" and of course, wear our masks.
I’ve often wondered why nobody writes Thanksgiving songs, and then I ran across 29 Perfect Songs to Add to Your Thanksgiving Dinner Prep Playlist. It has everything from Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” to Little Eva’s wacky “Let’s Do the Turkey Trot” to Fats Waller’s “All That Meat and No Potatoes,” followed by “Do the Mashed Potatoes,” courtesy of Mr. James Brown. Perfect soundtrack! We’ll be singing along to these golden oldies as we prepare turkey with all the trimmings. (I’m collecting recipes for the leftovers; if you have a good one, please pass it along.)
The great thing about Thanksgiving is that if you eat some turkey, you’ve pretty much fulfilled the ritual and can snooze contentedly in front of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Oh yes, they’re having one, but it’s been reinvented in hopes it won’t become a super-spreader.
The next holiday — which for us is Christmas — involves countless traditions: carols, cards, tree, stockings, presents. Rich and I won’t be celebrating with others this year, but we plan to honor all the customs, plus a few of our own, such as holiday snails. We’ll exchange silly gifts, dress up, cook a feast, eat too much, drink too much, and tell stories of Christmas disasters.
What disasters? Well, there was the time our dog Eskimo Pie found a gift-wrapped rum cake, ate the entire thing, and was discovered in a drunken stupor. Or the year we managed to find a live tree in Seville, back when árboles de Navidad were rare, and right after we decorated it, a strong wind blew through an open window knocking over the tree — which then shed all its needles. And there was that unforgettable moment when I tipped over a bottle of red wine on a snow-white tablecloth while eating Christmas goose with British friends. The list goes on and on.
But when you come right down to it, these moments add spice to the season. Like families, holidays are messy, maddening, and every once in a while, magical. We love them just as they are — not despite their imperfections but because of them.
In 2020, the way to prove how much we love our families is to stay away from them. This morning I heard from a Sevillano friend with whom I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas for many years. He and several relatives now have Covid-19; one is in the hospital.
“I made the potentially deadly mistake ,” he wrote, “of putting my guard down in a family setting. If nothing else please take this lesson. A common last name is not a certificate of immunity, and no matter how much you love someone we are all strangers when it comes to the virus. I was peer-pressured into excessive stays, not ventilating enough, and tolerating behaviors that exposed everyone... Thanksgiving is going to be a super-spreading event, and the best way to express love to our families is to remain alive for them.”
Like ill-considered Halloween pranks, this year’s holiday gatherings may seem like a good idea at first, but there’s a very real chance they will come back to haunt you and yours. I believe our best move is to fill the next two months with as much love, laughter, and social distancing as possible. And brace ourselves for whatever gobsmacking surprises 2021 has in store for us.
Good luck out there!
Do you have any holiday plans? Disaster stories? Recipes for leftover turkey? Please share them in the comments below.
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This article is part of my ongoing series of articles on surviving the pandemic, if possible while holding on to some shreds of our sanity and sense of humor.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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