Fear Not Fun

Like a weak sun breaking through the clouds on a winter’s day, the realisation has finally dawned on many of us that COVID is here to stay. It is not going to be gone by Christmas, unlikely by Spring, and it is anyone’s guess if 2021 will be any better at all.

Hang on though, there is no need to drown your sorrows and write off life just yet. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and some creative thinking and a bit of planning have meant that we have finally been able to welcome fun back into our lives!

On Saturday 31 October over 100 kids took part in Halloween in Sheikh Jarrah with some calling it ‘the highlight of the year’. This might sound reckless and irresponsible, but it was impressively safe and one of the best things was that the safety measures didn’t get in the way of the fun.

Jerusalem takes its religious observances far too seriously for Halloween to be a thing here. Bewilderment and amusement danced across local peoples faces when they saw whole families emerging dressed up as ghosts and ghouls. Halloween is definitely something that feels unique to the international community here and we wore it with pride.

Amazing costumes from the adults!
A group of trick or treaters

These days Halloween is credited with being an American tradition, but its roots are thought to lie much further back in medieval Celtic celebrations. These in turn are tied to earlier Pagan festivals celebrating the end of harvest and marking the start of the darker months. Over time it became a night of remembering the dead.

The name ‘Halloween’ is derived from ‘All Hallows Eve’ as it falls before the Christian celebration of All Saints Day on 1 November. Many Christians struggle with Halloween however, and it is seen as being something that encourages darkness and evil as well as glorifying blood and disfigurement. For most people I know however, it is ‘just a bit of fun’ and who doesn’t need more of that this year!

Our Jerusalem Halloween included a trick or treating route around Sheikh Jarrah to pass through eleven stations. At a minimum, each stop on the route was nicely decorated and had (individually wrapped) sweets to offer. Many went much further though with full-blown spooky performances including lurking monsters and tactile surprises.

There was palpable excitement in the air and children aged two right up to teenagers were in their element. The adults got into the swing of things too, in part eased along by the ‘magic potion’ on offer from our lovely resident artist come mixologist.     

Excellent house decorations
Baked witches fingers – a very nice alternative to giving kids more sweets!

All of the stops on the route were outside and there was no contact between the host and the children. Everyone wore face masks at all times and the kids didn’t complain about keeping these on, with many finding ways to incorporate them into their costumes.

Families were arranged into groups of ten and were given a starting location and a starting time to avoid congestion on the route. Everyone taking part had to sign up in advance and complete a health declaration and hand sanitiser was available at all stations. Recent COVID evidence suggests that good ventilation and mask wearing are two of the most successful things in reducing the spread of the virus and these were both prioritised.  

Carved pumpkins are a Halloween staple

These might seem like boring details, but they were important in creating an environment where people felt safe to participate within the national regulations.

The result was a memorable event and a fantastic show of community spirit. The inspiring thing was that it proved the concept that bigger community events can be organised if they are planned right.

In the run up to Christmas this year, many people are expecting that they won’t be able to travel or spend time with family. This creates a gap for innovative alternatives. Fun is not dead! Let’s do what we can to keep it alive whilst keeping safe from the virus.

I’d love to hear your ideas from Jerusalem and beyond on innovative things that be organised that are covid friendly.

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