In the era of COVID-19, as the world is awaiting a vaccine that will formally bring the pandemic to a close worldwide and consign it to the realm of the ill-remembered past, a lot of traditions are looking to make their virtual/digital debuts. Everything from parades to trick-or-treating to Black Friday doorbusters to Santa Claus himself are getting a virtual makeover to make them safer and more socially distanced.
Here are how some traditions are getting social-distancing makeovers for 2020:
Keeping Halloween’s Spooky Spirit Alive With Drive-Thrus
Halloween ranks second only to Christmas in terms of holidays beloved by children. The combination of costumes and candy is hard to beat, especially when adding such traditions as carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses and playing pranks on the unsuspecting.
But while costumes, candy and carving are all relatively safe this holiday season, haunted houses face the unique difficulty of providing exactly the wrong kind of scary experience this season: being trapped in enclosed spaces with strangers.
But since haunted houses aim to give people a light scare instead of making them actually fear for their lives, the tradition is getting a makeover this season, in the form of drive-thru haunted houses.
These have started popping up worldwide for those who want to be scared from within the safety of their own cars. It’s not a wholly new idea for 2020, but it’s one that’s surging in popularity.
“Imagine your car pulling up into a dark alley, turning off your engine and being just completely powerless as you’re surrounded by creatures,” Atilio Jamerson, entertainment director for Urban Legends of Southern California, said during a recent interview. “We’ll incorporate props, lighting, music … it’s just a way for us to get really creative and do things we’ve never done before.”
Urban Legend noted that the attraction’s actors like the upgrade, as the format allows them to be more over-the-top in their movements and creative in how they reach out to scare customers.
But those who are worried that locking their kids in a car surrounded by monsters in the dark might be too intense needn’t fear. Most haunted drive-thrus are advertising “daytime” versions that are less scary.
Bringing Back Physical Holiday Presents
Many December holiday traditions will have to fall by the wayside this year because of COVID-19.
For instance, the Nutcracker ballet has been canceled for the year in many U.S. locations, while many communities are nixing community tree-lighting ceremonies. Malls nationwide are also deciding that Santa won’t be stopping by for photo opportunities with kids.
But at least one big tradition is making a return in 2020: giving people actual items instead of “experiences” for Christmas.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a significant shift to gifting experiences: sporting events, trips, concerts,” Natalie Kotlyar, head of the retail practice at consulting firm BDO, told the Post. “This year, we’re going to be moving away from that back to more traditional gifts like electronics and toys.”
And we won’t just be buying each other more stuff, but will often be buying bigger, better and more expensive stuff. Toymaker MGA Entertainment’s CEO Isaac Larian told the Post that while his company’s sales are down some 20 percent overall, its Little Tikes line of high-end ride-on toys, trampolines and outdoor playsets is booming.
“Families aren’t going to the movies or the theater or to Disneyland, so they’re using that money for entertainment at home,” Larian said. “Whether it’s slides, bouncers or playhouses, we can’t keep them in stock.”
The New Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
It’s been a big year of reimagining holiday traditions for the team at Macy’s.
For the Fourth of July, the company scrapped its usual big New York City fireworks display in favor of staging smaller, five-minute mini-displays all over the city to discourage crowds from gathering in one location.
Similarly, Macy’s has confirmed that its traditional Thanksgiving Day parade will go on – but in a "reimagined" way. "Following our successful, safe and innovative production of Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks, it is our intention to similarly reimagine Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this November," Macy's said on its website. "Stay tuned for more details later this fall."
How exactly one breaks up an iconic parade and spreads it out to make it less centralized is an interesting question – and one that Macy’s hasn’t answered. But New York Mayor Bill de Blasio did have some ideas when he announced the modified parade earlier this week.
According to de Blasio, some of the parade will likely be virtual, while other parts will involve “small, in-person pieces” spread throughout the city.
“It's not going to look at all, of course, like what we are used to," de Blasio said, according to reports. "But the important thing is the traditions will be kept in some way."
Are These Permanent Shifts?
Have we seen the last full-scale Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or Fourth of July fireworks display? Will walk-through haunted houses become passe?
Almost certainly not. We imagine that big parades, traditional haunted houses and Christmas family trips to Disney will all make a comeback eventually.
But until then, we have to hand it to the innovators to find ways to keep traditions alive – even when COVID-19 is halting our ability to gather in groups.