Dora Guo

As an international student on campus for the fall semester, I came to Yale highly excited to celebrate the mythical, almost cultish commercial holiday that is American Halloween. Never have I thought this much about my Halloween costume since having graduated from elementary school. Of course, as with everything else in this truly cursed year, COVID-19 dampens the fun of Halloween a little. Though first years like myself might not know the difference, on-campus juniors and seniors lament the loss of several Yale Halloween traditions this fall. Noted absences include the Fall Fest, usually a mecca of seasonal snacks, Hallowoads — though, obviously, regular Woads (tragically?) is also off for the season — and the abundance of frat parties that usually mark the holiday. College-based traditions have also been altered, with the Pierson Inferno and Silliman’s Haunted House among the events removed from the agenda. Regardless, where there’s a will, there’s a way — and coronavirus restrictions certainly aren’t a barrier spirited Yalies can’t adapt to, improvise around and overcome.

So far, Yale has done an impressive job satiating my appetite for spooky Halloween activities. Social media has come to the forefront in this year of socially distanced socializing, with the First-Year College Council hosting a weeklong Instagram competition, kicking off with Pajama Day on Monday and ending with Yale Spirit Day on the 30th. Rewards awaiting the best-dressed first years are $25 Yale Bookstore coupons, along with free stickers for the most fashionable college overall. Needless to say, given the allure of free prizes and the pride of residential colleges at stake, this initiative has resulted in hearty engagement from the class of 2024.

Beyond virtual activities, residential colleges have worked around Yale’s health guidelines to keep students entertained. It isn’t hard to tell what Silliman Head of College Santos’ favorite holiday is: Silliman has formed a Halloween planning committee of enthusiastic first years, and the college is decked out for the week in cobwebs and skeletons. We’ve also been allowed to reserve the Acorn — our sustainable cafe, which has otherwise been closed this semester — in small groups to bake Halloween-themed snacks, and a costume catalog offers us the opportunity to borrow outfits for the big night. Meanwhile, pumpkin-carving is a tradition still going strong across the University, with colleges ranging from Hopper to Berkeley boasting seasonally decorated courtyards. In addition, Branford is pioneering the art of COVID-safe trick-or-treating, where students will be assigned to different entryways to hand out candy to faculty children. The annual YSO Halloween show is also going ahead, albeit with a twist — video submissions by orchestra members have been individually recorded and edited together.

Yet all of these activities are tinged with a hint of sadness for what could have been, in a different year, and I can’t help but feel that the barrage of Halloween activities are a thinly veiled distraction from our current reality. To a cynical eye, this is merely Yale’s attempt to rally its troops of Zoom-fatigued, glassy-eyed undergraduates and raise our morale as it drops perilously low over what should’ve been our fall break. No one came prepared to navigate a college campus in the grips of a global pandemic, and it’s starting to show as my Twitter feed gradually fills with the cries of Yalies for more lenient marking, for mental health days, for midterms — or even the actual term — to be over once and for all. Don’t get me wrong, though: Yale’s efforts to keep us pleasantly preoccupied are much appreciated, and considering how the rest of the world is currently coping, I feel fortunate to be spending the holiday season here in New Haven.

Of course, Halloween means vastly different things to different people. To me, the holiday holds little to no significance on a regular year — any celebrations at all are a bonus, as I’m accustomed to ignoring the holiday (with the exception of buying discounted chocolate in the following weeks). Overall, I can’t claim to be disappointed with my very first Yale Halloween. Is it everything it might’ve been in a regular year? Perhaps not, but given the circumstances, it certainly is a close second best. There is something to be said for this year’s less party-centric, more inclusive and tight-knit celebrations. According to my American friends, Halloween in a regular year — or “party season,” as my suitemate put it — is an excuse for excess: a holiday used by teenagers as a reason to dress up, drink and indulge. Who knows, maybe Yalies will take a leaf or two out of our socially distanced book in years to come. Frankly, there is no telling what next fall will look like, but some of our 2020 traditions may well be worth preserving when (if?) the pandemic finally dies down. This Halloween, I feel like I’m spending the holiday with a makeshift family, and that’s certainly something worth keeping around long after COVID-19 is gone.

Melissa Adams | melissa.adams@yale.edu