Fall traditions in the age of COVID-19

Autumn is a season of nostalgia. You may have vivid memories of traipsing through apple orchards and corn mazes, trick-or-treating on Halloween, and watching the World Series, or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. Some of our favorite fall holidays and traditions, however, may look a little different this year, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s newly issued guidelines on how to celebrate the season safely: in particular, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and Thanksgiving. The CDC has grouped fall holiday activities and traditions in low-risk, moderate-risk, and high-risk categories, and has provided  descriptions of associated risk factors and recommendations for celebrating these activities safely. While these strategies may seem comprehensive, the guidelines from the CDC are meant to supplement —not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health mandates.1 Here are some recommendations for fall activities, drawn from the CDC and other sources, to keep in mind when making plans. Most importantly, be sure to get fully vaccinated before celebrating with or near others.


Trick-or-treating is typically an outdoor activity; however, it is considered a high-risk factor for spreading COVID-19 from house to house.2 Consider these guidelines when planning Halloween festivities.

  • Low Risk
    • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household
    • Decorating your house, apartment, or living space
    • Having a Halloween movie night with members of your household
  • Moderate Risk
    • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags or candy are lined up at the edge of a yard or driveway for families to pick up while continuing to social distance1
    • Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and social distancing is possible
  • High Risk
    • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where candy is handed out to children who go door to door
    • Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest or hayride. This applies even when masks and social distancing are enforced.2
    • Traveling to a rural or urban fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with a high rate of COVID-19


Many traditional Day of the Dead traditions, such as cooking and gathering in public tribute areas, may put you at high-risk for contracting a virus or infection. Luckily, there are several virtual ways to celebrate.3 Keep these recommendations in mind when celebrating the weekend.

  • Low Risk
    • Preparing traditional meals with members of your household and delivering them to family and neighbors in a way that does not involve contact with others (e.g., leaving them in the mailbox or on the porch)
    • Listening to music in your home that your deceased loved ones enjoyed
    • Making and decorating masks or altars for the deceased and displaying them in a window and/or online
  • Moderate Risk
    • Having a small outdoor, open-air gathering where participants are more than six feet apart
    • Visiting and decorating the graves of loved ones with members of your household and keeping at least six feet away from others who may be in the area
    • Hosting or attending a small gathering with local friends and family where people are more than six feet away. Consider virtually inviting people to celebrate. 
  • High Risk
    • Attending a large indoor celebration with singing, chanting, and/or wind instruments1,2
    • Participating in crowded gatherings, festival, or events
    • Hosting or attending a large dinner party with people from different households and locations


Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year.4 Travel increases the chance of catching and spreading illness, so staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. Consider these suggestions when celebrating.

  • Low Risk
    • Having a small dinner party with only those who live in your household (consider virtually inviting people into your home to celebrate)
    • Preparing meals with members of your household and delivering them to family and neighbors in a way that does not involve contact with others (e.g., leaving them in the mailbox or on the porch)
    • Watching sporting events, parades, and movies from home
  • Moderate Risk
    • Having a small outdoor dinner with household and local family members with safety precautions in place. The CDC recommends cutting down on shared items by having one person serve and using single-use plates and condiments.1
    • Attending a small outdoor sporting event with safety precautions in place
    • Hiking on a trail nearby with your household members while wearing protective masks and social distancing from other parties
  • High Risk
    • Participating in or being a spectator at a crowded sporting event without safety precautions in placeAttending crowded parades or other venues, such as shopping malls on Black Friday 
    • Hosting a large Thanksgiving potluck dinner with people outside your household from various locations


Pumpkin carving. Designing your own jack-o-lanterns with household members is a pastime that is still safe despite the pandemic. After choosing and carving your pumpkin, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly to prevent spreading germs.

Apple and pumpkin picking. Apple bobbing definitely won’t be happening this fall, but apple and pumpkin picking certainly are! Many orchards are open but may require time-staggered reservations to prevent overcrowding.5 It is also important to do your research. For example, some orchards may not have one-way paths. This could make it more difficult to social distance. It is also important to use hand sanitizer after picking apples and pumpkins that may have been already touched.1

Black Friday shopping (online). Avoid the crowds and stay safe by shopping online.

Halloween costumes. Trick-or-treating restrictions may be in place this year, but there are no limits on dressing up. If you’re working from home or attending school online, maybe use the virtual background feature on Zoom.6 While you’re at it, consider designing your own fall-themed protective mask to wear when leaving your home.

Get Vaccinated and Stay Informed

One of the most important preparations you can make for safely celebrating fall and winter holidays this year is being vaccinated. It is also crucial to be informed and flexible.1 Do your research. Keep up with your local community’s mandates concerning COVID-19. Find alternative ways of celebrating. Additionally, make sure to use your common sense. Avoid crowded indoor gatherings, minimize travel, and limit excessive alcohol consumption that could impair your judgement. And, of course, if you think you may have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who does, be a good neighbor—Don’t attend in-person fall celebrations, and definitely don’t hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.1,2


1. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site. Your health: holiday celebrations. Updated 15 Aug 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html#halloween. Accessed 23 Aug 2021.

2. Wamsley L. CDC’s Halloween guidelines warn against typical trick-or-treating. Updated 22 Sep 2020. National Public Radio website. https://www.npr.org/sections/ coronavirus-live-updates/2020/09/22/ 915689646/cdcs-halloween-guidelines-warn-against-typical- trick-or-treating-boo. Accessed 23 Aug 2021.

3. Borórquez K. Día de los Muertos won’t be the same in the pandemic. Here are safe ways to celebrate. Updated 24 Sep 2020. https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article245946335.html. Accessed 23 Aug 2021.

4. Ahmed QA, Memish ZA. From the “Madding Crowd” to mass gatherings: religion, sport, culture and public health. Travel Med Infect Dis. 2019;28:91–97. 

5. Glusac E. Fall’s here. Can we still go apple picking? Updated 17 Sep 2020. New York Times website. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/17/travel/fall-activities-coronavirus.html?searchResultPosition=1. Accessed 23 Aug 2021.

6. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site. COVID-19 Vaccine breakthrough case investigation and reporting. Updated 20 Aug 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/health-departments/breakthrough-cases.html. Accessed 24 Aug 2021.    

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