In wake of COVID, Halloween teaches kids ‘not to be afraid of the dark’

In wake of COVID, Halloween teaches kids ‘not to be afraid of the dark’


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For parents Carly and Fernando Castañeda, a hard part of the pandemic has been how to explain death to their three-year-old son Charlie.

“We’ve made our kids so afraid of so many things,” said Carly. “Our kids have had to become aware of death at a young age.”

This year, with traditional trick-or-treating off the table in Melbourne due to coronavirus restrictions, Carly and Fernando have reimagined their Halloween celebration to make it COVID-safe.

Carly and Fernando Castaneda tied the knot on Halloween two years ago. Now they’re celebrating the end of lockdown and the Mexican Di­a de Muertos (Day of the Dead) with family.Credit:Jason South

Dressed as a witch and with four-month-old Maggie in tow, her baby born in lockdown, friends and their families have gathered at their local Airport West park to celebrate the spooky anniversary.

“Charlie even had to spend his birthday in lockdown, this is like a big make-up for lost time,” Carly said.

With one attendee dressed as a "COVID mum", her waistband adorned with sanitizers and wipes but top half prim, tidy and ready for a Zoom meeting, it’s been the spectre of the pandemic, not ghosts, that haunts parents this Halloween.

The couple’s enthusiasm for the holiday is nothing new – their wedding, which took place exactly two years ago to the day, was Halloween-themed.

With cobwebs and pumpkins, an in-house palm reader and a black dress code for guests, the ceremony was testament to Carly’s boundless love for all things spooky.

Fernando’s family came over from Mexico with husband and wife calaveras – decorated skulls used in the Mexican Día de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead – to deck out the wedding.

“I said to my husband, ‘What day should we get married?’ and he said ‘There’s only one choice for you, if we’re going to have a party why not have a big Halloween party,’” Ms Fernando said.

Carly and Fernando Castaneda, with son Charlie, baby Magnolia and Pomeranian Frankie.Credit:Eddie Jim

In a year where Victorians are treated to daily death tallies, Carly hopes her family's celebration of Halloween and the Día de Muertos can help to demystify death in a way that helps her kids emotionally process a traumatic six months.

“The way we celebrate the Day of the Dead is you don’t fear death – it’s almost a thing where you almost play with it and it takes away the fear … you make it fun,” said Carly.

“I love Halloween because I always feel like it’s a chance to let the kid come out in me still, it’s a chance to show off your love for things.”

After unexpectedly losing her mother during the pandemic, the role Halloween plays in her life has never felt more poignant.

Even their little pomeranian Frankie, orphaned after the death of Carly’s mum and adopted by Carly and Fernando, was wrestled into a skeleton costume for the occasion.

During a time when the scariest face might be coughing behind a facemask, witches, skeletons and ghosts might not seem so threatening.

“A couple of months ago I thought: this pandemic has broken my kid," Carly said.

“But it’s about teaching kids to not be afraid of the dark,” Carly said, “it makes the scary things fun, and we need to make the scary things fun right now.”

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