Whether it's virtual or in person, we suggest some of our best recipes, décor, and games to keep everyone entertained.

woman photographing table for a virtual Halloween party
Credit: svetikd / Getty Images

Like everything else this year, Halloween is sure to look a whole lot different. But let's be clear about one thing: It definitely isn't cancelled. With a little creativity, it's easy to throw a frightful fête that's just as much fun as any event you've attended before while also being safe for everyone involved. When planning, the first thing you need to mull over is what kind of event you'll host: virtual, in person, or some sort of hybrid. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, since transmission rates vary so widely throughout the country, as does your own personal comfort level. If your guest list is small enough, the virus is relatively contained in your area, and you're willing to take the proper precautions, you may decide to plan a backyard celebration. If, on the other hand, you're struggling with the idea of sharing your space or want to include the whole neighborhood in a way that's still safe, you might be better off going all-out virtually.

No matter which route you go, we tapped event planner Allison Carter for her best tips to make this year's celebration one that you won't soon forget. 

A Virtual Halloween Party 

When it comes to hosting a virtual party, follow Carter's biggest tip: Try to make everything as cohesive and consistent as possible for all guests, so it feels like you are sharing the same experience. "One of the easiest and most affordable ways to do this is with a virtual background," says Carter. Source an image of a haunted house or a black and orange balloon garland. You could also use a free program like Canva to design your own graphic.

Food and drinks are another way to keep consistency at the party. "Email your guests a few easy prep or assembly-only recipes ahead of time for them to choose from. As a family, they can decide which one they'll make and 'bring' to the party." Lean into the Halloween theme with colorful snack mixes, popcorn balls studded with Halloween sprinkles, sandwiches cut out with themed cookie cutters, or even a caramel apple bar. If you want to go the extra mile, consider sending your guests everything they need to enjoy at home. Opt for a holiday subscription box like Carter's Halloween Memories in Moments: Unwrapped box or grab a few packs of themed paper goods, break up the packs, repackage into plastic bags, then mail just what they need.

Once the décor and food are all set, it's time to think about how you're going to keep guests engaged and entertained. Enter, the virtual costume competition. "The likelihood of our kids showing off their costumes at school and trick-or-treating door to door may be slim to none this year, so take this opportunity to let them dress up and have their moment to shine via a Zoom runway." Play music, mute everyone else, and let each contestant walk toward the screen, pose, spin, and walk off, says Carter. Use the chat feature to have each family vote for winners in a variety of categories such as spookiest, most creative, silliest, overall best costume, and so on. 

An In-Person Halloween Party

If you're comfortable having a few friends and family members over, a backyard bash is a great way to celebrate socially-distanced style, since there's plenty of air flow and room to space out, says Carter. When it comes to food, have snack packs put together for kids to grab and eat. "These can be in bento box-style reusable containers or store-bought items in paper handled gift bags," says Carter. "Either way, they discourage little hands from digging into shared food bowls."

Instead of traditional party games that require more interaction—giant Jenga or cornhole, for example—consider independent activities instead, says Carter. Set each family or individual up at their own spaced out station with all the supplies they need to complete some sort of fun task. Think: Pumpkin-painting, slime-making, or cookie decorating.  If you'd like to add an element of trick-or-treating to your party, have everyone spread out on blankets or in chairs spaced around your yard and have a costume fashion show, says Carter. Once each person finishes their walk down the runway, have them collect a pre-packaged treat from a designated area.

To end the night, screen a Halloween movie. All you need is a white sheet on a blank wall and a projector, says Carter. "You can have a drink dispenser of hot apple cider for guests to help themselves and pre-packaged popcorn bags to hand out once the movie begins."

A Drive-By Halloween Party

If your comfort level falls somewhere in the middle, consider a hybrid-type party in which your friends and family drive by your house to say hello and collect a little treat. It's the perfect way to see one another from a safe social distance. It's also a great way to give the kids some sort of trick-or-treating experience, says Carter. To prepare for the party, go all out decorating your yard. Line your driveway with luminaries or orange string lights, play Halloween music, fasten a balloon garland to your garage doors, transform a pop-up tent into a bit of a haunted house, wave glow sticks as they drive by, and just enjoy being out and making new memories this holiday. 

You'll also want to set up a little favor station to serve as the "trick-or-treat" experience. Rather than have kids reach into a bowl of candy, prepare treat packs ahead of time. "Since you won't be having as many kids and families come to your door as usual, you can put that candy money into a bag of treats or small toys for kids," says Carter. "Get themed cello bags, fill them with store-bought goodies, and have them lined up, so kids can pop out of the car and take one, without touching a bunch of things." 

You can also ask guests to dress up their cars, suggests Carter. "Pick a theme and go to town—cars can be transformed into haunted houses on wheels, animals, superheroes, et cetera." Tell guests you'll be scoring the cars as they go by. At the end of the event, tally up the points and reward the family that did the best with something fun—a special Halloween dinner gift basket, decorated caramel apples, or everything they need to make their own pumpkin spice lattes, says Carter. 


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