Celebrating Fall and Pumpkins during COVID-19

November 12, 2020

Jodi Lastman

Pumpkin Parades started in Toronto in 2004. They’ve not only grown in popularity locally but have spread right across the country, landing in cities like Vancouver. Held on November 1st each year, the City of Toronto has historically provided free park permits and provided on-site pumpkin composting at the end of the night.

This year under the gloomy shadow of the second wave of COVID 19, the City of Toronto did not issue Pumpkin Parade permits. 

Even though in-person Pumpkin Parades were canceled, through Park People’s Sparking Change and Community Resilience  programs, Park People helped make virtual and safe in-person Halloween-related events happen in underserved communities. We positioned the events as “Fall Fests” in order to include those who have not traditionally celebrated Halloween. In fact, we learned that almost ½ of the people in attendance had never carved a pumpkin before.

These “Fall Fest” events included:

The popularity of these Fall Fest events show that people are looking for social connection now, more than ever. For example, we saw newcomers taking a risk and participating in new ways because they were craving activities that would make them feel like part of the community. The Fall Fest was a success because it created a safe space for people to once again feel a sense of community.

Fall Fest by the numbers. 

Here are key lessons from the Fall Fest events:

Give it away now:

We quickly saw how critical the pumpkin giveaways were to participation. In these communities where many people had never participated in Halloween events, pumpkins are not a priority item to purchase. Also, try lugging a pumpkin on public transit along with other groceries. You get the idea. The free pumpkin giveaways in parks got people excited to engage in and embrace a new creative activity.

Consider your position:

Rather than theming these events as Halloween activities, we called the events “Fall Fests.” This positioning was critical to the events’ success. Newcomers may not be familiar with the North American concept of Halloween and using that terminology may be intimidating or foreign. Using seasonal language helped make the event more inclusive and feel welcoming to those who were carving and displaying pumpkins for the very first time.

Show me the way:

The pumpkin carving demonstrations and virtual events helped people get involved in a low-risk way.

The virtual pumpkin carving session not only provided creative inspiration for pumpkins but also featured live music, storytelling, and activities.

The demonstration helped people become inspired to participate for the first time. Also, the virtual format made the event accessible to many, like seniors, who may not have been able to participate in person.  Don’t think for a minute that pumpkin carving is just for kids. Seniors in these communities loved having the opportunity to make a gooey mess for the first time.

Start small:

The ‘Fall Fest’ events helped Sparking Change and Community Resilience leaders develop new skills by hosting a small scale event and seeing how their efforts paid off.  The Fall Fest event provided a great opportunity for park leaders and animators to build skills and confidence necessary to make great things happen in communities. 

Make a contest of it

People love a good contest- but not if it’s too competitive. The contest aspect of the Pumpkin Parade helped motivate more people to participate and to bring all their creativity to the process. However, it’s important to make everyone feel like they have a chance to win. You can do that by creating multiple categories of ‘winners’ that meet different criteria.

Mix it up

Including artists and storytelling into the virtual pumpkin carving event was a great way to keep the event lively. When you’re planning your event, remember that it can be challenging for people to hold their focus on a single thing for a long time. It’s good to mix up the program and offer a bit of something for everyone. It’s also an opportunity to invite artists and other guests from the community to show off their talents on a whole new stage for new, local audiences. 

 

Thanks to our generous supporters

The Balsam Foundation

 

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