It isn’t officially the holiday season yet, but it’s fair to look at Halloween as a good dress rehearsal (literally) for it. After all, it always feels like a day removed from normal time, a special occasion with its own particular character. It’s a spooky, surreal primer for what’s to come.

At our newspaper office, we usually put up a few seasonal decorations for these holidays as a little morale booster. But this year, for this Halloween, it’s been ramped up considerably, at least in our newsroom. Sometimes, it seems that our decorating was handed off to a pack of fourth-graders as plastic spiders, cardboard figures and skeletons — lots of skeletons — haunt our domain.

But I’m to blame for much of this, and I sometimes stare at all the dollar-store decorations and pretend to wonder why.

I know why, though.

It’s been a long year — five words that I imagine many of us are probably muttering to ourselves these days. The COVID-19 pandemic is always, ALWAYS around us, over us and in us. I have to deal with it in various ways literally every day; as a direct consequence, I dream about it a lot of nights. It feels like being locked away in a mental prison, even if you try to carry on with life as much as possible.

I’ve spent much of the year living more closely to the cautious “hunker down” mindset. While I get out and around every day, I often feel like I’m walking through a minefield or a zombie herd. I’ve also curtailed my travels: Up until last night, when I was scheduled to make a wide loop from Viborg to Scotland to shoot photos at football playoff games, my biggest road trip of any kind this year was a quick journey to Wagner last month to take photos at the Labor Day parade. That hasn’t allowed for much variety in the scenery.

The year has also been devoid of so many of the events and distractions that are part of what I do and how I live. There were no Riverboat Days or fireworks displays in Yankton; no Czech Days in Tabor; no school concerts to photograph … nothing normal as I understand it.

So, I’ve felt trapped.

And I believe that’s what led to our newsroom explosion of Halloween decorations this year. Yeah, it’s a silly thing and I’ll be the first to admit it, but then again, perhaps that has been the point. It was an outlet for a lot of pent-up energy, and maybe a yearning to do something silly and normal again.

What’s more, I may be seeing this occurring elsewhere. Around town, I’ve noticed a few more houses than usual that have delved into some serious Halloween decorating. Yankton Area Arts is sponsoring a decorating contest this month, which may be an explanation — but perhaps it’s also part of the same restless urge to expend some creative, fun energy on something other than worrying about coronavirus goblins.

To be sure, I’ve always loved Halloween because of its moodiness and its wondrous creativity. It’s far more fun decorating for Halloween than for Christmas because, with the former, practically anything goes while, with the latter, there are so few uses for skeletons. Halloween is also the turning point of autumn, an astronomical cross-quarter day — the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice — functioning both as a farewell to the final fading fragments of summer and as a last stand before the cold, hard days ahead. And there are lots of horror movies. What’s NOT to like about this holiday?

But this year, with real life currently filled with enough real horrors, it’s felt good to slip into the familiar cobwebs and shadows of this Halloween season. It really is an escape that we all need right now, no matter what kind of mask you’re wearing.

Follow @kelly_hertz on Twitter.

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