The COVID-19 crisis has the prompted cancelation of many beloved springtime events. St. Patrick’s Day – celebrated widely in the Chicago area – fared no differently. Unlike St. Patrick’s Day celebrations past, Chicago had no parade this year. The Chicago River stayed its normal color, instead of being dyed a luridly festive shade of green.  

However, many households in Oak Park hung shamrocks in their windows, creating a walking shamrock scavenger hunt for children. 

“I don’t know where it started, but it spread. It was something easy people could do quickly, and kids had fun,” said Beth Houle, who lives on Humphrey Avenue. On Houle’s block, a neighbor suggested the idea in a neighborhood email chain. 

 Houle thinks over 100 households, including her own, put up shamrocks. Even though St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone, some homes still have their shamrocks displayed. 

On bikes and on foot, kids and their parents kept count of how many shamrocks in windows they found, while maintaining a safe distance apart from others. 

“We all wanted to just do something simple for fun, especially for the younger children,” Houle said.

With the closures of schools, kids have had only digital interaction, if any at all, with their friends. Nor are young kids likely to understand why the intangible pandemic has forced them to be separated from friends. 

“It’s no fun being cooped up,” said Houle. “They just know that they’re being kept inside or only with their family and not with friends that they want to be with.”

Angie Hawkins, who also lives on Humphrey Avenue, did the scavenger hunt with her two sons, ages eight and 11. They also put up shamrocks in their window.

“It was just kind of a nice break to go do something outside for a little bit and have a purpose to be outside,” Hawkins said.

Having her two boys home from school has been a little chaotic, she said, and the boys have a lot of energy to spare. 

“Normally at school, they make leprechaun traps or something like that,” Hawkins said. “It was fun to have something to do.”

Both of her sons enjoyed going on the scavenger hunt, even though she worried her eldest son might have found it a little childish. 

“I kind of thought my 11-year-old would think it was dumb, but I think he was excited to have some sort of scheduled activity since everything’s been kind of canceled,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins described her neighborhood as very community oriented. The block has two block parties a year and, in the wintertime, adults in the neighborhood have monthly progressive cocktail and dinner parties. She expects the neighborhood will continue doing little fun activities while under the state’s order to stay at home.

While Houle’s children are too old for neighborhood scavenger hunts, they appreciated how much other kids enjoyed it.

“I think they liked the fact that we participated,” Houle said. “We’re talking a lot about things we can be doing other people.”

Each night while stuck at home, every member in Houle’s family calls a friend or family member to check in. Houle said the practice has led to some “amazing conversations.”

As Easter approaches, neighborhoods have already started to plan similar scavenger hunts, trading in shamrocks for Easter eggs in the window.

Seeing all the households that put the shamrocks up made Houle “pleased people are stepping up and want to help, even in a small way.”

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