There are places all over the world where time stops for tourists: Carnival and Mardi Gras in Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and New Orleans, New Years celebrations in Times Square and Chinese New Year in Shanghai, Oktoberfest in Munich, and Halloween in Salem, Ma.
If you’re a tourist, the month of October in Salem is your playground. If you’re a local, you dread it, you love it, you deal with it, you embrace it, but one thing’s for certain:
It’s your town and you’re not leaving.
Most of the people who live in Salem year round spend most of that year eating at some of the best restaurants in Massachusetts and enjoying the dozen other festivals that have nothing to do with Halloween – e.g. Salem Arts Festival, Salem Jazz and Soul Festival, the Salem So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival. But apart from that, they’re mostly just living their lives. Do you have to be a little weird to live in Salem? Sure. But you don’t have to be that weird. In fact, if you asked a local if they were weird, they would probably say yes just to get you to go away, in the same way they would answer to the question: “Is everyone in Salem a witch?”
“Yes.” They’ll probably say, and stare at you a little too long.
I’ve been in Salem for 5 years now, and have watched the ebb and flow of the year with a childlike sense of wonder. November 1 is like the dawn of a New Year, which ironically mirrors most pagan traditions, but it’s a fact of life if you’re a local in Witch City. November 1st is like being reborn. Many locals will drive around downtown, which is a ghost town, and watch the tumbleweeds made up of kettle corn and cotton candy bags drift across the empty roads.
We park our cars, and then we park our cars again in another empty spot and marvel at the idea that not twenty-four hours beforehand, you couldn’t wave your hand without hitting 12 people sporting tiny witch hats. November 1st the city takes a break. November 2nd, well, we start planning for next year.
Halloween 2018 is this week, and every storekeeper, busker, and local who spends any time downtown has reached their tipping point. We’ve been asked where the witches were hung so many times that whenever someone we don’t know looks at us inquiringly we squint our eyes and point before walking away quickly. Our stock is lower than it’s been since last November, our spirits are dim like candlelight, the bags beneath our eyes make us look like the bride of Frankenstein. We could use a warm meal. We could really use some sleep.
We wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.
The thing about this month for us is that although it’s the most exhausting 31 days of the year, we do it because we still have the souls of our 5 year old trick or treating self at the driver’s seat in our lives. We love the spoop and the spectacle and the delights. We live for the kitsch and the magic and the pumpkin spice everything.
We really wish that someone could figure out how to make vegan candy corn.
But most of all, we feel lucky. We feel lucky that we’ve found a community of weirdos who can weather the madness and mayhem together, who can live through the theater (and the drama) and come out on the other end of it just as odd and creepy and kooky as ever. Because we know there’s no place in the world like Salem, and no people like the one’s who live here.
So Halloween 2018, do your worst. We love you, but more importantly, we’re ready for you.
Joey Phoenix is a Salem, MA based artist, scribbler, and professional faerie. Their passion for community and the creative process leads them to write about people who are doing good work on the North Shore. You can follow them on twitter @jphoenixmedia – if you think you know of a creative story worth telling, send them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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