My personal ritual for Halloween involves, as a first step, going to the store and buying a thousand pieces of candy: a thousand individual miniature Snickers, peanut butter cups, Smarties, Hershey’s Kisses. I need to buy a thousand because we live on Cedar Street, an idyllic residential street in Belfast, a small town in Maine. Belfast is the county seat of a rural county (the total population is less than 40K). Many kids who live here can’t trick or treat by their homes; they don’t have next-door neighborhoods, or a village center, or even any residential blocks in their towns. They live on farms, or in the woods, or in towns so unpopulated there’s no place to go door-to-door. So they all come here, to Belfast. Not just to Belfast, but to Cedar Street. My street. Somehow, by default and over time, it became the street to hit, and it’s just stayed that way, an unwritten rule, ever since.
The kids come in droves. They queue up, and the queues stretch up the front steps and down the dooryard to the curb. The kids come pretty much non-stop, all night, from about 4:30-8 p.m. It’s like an assembly line of doling out candy – this is not a situation where you can sit on your couch watching TV and wait for a knock and then leisurely answer the door to the sound of trick or treat! Homeowners on Cedar Street park ourselves on our porches and stoops or sit outside in lawn chairs because the stream of plastic pumpkin buckets and held-out pillowcases doesn’t cease. We know that our own costume choices ought to be driven first and foremost by warmth, because on October 31st in Maine, if you are sitting in one place for several hours outside in the evening, chances are your toes and fingers will go numb unless you’ve been smart and found a big furry werewolf suit or a witch get-up with long sleeves and many layers. I’ve thought about doing costumes from Empire Strikes Back with my geeky partner because dressing for the ice planet Hoth is akin to dressing for autumn in Maine.
We were warned about Halloween before we bought our house. The mortgage lender, the real estate agent, the folks at the bank – everyone said, Cedar Street, huh? You know about Halloween, right?
But we love living on Cedar Street, and we love it at Halloween. We feel called to this work, if you can say that about trick or treating. We spend over a hundred dollars each year on teeny tiny chocolate bars; we freeze our asses off; our doorbell rings well into the night, long after we’ve run out of candy and turned off the lights. But we love it. We love being ambassadors of goodwill and magic to these cheerful, kind country kids. We love carving really good jack o’ lanterns and stringing the doorway with twinkle lights and dressing the dogs in something silly. We love seeing our neighbors rig up their own houses and settle in for an evening of wonder. We love taking pictures of the best costumes as they parade by: the homemade Dalek, complete with rolling wheels; the jellyfish made of a clear umbrella hung with glowing LED strands.
There aren’t many holidays that are personally important to me, but even before Cedar Street, I’ve always adored Halloween. I’m a big proponent of dressing up and costumes and drag; I’m fascinated by death and ghosts and the notion of a parallel plane of supernatural existence; and I enjoy any occasion that focuses on children and community and connecting with neighbors. In my current incarnation on Cedar Street, giving out mass-produced sweets to hundreds of strangers’ children feels like a spiritual, meaningful practice.
Arielle Greenberg is the author of the poetry collections Slice, My Kafka Century, and Given, the creative nonfiction book Locally Made Panties, and the transgenre chapbooks Shake Her and Fa(r)ther Down. She is co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic, and co-editor of three anthologies, including Gurlesque, which will soon be out in an expanded digital edition co-edited with Becca Klaver. Arielle’s poems and essays have been featured in Best American Poetry, Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, and The Racial Imaginary. She writes a column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review and edits a series of essays called (K)ink: Writing While Deviant for The Rumpus. A former tenured professor in poetry at Columbia College Chicago, she lives in Maine and teaches in the community and in the Oregon State University-Cascades MFA program.