Salem’s Holiday Happenings…Sort of

House of the Seven Gables

Salem is a beautiful city. It makes such an effort to cram a variety of events into the Haunted Happenings calendar in October, and tourists stampede here in sage-seeking droves. You can’t swing a dead witch’s familiar without hitting something spooky or Hallowe’en-themed; it’s easy to pick at least one thing per day to do in October. It’s a really…happening time of year.

In rolls November for the lull. Fair enough – it’s getting colder, and that one day of Thanks means that everything is more family-centric, travel-centric and indoor-centric than touristy. Most of the tour companies and 3D haunted houses pack up shop for the season, and some realize that a month’s worth of takings isn’t enough for Essex St retail rent, and abandon ship entirely.

So during December, you’d think that a small town like Salem that knows how to party like a big city would get in on some of the over-commercialised adorably tacky Christmas gaudiness. You’d expect there to be tons of events: christmas parades, tree-decorating contests instead of pumpkin-decorating contests, or caroling performances instead of haunted houses.

Nope. None of that. The “32nd Annual Christmas in Salem” offers some tours of historic homes, and plugs for the Christmas Carol-themed Trolley Ride. While I didn’t get to see the former (although it seemed interesting), I’ll probably shell out $22 for the latter, just for lack of choice. Abysmally slim pickings from a small city (sorry, it still feels like a small town to me) that is so deeply mired in luring in tourists for one month out of the year, to essentially capitalize on atrocities that have nothing to do with $200-seances, cheesy ghost hunt tours or cat costume contests. Even though that last one (and many of the other events in October) were fun to attend, it seems that there’s nothing for us residents to enjoy once the Haunted Hubbubings dies down.

Something I had never done, even as a tourist, was to go to the House of the Seven Gables. Participating in the Christmas in Salem program (along with like two other businesses), they were offering sort-of tours of the house that is now next to the house where Nathaniel Hawthorne spent four years of his childhood (the house that was actually moved from a few streets over). It’s a big tourist attraction, and is near the ferry, an ice cream shop, two bars and the oldest candy shop in America.

This time of year, you can still wander through the house, sort-of guided (“go into this room now”), but the rooms are occupied by actors citing monologues from famous Christmas stories. The problem with monologues is that they are literally just one person talking. Not to you, but at you. In an old-timey voice in a bad accent saying old-timey prose/poetry.

So I got to listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales being performed by a Cornish/Irish accent that was supposed to be Welsh, a rendition of The Night Before Christmas that lacked the genuine enthusiasm required for old-timey poetry recitations, Anne Frank with a wicked awesome New England accent and some Bahston-tahkin’ Ebeneezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley. The Little Women scene was OK. And we got to meet the unofficial resident cat:

Why do all long-haired cats insist on sleeping on paper?

For the Anne Fahkin’ Frank portion of the performance/tour, we had the option of entering the attic through the Secret Passageway, which was so narrow and winding that it freaked out every single senior citizen who was in our group (i.e. everyone but me):

Narrow, long and winding. Like your mum.

Later that evening we went to a Krampus-themed art show at The Fool’s Mansion. If you don’t know who Krampus is, click here. Summary: he’s a Nordic Christmas tradition, and is an evil, devil-like beast who actually hangs out with Father Christmas as his Bad Cop. If you’re nice, Father Crimbo gives you a gift; if you’re a bratty little arsehole, Krampus comes to steal your soul. People actually dress up as him as a holiday tradition. Look at all the fun he’s having here:

It’s the only suitably plausible way to goth up the Christmas season, so I would have been shocked if no-one in Salem hadn’t tried to get in on something like this. Like most art shows, most of what was on sale was horribly expensive and probably best for a niche audience (myself sadly included), but for us miserable cheapskates, almost every piece of proper artwork was condensed in postcard/Christmas card form. Drinks and snacks were free (unlimited mead, red wine and children’s souls), and a good time was had by all until approximately 2am (four hours after it was actually supposed to shut). I think the DJ wasn’t sure what he was supposed to play at a Christmas-themed Goth night in a shop selling Nordic-inspired holiday art, so he played the Edward Scisshorhands theme three times and then started to play the Pet Shop Boys (WHY is that considered Goth music here??).

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