For years, families ran to the suburbs for fall activities for their children. Now Newark, New Jersey offers pumpkin patches and Halloween family fun to keep celebrations close to the home of Newarkers.
Every October, I’d hang fall decor around my front door. A few small pumpkins here, or an occasional fake tombstone with a witchy-pooh hat there. Then a few days before Halloween, I’d repaint the activities of my mother by going to Costco to load up on bite-sized lollipops, Snickers bars, Kit Kats and M&M candies.
In my nostalgia of recreating fall celebrations as a warm up for winter holidays, I would go all out during the autumn months. To me, fall is a gorgeous precursor to witnessing the upbeat cheer of kids’ eyes lighting up from Halloween to Christmas. Watching how mom-and-pop stores would take the little lagniappe of money to spruce up their shops. Or, driving through neighborhoods at night to judge how they decorate their homes like a Disney scene, just for nine months of bragging rights. Yet, my yearly ritual became an annual disappointment. It seemed as if autumn fests passed over Newark.
The leaves on trees turned the beautiful, gold-crimson-olive as they fell in dramatic mounds. Even, the air began to noticeably chill when you’d see people start to don scarves. Or, the swirls of smoke from commuters’ coffee cups indicated cooler climates.
But, it was as if no one noticed Newark’s beauty. Coming from Los Angeles, a city that has about two seasons during a good year, I marveled at how Mother Nature dictated to you when to change out your clothes and stock up on hot cocoa. But every year, my bowl of candy in a steel bowl sat untouched by my door because nobody; and I mean no-bodies, came trick-or-treating.
My husband, an East Orange native whose feet know Jersey more than me, would shake his head every time I’d come home with bags of chocolate and sweetened hard balls of grape and red. Eventually, he would take every morsel to his barbershop on Central Avenue in downtown Newark. For months, his customers indulged in their childhood memories of sugar-binges. But where were the kids?
One of those years of me prepping for autumn like I was the only person in Newark who liked pumpkin. Eh, maybe I am. But, after desperation, on a Hallow’s Eve, I walked out of my house to a cluster of mothers and school-aged children dressed in varieties of princesses, superheroes and villains. They walked down Court Street like a flock of beautifully primed mama geese who had the cutest ducklings.
“I have a whole bunch of candy,” I said as they passed my yard.
“No thank you,” quickly interjected one of the mothers.
I asked myself in the perplexed corners of my mind, “Who turns down candy? Do I look like a weirdo?”
So, I inquired about their nice-refusal. “Oh, we’re going to West Orange to trick-or-treat.”
“Ahh, I see,” I responded. “But, why?”
My follow up question implied so much more than their explanation of trekking 15 to 20 minutes up the Parkway by car, to a predominantly white suburb for the exact same candy I had.
“That’s what we do when we can’t make it to Short Hills Mall,” one mother explained who was slightly annoyed that I disrupted their journey, thus I shook up the children who were clearly over it and ready to go.
“Ah, my bad, enjoy your visit,” I said apologetically as I waved to the babies who were so adorable. Short Hills Mall was easily a 25-minute drive or more. Then in my feelings, I walked to my house, took a handful of candy out of the bowl then threw the rest of it away. From there, I never bought another sliver of a sweet for the fall.
. . . .
Newark with its rocky history of public safety. Even moreso, citizens’ fraught relationship with public safety officers, created a city of many security risks. So, I got it. Going to the suburbs where police showed up on time, if they were “needed” at all, made sense. Plus, quite a few of the officers in Newark lived in those well-manicured suburbs with good air and hipster coffee shops Yet, the disparity did not make it right. Because a lot of kids and their parents could not make it to the outskirts of the city. Nor did they want to.
With the city slowly transforming, and in a noticeable tug-o-war about who gets to really carve out spaces for the people, it is good to know there are folks who work to contour healthy and inviting spaces for children to have fun. Moreover, making space for families to day-trip close to home.
October 23: Clinton Hill Pumpkin Patch Harvest Festival at Hawthorne Farm, from 9am to 4pm. You must register to participate. Remember, COVID protocols are in place, so mask up and keep your social distance. Hawthorne Farm, a 3-acre urban patch is located at 446 Hawthorne Avenue in Newark.
October 23: M&M’s Halloween in Newark. For the seventh year in a row, Mars Wrigley and M&M’S brings the M&M’S Halloween Treat Truck. The mobile Halloween festival provides treats and fun at two locations at different times. From 9 am to 11 am, go to Elwood Park at the intersection of Elwood Avenue and Summer Avenue. Next the truck will make its final stop at Boylan Street Recreation Center, located at 916 Orange Avenue.
October 30: Newark Downtown District and The City of Newark hosts a Fall Festival in Military Park from noon to 4 p.m. Join the fun with music, games, pony rides, a petting zoo, and a Halloween Costume Contest.
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