I grew up at the end of a gravel lane. While the farm down the road had an awesome haunted hayride every fall, we had no trick-or-treating whatsoever in our rural Pennsylvania community. We were one of those families that drove to the only version of Halloweentown at our disposal, the wealthy neighborhood, for our candy.
When I became an adult, one of my main desires in life was to have trick-or-treaters. Our first two homes — one rural and one a condo — had zero little ghouls show up. I was devastated.
Then something magical happened. We relocated to Bellevue, Pennsylvania. An urban borough that borders Pittsburgh to the north, it looks unassuming most days with its quaint little business district and old character homes. When October rolls around, though, everything changes.
We didn’t know it at the time, but when we moved here we were moving to the actual, real-life version of Halloweentown.
Magical Mayor Emily Marburger noticed the magic immediately upon assuming her role as mayor.
“Halloween in Bellevue is so magical because the diversity that lives here,” she tells Romper. "It gives people an opportunity to express the wide range of creativity influenced by their life experiences. The energy around this holiday is contagious. I started seeing people posting about Halloween at Christmas. By the time it actually gets here, people are ready to explode with enthusiasm.”
She’s kept the magic going year round with her summer WizardVue festival, too. Like Jack Skellington’s hometown, we can’t contain the magic to just one month. Sold on living here?
Here are the rules for living in Halloweentown:
Rule 1: Must Display A Copious, Obnoxious Amount Of Decorations, No Theme Or Pinterest-Inspired Artistic Ability Required
Ten plastic pumpkins you scored on clearance at Michael’s? Yep. A Halloween blow mold from the '80s next to two inflatable witches? Absolutely. Grow actual pumpkins in your front yard all summer so that they look amazing just in time for the holiday? Of course. Garbage bag ghosts, hand-painted signs, and some highly-coveted creepy old dolls passed around on the local Buy Nothing Project page are all a must. Some towns might revel in the careful arrangement of tasteful Halloween displays, but in Halloweentown we have decided that less is not more. Several families create haunted houses on their lots to raise funds for local events. Decorations start going up around Labor Day, of course.
In Halloweentown, we don’t allow finances to keep anyone from participating.
Rule 2: Everyone Gets Candy
No curmudgeons welcome. If you show up at a door in Halloweentown asking for candy, whether you are 1 or 100, you will get candy. Have a costume? Great! Couldn’t afford one, too cool for one (I see you, teenagers), or have sensory issues that make costumes a no-go? Too shy to say “Trick-or-treat!” so your parent asks for you? That’s fine. Here is some candy, no strings attached. Don’t live here? We don’t care. People come from surrounding communities to trick-or-treat here for a reason, and we love them. Kids get off city buses in full costume, and church vans unload 15 kids at a time. If there’s a reason you can’t trick-or-treat where you live, we welcome you to Halloweentown.
Rule 3: Have Treats For All The Little Ghouls Who Can't Have Candy
Food allergies are very common, and we want those kids to have a great night, too. Not only do we have a plethora of teal pumpkin houses in Halloweentown, our business district hosts its own candy-free trick-or-treat event the Saturday before Halloween, along with a Halloween parade (including costumed pets!). No child should be left out of the fun due to food restrictions. Our school also switched to treat-free parties recently so that everyone can participate with wild abandon. One family even gives out potatoes to remember the Halloween years ago when they ran out of candy and passed out whatever they had on hand. This well-loved tradition has neighbors clamoring for their yearly potato.
Rule 4: Make Sure Everyone Who Wants A Costume Has One
The mayor, along with local business owners, wants to make sure that no kid in our mixed-income town goes without a costume if they want one. So they’ve started a costume closet full of donated costumes for kids to pick through. Many of us have overflowing dress-up bins in our playrooms, so the chance to share the love with other kids in town is a welcome excuse to cull the collection a bit. In Halloweentown, we don’t allow finances to keep anyone from participating.
Halloween is the one night of the year when the community comes together to love our children, focus on joy, and celebrate imagination.
Rule 5: Shut The Town Down
Starting in the afternoon on Halloween, the police stop traffic on our main street, Lincoln Avenue, so that everyone can pause their day and watch the entire student body of Bellevue Elementary parade down the street in costume. Every banker, grocer, and restaurateur pauses what they are doing to line the sidewalks and cheer the kids on. McDonald’s gives out free cones to anyone in costume. These kids feel like celebrities, and, in Halloweentown, they kind of are. They march back into their classrooms for parties, and then the entire school district has an early dismissal so that everyone can get home to prepare for the main event.
Rule 6: Set The Mood With Music, Booze, & More
Pass out pudding shots to event-weary parents. Roast marshmallows and hot dogs in a front-yard chiminea for whoever stops by. Have a basket of your homemade craft beer next to the basket of candy. Purchase a cotton candy machine solely for use on Halloween night. Set up your bluetooth speakers to blast spooky fun music that echoes down the block. Pass out bottles of water so kids have the stamina to make it to hundreds of houses. In Halloweentown, we think outside the box to make sure that everyone has the best possible night. You can let your tiny ghouls run five houses ahead while you finish your beer, too, because the police and fire team are driving around in loops slowing traffic and flinging candy. Everyone has an eye out for everyone in Halloweentown, so enjoy yourself.
Rule 7: Capture The True Spirit Of Halloween
Whether you believe Halloween is a night to honor the dead, a night when the dead roam free, or a commercialized money-maker for Party City, in Halloweentown we focus on what it’s really about: community.
Halloween is the one night of the year when the community comes together to love our children, focus on joy, and celebrate imagination. There is no other agenda, beyond hanging corpses from our porches and offering kids bowls full of grape-and-raisin eyeballs. Everyone is outside greeting, hugging, chatting, and marveling over the creativity and beauty of all the kids in Halloweentown.
Kids today face endless pressure to learn more, test well, and join endless extracurriculars. This one night, though, they just get to run down the street in their princess gown, dog costume, or Minecraft head, and just be a kid.