Despite the gloom of a continuing pandemic, local residents will again this year have the chance to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Salem with chocolate treats and the sight of glistening ice sculptures.
Salem’s So Sweet, an annual celebration designed to support local businesses and bring cheer to the community during the dark winter months, is being held through Feb. 14.
Last fall, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 prompted Salem to cancel its annual monthlong Halloween celebration, Haunted Happenings. But with the support of the city, organizers decided to move forward with Salem’s So Sweet this year, with modifications to keep people safe.
“While it has become more attractive to visitors, Salem’s So Sweet is still very much a local event,” said Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets, which teams with the Salem Chamber of Commerce to plan the yearly celebration.
“A very important part of it has been getting residents out and seeing each other in the grayest months and remembering that the businesses they love are still there,” she said. “That’s even more important during a pandemic when people need safe ways to get outside and experience the community.”
Because it draws smaller crowds and is more outdoor-oriented than Haunted Happenings, Sullivan said organizers concluded it could be held safely. And she saidAdditionally, changes this year will further ensure that.
Started in 2002, Salem’s So Sweet features the display of ice sculptures in various downtown locations, along with discounts and give-aways of chocolates and other sweets by local businesses and organizations. The sculptures, created by artists, are illuminated the evening of their installation.
Typically held over a three-day weekend, the celebration this year will take place over two weeks and two weekends, making it easier to avoid crowds. Additionally, volunteers are stationed at different locations in part to keep people moving.
Businesses also have been encouraged to offer their sweets takeout, curbside, or online. Additionally, this year’s festival will not include the traditional indoor chocolate and wine tasting.
Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said in an e-mail she was grateful for the extra efforts organizers invested this year to ensure the festival could go forward.
“Salem is a festival destination year-round, so the impact of this pandemic on the many local businesses who rely on those special events has certainly been felt here,” she said. “However, the organizers for Salem’s So Sweet have worked closely with health officials and others to make sure events are being planned … in accordance with all public health requirements.”
The first weekend has a “sweet” theme, featuring 17 ice sculptures and chocolates. The second has a “heat” theme, featuring propane-fueled warming stations and spicy treats to compliment the chocolates, along with a treasure hunt in which participants will try to piece together a love letter using fragments found in store windows.
Despite the economic downturn, about 45 businesses and organizations are taking part in this year’s event.
“Every year, Salem’s So Sweet is such a wonderful light in the winter months, a celebration of joy, warmth, and — of course — chocolate,” Driscoll said. ”After this past year in particular, we can all use a little more ‘sweet’ in our life!”
For more information, go to the Salem So Sweet Facebook page.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.