There’s always something special about small-town happenings. I’m talking about a neighborhood-wide celebration about some random resident that lived in your area in the 1800s, or lighting the Christmas tree in the town square, much like that scene from “New in Town” where they all get a day off from work to go ice fishing.
In an effort to look for this same sense of “home,” I sat on my laptop one warm September morning, searching for activities to partake in that was reminiscent of my hometown. I was completely overjoyed to stumble upon St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Apple Festival.
It’s been happening in Monroe, Conn., for over 65 years, as Elizabeth Harrington, a long-time volunteer at the festival, told me.
“The Apple Festival is all we’ve ever known!” she states, recounting how it started first as just a “Friday night parish spaghetti dinner with everyone coming back together on Saturday and having the craft fair” but since then it has quickly evolved.
Stretching over the first weekend after Labor Day, the Festival now includes over 50 craft and goods vendors. The St. Peter’s parishioners run a Snack Bar, sell apples, peaches, t-shirts, bags and apple-themed “knick-knacks” at Apple Central. They also sell all the baked goods you could ever desire at the Country Kitchen.
Inspired by the possibility of having an apple cider donut at an Apple Festival, I scooped up my sister and we drove over to Monroe.
Cute doesn’t even begin to describe this festival. It looks like a scene out of Gilmore Girls. A live musician sang songs that could’ve been from the “Curious George” movie or “Aquamarine.”
As I walked around with songs like “Island in the Sun” and “Upside Down” playing in the background, I wielded an egg sandwich from the amazing Snack Bar in one hand and balanced an apple cider donut and apple cider in the other. I peered around at all of the cute handmade Halloween decorations and families running around.
My sister and I were the lucky few who were able to score some apple cider donuts, as they were flying off of the shelves. So, in order for you to be able to snatch some of these amazing donuts, you have to arrive as early as you can; because when we left around noon, there wasn’t a single apple cider donut in sight.
But, even if you aren’t able to grab those delicious pastries, the feeling of community and friendly neighbors, that spread throughout the event made the trip all worth it. This “togetherness” is something that was missing during the pandemic. Seeing smiling faces and having the opportunity to get together with others is something that I won’t take for granted after a year like we’ve had. What was especially missed here, as Harrington told me, was the fact that they made the difficult decision not to hold the festival last fall of 2020 due to COVID-19.
“Although it’s our major fundraiser of the year,” she said, “The health and safety of our St. Peter’s family and the community was more important!”
Because of the ongoing nature of the pandemic, health and safety precautions were at the center of every decision this year as well. The typical kid’s games and bounce houses were absent, in an effort to protect children who weren’t old enough to get vaccinated. Leading up to the event, the festival organizers also kept up to date with local and federal mask and vaccination policies and made changes to the event accordingly.
There was one thing always on the back of their minds, and that was if the volunteers, crafters and vendors would still be willing to come back during this public health crisis. “We were, however, optimistic that people would come!” She told me that they were so excited and just couldn’t wait for things to go back to normal.
The festival seemed to go off without a hitch. I attended Saturday morning, Sep. 11, arriving just around 10:00 a.m. The warm September weather was just enough to keep me temperate in my jeans and argyle sweater. Walking around, I was met with a huge crowd of excited volunteers in forest green tee shirts. Picnic tables were set in the center, and an elderly man donning his green volunteer shirt eagerly cleaned the tables for new customers, greeting each one with a warm reassurance of cleanliness.
“Saturday was not just exhausting, but also heartwarming and soul fulfilling,” Harrington said, mentioning the perfect weather.
She went on to say that she loved watching her family work side by side at Apple Central. Her daughter showed her grandmother all the “credit card technology” and her son had a perfect built-in math lesson weighing all the apples.
“I saw friends from church that I hadn’t in over a year and a half, watched little ones sitting on shoulders trying to figure out how to take the first bite of candy apple, heard people laughing, excited to be ‘normal again’ and I couldn’t help but dance from place to place to the great music that was playing both on the green and in my heart!” she said.
And, after finally attending my first Apple Festival, I can understand why it is so special to its patrons. I left with a bag of warm apple cider donuts, an apple crisp and overwhelming excitement for the fall season to come.