Author Mark Richards
Tomorrow is Halloween, the night when the spirits of the dead walk among us. Or is it Halloween – time for ‘trick or treat’ and crass American commercialisation which is costing the average family more every year?
Halloween – or Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ or All Saints Eve is an ancient tradition observed in many countries on (or around) October 31st. In the Christian calendar, it marks the beginning of Allhallowtide – the time dedicated to remembering the dead, especially all the saints, martyrs and the faithful who are now departed.
So despite the increasing commercialisation of Halloween, it is by no means a modern phenomenon – or an American import. The idea of a festival to mark the end of summer and the beginning of the long, dark winter nights goes back a long way. It was known in Irish as Samhain, or summer’s end; in Welsh as Nos Galan Gaeaf, winter’s eve, and in Anglo-Saxon as Blodmonath, blood month.
…And as mentioned above, the tradition also spreads well beyond these shores. In Mexico, for example, November 2nd is celebrated as Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Some of you may even remember this ordinary English gentleman, quietly minding his own business, being caught up in the Dia de los Muertos excitement.
In many ways, the ancient festival was a time of celebration. Most years would have seen people well-fed through the summer, the harvest safely stored in the barns and the warriors and traders home for the winter. It was a time for stories and celebrations and in Ireland, the kings held a week of feasting before Samhain exactly for that purpose. What they did not do, was wear a Donald Trump mask. More of him later…
Welcome to America
Halloween has been big business in the USA for any number of years, but it originally started with the mass Irish immigration of the mid-1800s, the immigrants bringing the festival and story-telling tradition of Samhain with them. By the 1900s it had moved from a religious to a cultural celebration, with the tradition of ‘guising’ – the poor going from door to door asking for food and money – gradually evolving into trick or treat.
The first use of the words ‘trick or treat’ in print was in 1934 and Anoka in Minnesota became the first town to officially hold a Halloween celebration, apparently in a bid to stop the town’s children causing damage through too many pranks. Today Anoka dubs itself the ‘Halloween capital of the world’ although Stephen King fans will not be surprised to hear that Salem in Massachusetts disputes the title…
So much for Salem, witch trials and Stephen King’s book and the subsequent film. What is really frightening about Halloween today is the cost of it. Strap yourself in…
- Sales of ‘candy’ (sweets to you and me) is a $20bn a year business in the US. This year Americans are expected to spend $2.6bn on Halloween candy, with 71% of Americans saying they will be giving candy to trick or treaters
- The average American family spends $44 (£33) on Halloween candy/sweets and 9bn candy corn niblets will be made this year
- My apologies if you are eating your breakfast: 1.5bn pounds of pumpkins will also be produced in the US
- $1.65bn will be spent on Halloween decorations and £350m on greetings cards
- Americans like to visit haunted houses at Halloween: there are 2,500 of them in the States, and they will gross $300m from visits over Halloween
- …And of course, there is nothing better than a scary movie. The most profitable horror film, Sixth Sense, has grossed $293m at the box office, comfortably relegating Jaws to second place.
Now we come to costumes, where the real money is spent. In total Americans will spend $2.5bn (£1.9bn) on costumes this Halloween. Of that, $1.2bn will be spent on adults’ costumes and $950m on children’s costumes. And if you are now thinking, ‘hang on, those numbers do not add up,’ that is because you have forgotten the family pets. This Halloween the most powerful nation on Earth will spend $350m on Halloween costumes for their dogs and cats.
What about the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth?
Yes, the hot Halloween costume this year is the Donald Trump outfit. He may be the 45th President of the United States, he may have overseen an economy which has grown by 3% in the third quarter, but he has achieved immortality as a Halloween costume. Unless, of course, you live in a staunchly Republican area in which case your little princess will be trick or treating dressed as Hillary Clinton.
What about the UK?
Sadly, we are also-rans in the international Halloween stakes, with estimates putting last year’s Halloween expenditure in the UK at between £300m and £400m – that is just 5% of the estimated $9bn (£6.8bn) that will be spent in the United States. But makers of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn masks should not despair: the biggest spenders on Halloween and the age group who ‘most enjoy taking part’ in it are millennials – the cohort that is going to make up 75% of the working population by 2025.
So it looks like Halloween is set to increase in popularity as the generation that has been brought up with it start to have more disposable income. Who knows, the Government might even recognise the holiday. After all, we have relatively few bank holidays in the UK compared to other countries: perhaps October 31st could be the late summer/early winter holiday that people have been demanding.
Mind you, I am not sure where that leaves the grumpy old bloke sitting in the corner of the office…
Halloween? Stupid American import if you ask me. Didn’t exist when I was a boy. Costume for the dog? Never heard anything so ridiculous. Took the school gates off on Mischievous Night and the next day it was Bonfire Night. And we put the Christmas decorations up on Christmas Eve. None of this December 1st nonsense in my day.
Sadly, the grumpy old bloke in the corner of the office is me…