So when did Halloween become a six-week holiday? How did the storied and benign traditions of fall — pumpkins, gourds, cornstalks, colorful foliage — merge and become irretrievably linked with ghouls, skeletons, graves, death, candy, and alcohol?
How did we go from putting our kids in sheets and superhero outfits and walking them around the block to collect sweets from the neighbors to this current state of affairs, with its giant spiders and nasty fake cobwebs and massive inflatable yard-witches and speakers blaring scary music and traveling vans full of trick-or-treaters?
- Alan Kolnik | Dreamstime.com
It's the United States, so I'm gonna go with, "follow the money."
Forbes Magazine reports that 68 percent of people in the U.S. celebrate Halloween. According to the National Retail Federation, men will spend $96 on average each year, while women will spend approximately $77. About 70 percent of Americans will hand out candy, and 47 percent of us plan to wear a costume. That's a lot of spandex and rubber masks and wigs!
It gets crazier: In 2018, consumers spent approximately $575.26 million on pumpkins during the Halloween season. Let that sink in: Americans spent half-a-billion dollars on pumpkins! That's insane. I'm surprised the cartels haven't moved in on this action. "Nice little pumpkin patch you got there, Clyde. Be too bad if something were to happen to it." I'm guessing someone's pitching this idea to Netflix as we speak.
Overall, Halloween sales were projected to reach $8.8 billion in 2019 — nearly doubling the $4.8 billion in Halloween spending in 2009. Of course, 2019 was a "normal" year. Remember those? Mileage will probably vary in the unrelenting hellscape that is 2020, though at least it's likely that more people will be wearing masks — except for those wearing cheap red hats made in China.
As I walked my dogs around Midtown over the weekend, the evidence of Big Halloween was everywhere. It's an economic juggernaut. There were inflatable ghouls and scary stuffed black cats and massive furry spiders and big headless creatures and jack-o'-lanterns of all shapes and sizes.
I passed a dad and his two little girls in their front yard, happily setting up a dozen styrofoam headstones next to several half-buried plastic skeletons. It seemed so strange.
"See girls, death is fun! We're making a graveyard! Watch Daddy bury this dessicated body! And make sure that bloody headstone is straight, Sarah Jane."
I don't get it. When did death become ironic and decorative? How much does America spend on styrofoam headstones? A lot, it appears! And where do I buy that stock?
What happened to the old traditions, like destroying your kids' faith in humanity by telling them that people would put razor blades in their Snickers bar? That dad move was a thing of beauty, mainly because it gave you a chance to "check" your kids' bags before they started gorging themselves, and maybe snag that Toblerone almond bar they weren't going to eat anyway.
"Kids, Daddy's gonna take this one, just to be safe. It looks a little suspicious."
How did we go from those innocent days to this crazy fall fandango? What used to be a fun little night for kids and parents has morphed into a month-long home-decorating extravaganza, with whole aisles in grocery stores, drug stores, and even hardware stores dedicated to displays of Halloween paraphernalia.
Halloween also seems to have evolved into much more of an adult celebration, a chance to dress up and live out fantasies like Naughty Nun or "Bad" Cop — or terrible puns, like "50 Shades of Grey." (Gray paint sample strips from Home Depot glued to a T-shirt. You're welcome.) And you know somebody is working to come up with a costume for "social distancing" even as I write this. Also, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx costumes are going to be big this year, I predict.
Actually — and I know it's probably a futile wish — I hope there aren't a bunch of big Halloween parties this year. I hope millions of us don't go out and mingle and socialize in groups. I hope most of us are smarter than that. Please be careful out there. Real headstones aren't nearly as much fun as those styrofoam things in your neighbor's yard.