The American Obsession With Halloween

A few weeks ago I was walking to the grocery store at the end of our street when I came across a graveyard in the front garden of one of the houses. My initial thought that the family were strapped for cash and refusing to pay for graveyard space was incorrect; they were decorating for Halloween a month early. Now in the UK you might put a solitary carved pumpkin outside your house to welcome trick or treaters or put some accessories outside the door on the night but in the US they take it altogether more seriously.

Our next door neighbours placed a carved pumpkin outside their door on the 1st and the family across the road have their porch strung with accessories already with a strobe light to show them off at night. One house has a ghoul with a motion detector and the first time it went off I thought I about to be robbed! I think it’s nice that families make such an effort and that they are confident having that much stuff outside their houses without fear of it being vandalised or stolen but it is definitely strange to a Brit.

Tis the season to buy pumpkins
Tis the season to buy pumpkins

Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is celebrated on the eve of the Christian festival of All Hallows’ Day. Like many Christian festivals the idea was borrowed from Pagan celebrations, in this case Samhain. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica; “In ancient Britain and Ireland, the festival of Samhain was observed on October 31, at the end of summer. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about”. In the UK today, the biggest thing to worry about on Halloween is teens who are too old to go trick or treating egging your house or car.

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Now because I’m sometimes serious about the content of my blog (no laughing at the back) I did some research for this article and the results astonished me. In 2013 the projected spend for Halloween in the UK (when converted to dollars) was about $550 million (1) which is admittedly a huge amount for one day. But in the US it was $6.9 billion (2)Yes you read that correctly, and the total spend for Halloween 2012 was $8 billion (3). That’s a lot of candy bars, so what is all this money going on? Pumpkins, house decorations, candy, costumes, and even costumes for pets! Last year $360 million was spent just on Halloween greetings cards, which was news to me because  I didn’t even realise that people gave cards at Halloween. 14% of Americans dressed their pets for Halloween last year costing another $330 million. In case you were wondering, the pets in this house will not be joining in!

Retailers and food manufacturers love using Halloween to increase sales
Retailers and food manufacturers love using Halloween to increase sales

Despite the incredible amount of money spent I don’t disapprove of Halloween, I remember the fun of trick or treating in the UK, some people would give us money, some sweets and memorably one year some clearly very responsible students gave us beer because they had no candy! It’s undoubtedly a much bigger thing in the US but it’s great for kids and many adults use it as an excuse for a good party too. I’m intrigued by all the buildup I see with people decorating their houses and getting ready for the big day; this is my first Halloween in the US.

So what is there to do with the whole month of build up in New England for Halloween? You can buy your costume, plan your party and visit Salem which has to be the home of Halloween. My wife and I visited in the summer and it is the only place in New England (or anywhere) where there are more witch museums than branches of Dunkin Donuts. My take on Salem is here. Happy Halloween everyone, how are you celebrating it this year?

Sources:

(1) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/22/uk-retail-halloween-_n_4142886.html

(2) http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevecooper/2013/10/22/halloween-by-the-numbers/

(3) http://www.npr.org/blogs/theprotojournalist/2013/10/31/242108321/peak-halloween-is-the-holiday-over-the-hill

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21 thoughts on “The American Obsession With Halloween

  1. well, there is Hell Night… that can be pretty bad for vandalism. 😉 but yes, some kids may practice egging, TPing, pumpkin smashing etc. the worst offenders though in some places enjoy worse things like stealing trash cans, bashing in mailboxes, and firing bottle rockets. I hate to tell you but come November 1st Thanksgivingmas will arrive for two glorious months from which there is no escape.

  2. I think here Halloween is just treated as a way for shops to sell cheap tat, I’m not sure we’ll ever take it that seriously. Most people go out on Halloween – as I’m sure you did – to avoid the local chavs demanding money and sweets. I imagine the experience you’re about to have over there is going to be very different!

    I have always preferred Bonfire Night – the smell of gunpowder, candy floss and toffee, sipping hot chocolate watching the fireworks go off. It always puts me in the mood for Christmas and I don’t usually let myself buy cards, presents or even gift wrap until after the 5th.

  3. Bea

    here’s another interesting tidbit: the night before Halloween has a different name depending on the part of the US you live in. In CT it was mischeif night and grocery stores won’t sell you eggs without an ID. In other parts of the country it’s Hell night.
    I also didn’t know cards were a thing until I moved away. Now my mom sends me cards for Halloween. I think of it as a little “hey I’m not dead yet and neither are you!” hello from my mom since I only see her a few times a year.

  4. My favorite childhood memories include many Halloween nights- lugging a pillowcase full of candy and pennies, running from house to house to see what the next prize would be, and visiting the best-decorated houses. Embrace the madness, and the magic, of the season! And stock up on candy or you’ll be whispered about as “those people”… 😉

    1. I love the image of excitedly lugging a pillowcase full of treats around, I fully intend to embrace the madness; my wife has promised to take me to a seasonal Halloween store as I’ve never even seen one before!

  5. What fun reading this, Tom. I guess it is sort of overwhelming when it’s so totally different here, I’m curious now a year on……does it still strike you as so odd or are you more acclimated to it now?

  6. I chose not to attend Halloween festivities tonight, though last year I was a witch! This day I have chosen to sit at home and watch old horror movies-I found out a person can get scared during the day, especially if they have bugs in the movies. I loved Halloween as a kid, too bad I can’t eat candy corn anymore. Have a ghostly time in Salem.

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