An opinion…by Suzanne Watson
I read the other day that Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween this year, more than any other holiday except Christmas. The head of the National Retail Association says that Halloween is now a “season”. I guess I should have known that, what with all the paraphernalia that is evident everywhere from the grocery store to Ace Hardware. But when did this happen? When did Halloween turn into something that – like Christmas – the retailers have taken over and completely exploited?
At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, it seems like Halloween has gotten much too complicated. When I was a kid Halloween was simple. Costumes were cobbled together from things found around the house – a sheet with holes in it for a ghost or towels pinned around the neck for a Superman cape. If one was really lucky you had a grandparent with a glass eye so you could borrow their patch for a pirate costume. The occasional kid bought a plastic mask at the five and dime but that was thought to be phony and close to cheating. The fun of Halloween was using our imagination to come up with the cleverest costume. We proudly marched in our school parades and vied for the prize for best costume. Yep – they gave out one award. We didn’t get a ribbon just for participating.
On Halloween night, we were let loose in the neighborhoods near us with a battle plan that would have done justice to an Army general. We plotted out which houses to avoid – those that gave out hard candy or fruit – and which to hit first. The lady around the corner was always our starting point because she made delicious popcorn balls. Then we progressed to the homes that dished out candied apples, divinity, brownies, and fudge. We never gave a thought about eating food that had been prepared by someone we didn’t really know. It was all home-made, lovingly wrapped up in waxed paper or aluminum foil, and it was scrumptious.
These days Halloween has turned into an extravaganza – or in the words of the retailers – a “season”. At my local Target the part of the store that hasn’t already been turned into a Christmas wonderland is dedicated to over-the-top Halloween displays. And our Hallmark store is a complete freak show. There are strings of lights to put on the house, special Halloween gift bags and toys, a Pin the Tail on the Cat game and aisle after aisle of decorations and party favors.
According to the article, adults are increasingly participating in this holiday that was once the domain of children. I suppose we should have seen this coming. People are in need of an escape these days and what better way to suppress your anger about your 401K than to dress up like one of the Angry Birds? Still, it seems like this should be a holiday for children, not another excuse for mom and dad to dress up like fools (we still have New Year’s Eve for that).
But the real change is that so many kids no longer trick-or-treat. Now the trend is to have home parties. I know that there are more risks today and that the world is full of scary people, but I still find it sad that kids miss the fun of going house to house. Because no matter how great the favors are from Target, it can’t be as much fun as plotting routes, knocking on strangers’ doors and being rewarded with popcorn balls.
Selfishly, I miss seeing the kids come around each year. I miss asking them about their costumes and providing the appropriate response when they twirl in their princess dress or growl in their werewolf mask. I still buy Snickers bars each Halloween in hopes that someone will come by, but inevitably they end up in my freezer. Eventually my husband and I eat them and I end up doing extra time at the gym. Halloween – and my metabolism – are both different these days.