by Roxanne Tellier
I’m trying to remember the last time I went trick-or-treating as a child. It was in Montreal, and might have been when we lived in Park Ex, which was, back then, really not a place that was safe for a young’un to be out alone late, and especially not to be traipsing around in the dark.
But hey – free candy! Sometimes pennies! Maybe even a free razor blade! Or was that just an urban myth?
Halloween was ‘one night only.’ You might have started thinking about a costume in the last week of October, but most of us borrowed heavily from the closets of our older siblings or parents, and if all else failed, you could always grab an old sheet and go as a ghost.
By the time my daughter was of age to panhandle from the neighbours, costumes had become a lot more sophisticated. She became increasingly creative and daring with her outfits as she grew older, and these days, she has a storeroom of fabulous costumes she created for her kids over the years, too good to part with willingly.
But something spooky started happening about six weeks ago, in my neighbourhood; people began to compete to be the house with the most awesome Halloween decorations. Around the middle of September, when the visual aperitifs of the holiday started to appear in the flyers, there were already hints of ghostly décor to come, up and down these windy streets.
For young, comfortably middle-class, families with kids, Halloween is beginning to overtake Christmas for flash. After all, Christmas doesn’t focus quite so strongly on kids and community togetherness as do activities like trick-or-treating. And who doesn’t want to be the house with the biggest, scariest, and loudest dragon inflatable on the block?
Some residents will spend far more time and money on elaborate Halloween decorations than they will on their Christmas or Hanukkah displays.
It’s gone a little bit crazier every year for the last decade or so. Consumers will spend about 30% more on Halloween this year than 10 years ago, about an average of $92 on Halloween food and decorations, a holiday that only lasts for a day. (I spend that on just the candy we shell out.) In comparison, the average shopper will spend around $227 for all of their winter holiday needs, which spans the two months from November 1 to December 31st.
Around here, people start plugging in the inflatables and lighting the bat garlands just before the sun sets. A stroll down Swanwick Avenue is a walk through a haunted street of enormous, prowling, black cats, 12-foot-tall ghosts, full Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin displays, and, yes, a fire breathing, moving, purple dragon, that will cost you nearly $300, including tax.
During last year’s Covid Halloween, there was a move to completely eliminate the trick or treat aspect of the holiday, by moving candy distribution to other venues, like schools and community centres. But that didn’t go over well with parents who wanted their kids to have the ‘full experience,’ even if that meant the kid bringing home some virus with their chocolate.
And so those who wanted to shell out despite restrictions turned to some interesting methods of candy delivery. Some just left bowls of candy out, trusting that the little ghouls and ghosties would respect an ‘honour system.’
A few of the more hands-on participants chose to ‘suit up’ in full protective gear in order to ‘keep the dress up spirit in the holiday’, while still others invented candy catapults, horrific handouts, and zombie ziplines.
So what has caused Halloween to become the newest big thing in holidays? Retailers trace this trend to millennials, young adults who have completely embraced an opportunity to dress up in ‘sexy’ or politically incorrect costumes, to use the abundance of inexpensive décor to create Instagrammable gatherings for a night off from worry, and to decorate their homes and yards to entertain themselves and their kids.
Social media has a lot to do with the rise of the holiday; what better way to tell your story than thru videos and photos of your creative self-expression. It’s a great time to show your Facebook and Instagram friends just how cute you are, all dressed and made up. Make them jelly when they see how much fun you’re having without them around!
If you were a big “Halloween person” as a kid, you’re very likely to want to continue being one as an adult. You’ve probably now got the money to go all out with your ideas, and showing the kids how you celebrated in your own childhood is an excuse to keep the fun going by sharing the scaring with your progeny.
Halloween merch is everywhere, from the dollar stores to Amazon, and people begin shopping early, since the stores run out of the ‘best’ goodies well before the day. Pumpkins and even hay bales begin appearing in stores at the beginning of October, and some families compete to see how many fun and unique Jack o Lantern carvings they can display.
There’s less ‘baggage’ to Halloween, and that’s appealing to time-strapped families. From Thanksgiving through to the New Year, there’s family baggage, cultural baggage, and, for many, a sense of obligation. There’s guilt in not spending enough money and time on and with family at Christmas or Hanukkah, but all you need for Halloween sharing are some photos or a nicely shot video to include those you might not otherwise see but once a year.
The holiday is so significant now that events begin at the start of the month, and go on through all four weeks, with kids and adults enjoying everything from costume parties to parades. For many families, a car tour of the neighbourhood to enjoy décor and light displays is now as important as their Christmas drive throughs once were.
Halloween is ‘low-obligation;’ it’s escapism. It’s a night for the normally repressed to howl, for the shy to show their sexy side, for the repressed to express what they might not have the courage to do on any other night. It’s a safe way to have fun by changing how we appear to others, and to play chicken with our fears.
And, of course, on the political side – it’s yet another opportunity for Big Business to rake in the Big Money as we gleefully spend, spend, spend …..
Ah, lighten up. It’s Halloween. Get your pumpkin on, and howl like a werewolf!
For the political …
A few interesting costume ideas to consider for All Hallows Eve revelry ….
And here’s some wonderful creepiness to have playing in the background while you launch your candy into the maws of witches and goblins …. Listen to David Tennant read vampire stories ….
… or enjoy this Halloween song playlist! Have a Happy Halloween!