- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Halloween arrives early for some. The most extravagant costumes at Backstage Inc. are reserved for rental as soon as August. “These are the hard-core people,” said Sandra Duraes, co-owner of the costume shop in Southeast Washington, speaking about customers who may spend as much as $175 per costume rental.

Even less devoted masqueraders can’t afford to wait until Oct. 31 nears, she says. “I usually suggest that people come in by the first week of October to get some of the unique, high-end costumes.”

Older Americans remember a time when Halloween was a one-night holiday celebrated mainly by children. That has changed as baby boomers have grown up.

The holiday also has been extended to become a “Halloween season,” historians say. Now many stores and consumers begin preparing for the holiday — worth about $7 billion a year to retailers — months in advance.

“Halloween is a holiday that grew up because people wanted to celebrate it,” says Nicholas Rogers, professor of history at York University in Toronto and author of “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night.”

The holiday arrived in the United States with the wave of the Scottish and Irish immigrants of the late 1840s. It quickly became part of the “social system of the elite,” Mr. Rogers says.

The celebration was regarded as a holiday that foretold doom as well as marriage, he says.

“Halloween always has been a holiday for young adults,” he says, “people of potentially marriage age.”

After a “pendulum swing” in the 1950s and ‘60s, the holiday became child-centered for the first time, says David J. Skal, author of “Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween.”

“People got upset about the [extent of] the hooliganism and pranks that they saw in the late ‘40s and ‘50s,” Mr. Rogers says. “So they tried to infantilize the holiday.”

When the baby boomers were children, Halloween was tamed to a simple ritual of costumed tots going door to door for candy — eliminating the “trick” of “trick-or-treat.”

That innocent interlude didn’t last. Halloween parades in Greenwich Village in the late 1960s and ‘70s revitalized the day as a grown-up affair, Mr. Rogers says.

“Adults have really made it into a time for grown-ups,” Mr. Skal says. “It’s a partying holiday. It’s a drinking holiday.”

Historians and retailers alike have noted the boom in the commercialization of Halloween.

“It’s become a mega-holiday,” Mr. Skal says. “It seems to be doubling in its size, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to slow it down.”

Retail outlets now display Halloween merchandise from early September.

“One reason why Halloween has become more and more popular is because it’s looked upon as a seasonal event,” says Scott B. Krugman, vice president of industry public relations for the National Retail Federation (NRF). “It’s not just a weekend or one night of the year. It’s the month of October. People are decorating their homes with Halloween lights.”

The evolution seems natural. Just as Halloween’s cultural predecessor, the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter, the American holiday also heralds the start of winter in most parts of the country, Mr. Rogers says.

“Halloween is about birth and death and resurrection,” Mr. Skal says. “It’s about the life cycle.”

The NRF five years ago began monitoring estimated consumer spending habits for Halloween.

“We noticed more and more consumers were getting into Halloween,” Mr. Krugman says. “It wasn’t just for kids anymore, but more and more for adults. We saw the Halloween specialty stores popping up more frequently. We realized that this was becoming a real trend.”

During last year, the NRF projected that the holiday would bring in $6.9 billion in sales, with consumers ages 18 to 34 expecting to spend an average of $67 on Halloween, $23 more than those in the general population. The National Confectioners Association/Chocolate Manufacturers Association says Halloween ranks first in seasonal sales for sweets. In 2001, Americans spent $586 million on Halloween home decor, more than any other seasonal spending except Christmas.

The growth of the children’s market played a role in the commercialization of the holiday. Adults and children now are more likely to purchase rather than create their costumes, Mr. Skal says.

“Halloween in some has always been a moment of inversion, where you can act the fool and do things not normal,” Mr. Rogers says. “And people have found it a nice consumers bash.”

For those who live outside New Orleans or other communities that celebrate Mardi Gras, Halloween serves as one of the only opportunities to participate in a modern-day masquerade, he says.

“It’s a neat holiday where you can get a little crazy and be someone you’re not,” says Halloween aficionado Stuart Schneider and author of “Halloween in America.”

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