- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

It must be Halloween, because all the Christmas stuff is on sale at the drugstore. Jack-o’-lanterns and candy canes, bats and reindeer, all vying for shelf space. Ah, yes. Such is the fate of our holidays as they are rushed from one retail opportunity to the next, leaving us dithering in the living room, wearing masks while hanging our stockings.

But wait. Though we may be weary of overwrought Halloween, it is never too late to lay claim to some genuine moment of autumnal glee, sneaking a few candy corns as leaves clatter by and the odd scent of burning wax on pumpkin drifts by on the front porch.

No commercial gremlin can ever detract from the charm of a 4-year-old in a bee costume who says “Thank you” upon receipt of a treat, then darts away on tiny bee feet, a telltale crunch-crunch-crunch across the lawn.

That said, we must return to the fact that Halloween has become a behemoth on the calendar, now regarded as the official start of the “holiday season,” which descends on the nation willy-nilly for 61 days, until we wash up on Jan. 1, exhausted, depressed and maybe broke. Associated Press, in fact, recently deemed Halloween “the Super Bowl of all holidays.”

Perhaps the Super Bowl has become the Halloween of all football games.

A collective appetite for merrymaking is understandable in these alarming times, however. There’s nothing like dressing up in a gorilla suit and eating hors d’oeuvres shaped like eyeballs to take the edge off nagging fears such as terrorism, gaining weight, identity theft and aggressive drivers, or maybe Katie Couric interviewing Al Gore.

Our need to giggle in the face of doom while wearing a gorilla suit is growing stronger, the trend duly reflected in cold numbers. The National Retail Federation reports we will spend $5 billion on Halloween this year. This is almost $2 billion more than we spent last year, when half of us said we planned to celebrate. This year, that figure is up to 66 percent. Halloween is outranked only by Christmas as a “decorating holiday.”

The rise of pumpkin cannons — forced-air guns that shoot hapless squashes over the local harvest festival — is also a lead indicator that America must let off steam as talk turns to global pandemics and dirty bombs.

Why worry about dirty bombs when we have Danny’s Destroyer, the pumpkin cannon in residence at Poppy’s Pumpkin Patch of Norfolk, Neb., which can launch the gourd in question a full 1,400 feet? Perhaps it could be employed effectively at the North Korean border.

Not to be outdone, the good folks of Rutland, Mass., recently staged a pumpkin regatta on a pond near town, featuring a dozen contestants who hollowed out, climbed into and then paddled giant pumpkins weighing close to 1,000 pounds each around a balloon-marked race course. The audience sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and each lap was announced by the firing of a cannon (again with the cannon, already) and a trumpet.

“Pumpkin pit crews bailed some of the pumpkins between heats,” notes an account in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Halloween is a universal trigger for other diversions as well.

The National Geographic Society, for example, is selling $48 remote-controlled fake tarantulas that the venerable institution describes as “very effective for your evil-doing this frightful season.”

The American Kennel Club, meanwhile, has issued an eight-point Halloween safety bulletin for dogs, just in time to stress out all the humans who were considering a costume for Bowser on the big night. PetSmart, incidentally, is peddling a dozen new dog costumes this year, along with six simple “cat hats” and elasticized bat collars for truculent pets who refuse to obey sartorial commands.

It’s Just Lunch, a California-based dating service, also has issued a bulletin, this for single people who have high hopes of attracting someone — or something — at a Halloween party.

“Stay away from scary and super sexy costumes,” advises spokeswoman Alana Beyer. “Ninety-one percent of women and 81 percent of men think it’s easier to approach someone dressed in a funny or original costume than a scary or sexy one.”

The notion lends much credence to the gorilla suit, perhaps.

As we barrel toward Halloween, it may be helpful or hair-raising to consider two diametrically opposed cultural forces at work. Tomorrow is National Candy Corn Day, to honor, well, the nation’s 9 billion pieces of candy corn that appear at this time of year, according to the National Confectioners Association.

Then there’s Dr. Jacqueline deLeon-Estes of Cedar Park, Wash., an orthodontist who is offering to pay trick-or-treaters $4 for every pound of candy they bring to her office — modeled on the gun buy-back programs at many local police departments.

October is also National Orthodontic Health Month, she points out.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and gorilla suits for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at [email protected]washington times.com or 202/636-3085.

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