‘Twas the night before All Saints Day and all through the cemetery, not a creature was stirring – except for, well, everyone. The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain has grossly morphed from village bonfires and rituals to ward off ghosties, into kids running willy-nilly through neighborhoods, dressed as pirates or Pikachu, demanding candy and threatening tricks.
Pagan Ritual to Billion-Dollar Business
For businesses, Halloween is the second highest-grossing holiday each year. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated that this year, customers will spend a ghastly $8.8 billion dollars to trick neighbors who don’t give them a proper treat. The average shopper will spend about $86.27 on goodies for goblins and gnomes.
The Celtic spiritual festival known as Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”) was originally celebrated to welcome in the new harvest and the last days before winter. It was a time, they believed, when the barriers between the spirit world and the physical world could break down, allowing ghosts and denizens from the otherworld to visit. They prepared offerings to leave outside villages and fields for the fairies (aes sidhe) that might make an appearance. People would dress as monsters and animals, hoping to prevent fairies from kidnapping them.
Today’s costume-wearing celebrators aren’t as worried about being taken by demons or tricksters as they are about which outfit will fit the best – both within their theme and budget. While the Celtics made their protective clothing out of animal fur and whatever else they could find, today’s trick-or-treaters are expected to spend $3.2 billion on flimsy costumes that will likely only be worn once. Traditionally, the idea was to look scary, as if you belonged in the demon world; today, a sparkling princess might be a favorite children’s choice, but it’s doubtful such a character would keep any ghosts or fairies from abducting someone.
While we’re on the topic of costumes, which ones are considered the most popular for Halloween 2019? According to NRF’s survey, 3.1 million children will dress as their favorite princess, while 1.5 million will don Avengers superhero outfits. Adults are dressing up as well, with five million planning to dress as a witch, two million intending to slap in some fake fangs to become a blood-sucking vampire, and 1.4 million who will join the zombie apocalypse. And let’s not forget the family pooch. The survey revealed that 29 million people will dress Butch and Baby in pet costumes, with the top choices consisting of pumpkins, hot dogs, superheroes, and bumblebees.
The tradition of trick-or-treating is thought to have come from ancient Irish and Scottish festivities, which had participants putting on costumes and going to neighbors’ homes, singing songs to the dead. As payment, cakes were given to the carolers. Today, good little monsters get candy as reward for looking adorable and thrusting out a bag already full of goodies from houses they have visited while waiting to see what treasures you may drop into their bundle of loot. They don’t have to sing songs to the dead for treats, but just say three simple little words: “trick or treat.” And this year, consumers are expected to spend $2.6 billion just on candy. Another $2.7 billion will be spent on decorating homes and yards.
From costumes to greeting cards – yes, Hallmark has joined in the foray and found a way to make $390 million on spooky pieces of paper displaying sappy verses – businesses have carved their jack-o-lanterns into a booming profit maker. No longer fearing abduction from otherworldly demons and minions, the only truly scary thing about Halloween today is the cost to the pocketbook.
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