Entertainment October 24, 2016
When you see the word “Halloween” stamped on your calendar, what images pops into your mind? Ghouls, goblins and ghosts? Movie marathons of “Halloween Town” and “Sleepy Hallow”? A chance to show off your fashion sense in an elegant gown or a glam mini skirt? However you celebrate Halloween, you aren’t the only one doing it; in fact, CNN reports that more than 171 million Americans will be enjoying spooky celebrations this October.
But how did October 31st transform from a normal day to a night of sweets and creepy costumes? Here’s everything Halloween lovers should know about their favorite night – from the holiday’s origins to its evolution to its present status as a money monster.
As a child, you may have thought that Halloween emerged because men and women just like running around in ghost costumes. However, this holiday actually has an easily traceable bloodline (blood pun obviously intended). According to History, the ancient origin of Halloween is believed to be an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. During this festival, the Celts – who live where Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France exist today – celebrated the start of a new year.
For them, November first indicated the end of summer and beginning of winter. The night before, though, marked the time when ghosts of the dead could return to Earth, which made it easier for Celtic priests (known as Druids) to look into the future. Cue plenty of big bonfires, crop and animal sacrifices and costumes.
If Samhain doesn’t sound anything like the Halloween you know and love, don’t worry. Since then, several historical events have shaped Halloween in the holiday we know today.
For example, the Roman Empire conquered most of Celtic territory by 43 AD. As a result, Samhain joined with two of the Romans’ traditional festivals, which respectively commemorated the passing of the dead and honored the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees, Pomona. Fun fact: Since Pomona was often symbolized by an apple, she may be the reason why we often “bob for apples” on Halloween!
By 1000 AD, the Catholic Church established All Souls’ Day on November second, possibly to provide a church-approved alternative to existing Celtic traditions. All Souls’ Day involved bonfires and parades, handing out “soul cakes” to beggars in return for prayers over the family’s dead relatives and dressing up as saints, angels or devils. It was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas … and the night before soon earned the title of “All-Hallows Eve” and, later, “Halloween.”
After 1846, when a flood of immigrants entered America (including millions of Irish men and women escaping the potato famine), Halloween became a national holiday. Instead of holding annual autumn festivals, people dressed up in costumes and visited houses, asking for food or money. During this time, young men and women also believed they could discover the identity of their future spouses on Halloween. For instance, some believed that eating a certain sugary mix of nuts and nutmeg on Halloween would make a woman dream of her future husband that night.
By the end of the 1800s, American men and women pushed to make Halloween focus on community events rather than ghost stories. Goodbye religious undertones and scary decorations, hello Halloween parties designed to fit men and women of all ages.
Ever wonder how your favorite stars from “Mad Men” would celebrate Halloween? By the 1950s, the Baby Boom turned Halloween into a children’s holiday and trick-or-treating regained its popularity. Vandalism decreased, parties moved from community centers to homes and today’s version of Halloween was born.
As for Halloween today, the National Retail Federation reports several recent trends. For instance, millennials are now even more likely than kids or adults of kids to participate in Halloween. They also spend an average of $42.39 on costumes versus other adults’ $31.03, possibly because social media means that “bad costumes” will be remembered for years. Trick-or-treating has also changed, likely thanks to the increase concern over candy’s safety and ingredients. Instead of visiting various houses, communities often hold Halloween festivals or “Trunk-or-Treating” parking lot events for kids. One Halloween change that feminists would probably cheer for, though? “Superhero” has become the new “princess” as gender-neutral costumes become more popular than ever.
When considering why Halloween is still so popular hundreds of years since the original Samhain festival began, you might first credit Americans’ love for candy or the human need for a break from “being me” for one night. Today, however, there’s another reason to keep Halloween alive that you probably haven’t analyzed: It makes people money. A lot of money.
According to Statistic Brain, Americans annually spend around $7.9 billion on Halloween overall, which includes $1.24 billion on child costumes, $1.55 billion on adult costumes, $2.33 billion on candy and $2 billion on decorations. Now those numbers are scary!
What specific industries and businesses receive a boost from the spookiest day of the year? One unexpected answer is travel agencies and attractions, ranging from Salem, Oregon – home to the Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s – to theme parks like Universal, which offer Halloween-specific rides and attractions. Retailers of costumes and other Halloween fare also benefit from the fact that, compared to other holidays, “50% of sales are done within the last days before Halloween.” As a result, some stores even hire seasonal workers to help with the Halloween rush.
Food businesses also enjoy a sweet treat thanks to the holiday. According to The Atlantic, candy makers receive eight percent of their sales during Halloween; corn producers reap similar benefits considering that 35 million pounds of candy corn are produced each October. In 2010, October was also the fourth drunkest month of the year – after months featuring holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
You can’t forget money made by Halloween movies (the original Halloween franchise brought in a cool $366 million), haunted houses (which is now a $300 million industry) or pumpkin farmers (considering 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced each year) either. Keeping all of these profits in mind, it makes that in past years investment strategists have recommended buying stock from companies like Wal-Mart Stores, The Hershey Company, Nestle, Liberty Starz Group (creator of the Halloween movies) and Boston Beer before Halloween.
Recognizing Halloween’s Celtic roots, evolution through history and present economic impact shouldn’t make your holiday any less (spookily) magical. Instead, it should give you – and every other man and woman – a greater respect for how Halloween has changed to fit society’s needs and has increased an awareness of what companies you are supporting with your Halloween purchases. After all, candy tastes sweet – but being one of the educated and socially active #WomenThatDo is even sweeter!
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