But clearly, I’m in a minority. Those associated with the Halloween industry are making bank in a big way these days.
The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $8.8 billion this year on the holiday, or $86.27 for every shopper. If that doesn’t spook you, consider this: Writing for Theconversation.com, Jay L. Zagorsky put this figure in perspective by noting it far outstrips the entire yearly budget for the National Park Service, which, according to my research, is a requested $2.7 billion for 2020.
But then, the nation’s parks are suffering from underfunding and have an estimated maintenance backlog of $12 billion. Also, they are supposed to reflect the nation’s collective desire to preserve its most important natural beauties for future generations; so this can, in some way, say something about our priorities.
The obvious answer here is for the government to marry demand with opportunity, maybe by staging huge Halloween parties in national parks — except, of course, that a lot of the toilets don’t work.
Putting that aside, the bigger question is why this holiday has become so popular, especially for young adults. The retail federation said 90% of those 18-24 plan to celebrate the holiday, and 53% of them plan to carve a pumpkin.
Back in my day, costumes were for kids only, and the grownups either stood by the curb in normal street clothes, trying to stay warm while coaxing their little ones to ring a doorbell, or stayed home to hand out candy.
But it turns out even that was little more than just a snapshot in time of a fast-evolving holiday. Historically speaking, Halloween has changed perhaps more, and faster, than any other holiday on the calendar, and the evolution is not all bad.
Look at just about any newspaper from the Depression era and a theme quickly emerges — vandalism. Yes, I know Halloween vandalism still occurs, but it seemed to be the main purpose of the evening back then.
The Chicago Tribune warned of a “War on vandalism” on Halloween in 1934, promising all school playgrounds would remain open. Educators worked all week to emphasize “the fun possible in a sane Halloween…” Small towns had the same concern, with the Albany, Ore., Democrat-Herald reporting in 1932 that “considerable damage has been done to property simply on the basis of doing damage to property with no motive except destruction …”
In Salt Lake, a popular radio announcer got 1,400 kids attending a free matinee at the Paramount in 1931 to promise not to do mischief.
By the early 1950s, the Peanuts comic strip was focusing on trick-or-treating, signalling a new, healthier emphasis for the night. The Deseret News in 1953 said of vandalism, “That’s old hat now.”
And somehow that line of progression has led us to today, when Americans will spend an estimated $490 million just on costumes for their dogs and cats, and at least one website is selling a variety of risque outfits ranging from a questionable “sexy Mr. Rogers” to a current-event conscious “Miss Impeachment.”
Have we lost our minds, or are we just better at having fun than our ancestors? The answer is probably mixed.
Zagorsky refers to an 1890 book by economist Thorstein Veblen that sought to explain why people spend as they do. Veblen argued that some people back then bought things just for “conspicuous consumption,” or to show off wealth and importance by paying more for things than they were worth.
Today, wealth is everywhere, much of it bought on credit but in a readily available abundance that makes showing it off seem pointless. Instead, Zagorsky notes, we seem to compete for attention with photos of dressed-up pets on Instagram.
That reminds me of a survey published by Frontiers in Psychology, and reported on Medicalxpress.com, that found 77% of participants regularly published selfies while 82% said they really don’t like to look at other people’s selfies on social media.
Someone much smarter than I am will have to figure that one out.
All I know is that this is better than vandalizing other people’s property, but it’s still not enough to coax me into a bank on Thursday.