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Inside the Brown Bag The Cost – $9.1 Billion!

By Peg Brown

No, not the cost of a new social program, wind farm, or solar field. The number represents what the National Retail Federation (NRF) expects Americans to spend this year on All Hallows Eve Celebrations. Seriously. We all know some details of Halloween’s origins, and if we look back through the fog to ancient history we will be reminded that Halloween and the Day of the Dead share origins with the Christian commemoration of the dead on All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.

It would be an understatement to say that the Halloween Americans celebrate today is a slightly modern twist on those ancient roots. According to a 1998 article “Halloween: An American Holiday,” (LP Bannantyne), the current practice of trick-or-treat in America was originally “taking a masquerade from house to house on Guy Fawkes Day (practiced today in England on November 5 with large bon fires). But is was the Irish Halloween custom of processions of those in costume going from house to house asking for food or money, guaranteeing prosperity to those who gave, that evolved “into 20th-century trick-or-treating.”

According to this same article “trick-or-treating grew popular between 1920 and 1950… first in wealthier areas of the East, then slowly spreading over the ‘40s and ‘50s across the West and throughout the South. Much earlier than the 20th century, a form of trick or treating was observed around Thanksgiving, when “poorer children would dress in…ragged clothes and beg ‘something for Thanksgiving’.”

Let’s fast forward to Halloween for the Baby Boomer Generation which most of us can dimly remember. While the mothers of many of us insisted we trick-or-treat for UNICEF, collecting pennies in those little cardboard containers, many of us made a second nocturnal tour for the “loot.” As I recall, store bought costumes were rare, and as young girls we often raided Mother’s closet for old prom gowns which, in hindsight, were probably early versions of trying to appear like today’s Disney princesses. As we got older, and more sophisticated, we resorted to old flannel shirts, jeans tied with a rope, and stomachs enlarged with bed pillows in our own version of “a bum.” If we got lazy, we would simply take an old sheet, cut two holes for eyes, and trip our way through the streets carrying a pillow case for our candy.

I did a quick check to see what had been the most popular costumes in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Pattern books of those decades revealed that cat, leopard, and bunny costumes were popular as were witches, clowns, devils and, as today, superheroes.

Our parents always inspected our cache when we dumped it on the kitchen table. The theory was that they were making sure everything was safe—that there were no hidden razor blades or pins—but secretly I am sure they were looking for their favorites to purloin later. We counted, sorted and traded (and discarded the apples, popcorn and raisins). In those days we usually trick-or-treated until Junior High, or until we were asked three houses in a row, “Aren’t you a little old for this?”

There of course were Halloween parties, even in school. Both McCall’s Cook Book and Betty Crocker’s Parties for Children, suggest the appropriate holiday decorations, food and activities for such events. McCall’s suggested making costumes mandatory, serving sloppy joes and chocolate cake decorated with fudge frosting and candy corn, accompanied by ice cream and hot cocoa. Betty suggested that menu include “Witches’ Cauldron Soup, Goblin Franks, vegetable relishes (really????), ice cream Jack-O’-Lanterns and milk Halloween cookies.” I personally remember cider and donuts being a staple for these occasions.

But, of course, it was the candy that was most important. A list of ads published in the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times in 1962 for Halloween candy lists the same classics we see today: Hershey bars, M&Ms, Milky Way, Tootsie Rolls, and Nestle Bars. There were also a few items on that list that might be banned today—like those candy cigarettes.

And let’s not forget the iconic candy corn. The Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia was the first to commercially produce candy corn in the 1880s, but research indicates that the candy, often referred to as chicken feed, was homemade before this time (there’s a recipe from 1883 published in Secrets of the Bakers and Confectioners’ Trade entitled “imitation Indian Corn”). It was only after WWII that candy corn was really promoted as a treat for Halloween. (Candy Corn is my absolute favorite seasonal candy—second behind Easter’s black jelly beans. However, when I saw it on shelves in August, I could only imagine how long it must take for corn syrup to deteriorate—however, I quickly rationalized that concern away!)

Enough about the past. My real purpose is to startle you with the present practices surrounding Halloween. Hold onto your hat—err, mask!

If the expenditure of $9.1 billion didn’t make you gasp, perhaps some of these facts provided by the National Retail Federation for Halloween in America–2018 will:

Expected number of people who will celebrate—179 million (a new high);
Average expenditure each (for costumes, candy, décor) –$86.13 (also a new high, but still a long distance behind Americans’ expenditures for Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day’s, Valentine’s Day and Easter);
More than 70 percent of Americans are expected to hand out candy, spending an average of $25 each, or a collective $2.7 billion (that is if you don’t buy it a month early and have to keep replenishing the supply);
Average per person expenditures on décor like zombie hand yard stakes and sitting kitten skeletons with approach $30;
16 percent of Americans will dress their pets (favorite costumes include pumpkins, hot dogs, bumble bees and the devil) — and yes, I was one of them who for over decade wrestled our Golden Retriever Luke into increasingly elaborate costumes as evidenced here;
And, wait for it. 46 percent of Americans will spend over $618 million, carving an estimated 150 million pumpkins this season.

Costumes for 2018 will be largely related to movie and television characters, including the Black Panther, Teen Titans, The Incredibles 2, DC Super Hero Girls, Game of Thornes, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant Man and the Wasp (none of which I’ve seen I am happy to say). There will also be many traditional superheroes stalking the streets, including iconic Iron Man, Superman, Spiderman and anything related to Star Wars. And, there will be no escaping the Disney Princess Parade, especially for those girls 5 and under. Animal costumes will pop up, and don’t be surprised if you see inflatable Godzilla. Inflatable costumes are the new hot trend on Amazon.

Halloween costumes will likely also be fueled by the release of Halloween Movie 2018, due in theaters on October 19, detailing the final confrontation between a woman and a masked character who attempted to include her in his mass killing spree decades before.

Let me end where my heart really lies—with the candy. According to a survey conducted by the Candy Store, the favorites today are, in order, no surprise—Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, Twix, Kit Kat and M&Ms. Least favorite, according to the same survey—pay attention if you don’t want your windows soaped—circus peanuts, candy corn (oh no!), wax Coke bottles (do they still make these?), Necco wafers, Mary Janes, and Tootsie Rolls (because you get lots in a bag, they are considered “cheap”).

And one more candy fact. Forbes Magazine did a survey to see what candy was most popular in each of the 50 states. Turns out, I am living in the right place—candy corn is the number one candy in Rhode Island and many other states. If you want those coveted Peanut Butter Cups you’ll have to travel to Wyoming, for Snickers, to Oklahoma, and for M&Ms, to California (where I am sure they are produced in politically correct colors). If you really want to color outside the box, travel to West Virginia where the most popular treat is the non-traditional Oreo.

The good news—I am knee deep in candy corn at least until November, and I am sure those black jelly beans will be on the shelf in February. If I can buy enough candy corn at half price after Halloween, I might be able to make it until then. Maybe….

Now, get out there and shop. We don’t want the National Retail Federation to have to revise their projections.