A generation or so ago Halloween was about carving pumpkins and sending kids around the neighborhood to trick or treat in makeshift costumes - usually old sheets and paper bags with scary or funny faces drawn on them.
But somehow this fun-for-kids pastime evolved into expensive dress-for-distress ghoulish galas and Halloween horror houses. Homemade costumes? Not on your life. Today some parents spend up to $100 on them.
Halloween isn't just about scary or kid stuff anymore. It has become an integral part of the nation's retail economy.
Poor Halloween sales are a bad harbinger for Christmas sales. Why? Because Halloween has become the second largest retail selling season of the year, right behind Christmas. Many retailers will tell you that Christmas shopping really begins around Halloween time, not Thanksgiving.
Retail economists say when Halloween sales are toted up this year they'll come in at about $6.8 billion, a third more than last year.
Halloween is certainly not the healthiest celebration. It accounts for 25 per cent of candy sales for the year - about $2 billion worth. Candy makers and countless candy shops depend on those sales to stay in business.
Halloween is important to the greeting card industry, too. It's the eighth-biggest celebratory event and is growing fast. Those costumes run about $1.2 billion annually and are also increasing.
Haunted houses have gone way beyond just being fund-raisers for local charities or civic groups. They are now big time profit makers. Halloween even has a trade association (like we need another special interest).
There are even calls to celebrate on the last Saturday of October instead of on the last day of the month. Trick-or-treaters' safety is the reason, but it has not gone unnoticed that Saturday would be the best day for adults to celebrate in restaurants and bars.
Economists now look to Halloween as a measure of the nation's economic health. So despite the stock market volatility it's heartening to know the ghosts and goblins of the economy are saying there's nothing to be afraid of.
However, it is a little scary to realize that Halloween - with its tangled origins in various pagan festivals which some think were inspired by Satan - is one of the pillars of a prosperous economy.
But we think Scripps Howard writer Dale McFeattors' observation is right on, namely that if the booming modern Halloween were to be associated with a supernatural being, it would not be Satan. It would be Mammon, the ancient deity of commerce and wealth.
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