halloween cash cow lori welbourne jim huntHalloween has changed a lot since I was a kid. For one thing, it’s become big business. Canadians and Americans spent approximately eight billion dollars on candy, decorations and costumes last year. And not just costumes for children, but for grown ups, dogs and even some unimpressed cats.

Back in my day our parents bought candy to hand out, and pumpkins to carve – that was about it. My little brother and I happily assembled our getups by rummaging around the house for items we already owned, and although we’d seen the plastic Fonzie and Planet of the Apes masks at the supermarket, it never dawned on us to ask for them.

On Halloween night we took our pillow cases and went door to door in our neighbourhoods, often in the bitter cold and rain, never imagining the concept of going store to store inside a dry, warm mall.

We also never envisioned an entire shop devoted to costumes. They did exist, but I certainly never set foot in any as a child. If I had, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave.

These days, as soon as September rolls around there are pop up Halloween stores all over, with a vast array of costumes and decorations. This unfortunately takes away sales from costume shops that remain open all year and enrich our communities in ways a seasonal retail chain can’t, but that’s not their only competition. Many businesses you wouldn’t normally associate with Halloween have recognized what a cash cow it’s become and now have a piece of the action. Who would have thought you could buy a precious princess gown from a home decor store? Or an enormous inflatable mummy while purchasing building supplies?

The offering of costumes has expanded significantly as well, not only with an incredibly large variety for all ages, but with a vast array of sexualized outfits for women and young girls. My daughter was 11 last year and had her heart set on dressing up as Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, but the only ensembles we were able to find last minute were slinky numbers you might see on a young lady at a nightclub.

Criticism over these garments are expressed on social media every year, as is the calling out of people not being politically correct – like the school principal who dressed up like Mr. T or the actress who dressed up as the character Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black. They both sparked heated debates over social media, but when our friend dressed up like Aunt Jemima 30 years ago, no one blinked an eye.

She had also applied dark make-up over her light skin, but no one said anything beyond how fantastic she looked. Was society less sensitive to the suffering of minorities back then? Were we less politically correct? That topic deserves a column of it’s own.

Dissension aside, escaping reality and transforming into someone or something else can be extremely amusing, and that’s probably why the popularity of it among adults has grown tremendously.

Another reason to like the “holiday” is that it’s relatively low pressure and revolves around the combination of having light-hearted fun while socializing. With all the unique and creative ideas available on the internet for costumes, pumpkin carving, decorating and food preparation it can also feel overwhelming to people trying to do too much. Self-inflicted stress can simply be avoided though by choosing not to participate, or engaging with minimal effort and expense.

No presents need to be purchased on Halloween, no fancy feasts need to prepared and no one should have to decorate unless they actually want to. Handing out candy is another non-requirement that can be avoided by turning off the lights and not answering the door. But for those wanting to get into the spirit, there’s an ever growing number of people who will be joining in on the festivities with them.

The excess consumerism of Halloween comes under fire often, but for a designated day that doesn’t hold any special meaning beyond having a good time, the entertainment value alone could be considered money well spent.

I’ll admit, eight billion dollars is an awful lot, but divided between 356 million that works out to less than $25 per person. Obviously some folks are spending much more and others aren’t spending any at all. It’s one of those take it or leave it experiences with varying degrees of involvement and spending.

October 31 is on a Saturday this year which will make it more convenient for many and will probably result in even bigger profits and increase in overall revenue. Will you be in the Halloween spirit? This year I won’t.