October is the scariest month of the year, and not just because summer is dead and winter is waiting to move in for a long spell.
It's the month of Halloween or, as we used to spell it, Hallowe'en. I suspect that was the traditional (i.e. British) spelling, which, like almost everything else in this country, has given way to a non-traditional (i.e. American) spelling. While I normally do not favour (or favor) any further Americanization of Canada, I'm willing to go along with this one.
The spelling is not all that's changed. Halloween was very much of a secondary holiday back in the day, a fun event for kids but basically ignored by sober, hard working adults. Not anymore. Today, Canadian adults have sunk their plastic fangs into Halloween with a bloodthirsty fervor.
According to a Financial Post article from 2014, Canadians now outspend Americans, per capita, on Halloween candy, trinkets and assorted crapola. As a general rule, if you can outspend Americans on anything, you know you're spending too much.
The report said Canadians spend $1 billion a year on Halloween, placing it no. 2 on the holiday spending list. According to another survey, we spend less than $500 million on no. 3 Mother's Day, which indicates we value monsters over mothers.
As a business, Halloween has more than doubled in size in less than a decade. According to an Angus Reid survey in 2015, 64% of Canadians will give out candy, and 51% will buy candy just for themselves. This I don't understand; are there grown adults who buy Halloween candy strictly for themselves, when they can buy candy anywhere, anytime they want? Do they succumb to holiday peer pressure?
The same survey found that we spend an average of $52 on costumes, and another $43 on decorations. If that sounds high, just walk down the Halloween aisle of your neighbourhood dollar store. (As an aside, why has nobody ever named a dollar store The Loonie Bin?) There you will see row upon row upon row of cheap, crappy, flammable Halloween trinkets and cheap, crappy and probably flammable Halloween candy. Those poor Chinese children making this junk must wonder why we have this obsession with pumpkins.
While kids can still get by with those cheap plastic masks and only slightly flammable costumes, adults go all in. The Party City Canada website lists dozens of costumes, ranging from about $25 to $115 for women. Many of the costumes are called “sexy”, which, of course, is no guarantee that the person wearing it will actually appear sexy; better descriptions would be ‘shameless' or ‘delusional'. There appear to be fewer men's costumes, but oddly the top price point is higher at $350. Not surprisingly, none of them are called “sexy”.
The emergence of Halloween as a major holiday is reflective of our cultural obsession with all things ghoulish. Horror is more mainstream now than ever.
One of TV's hottest shows is The Walking Dead, a series about zombies who walk the earth, enjoying a bounteous buffet of human flesh. Fans are obsessed with this show. There are now zombie walks in major cities, where apparently normal people dress like zombies and shuffle around city streets (the men's zombie costume at Party City is sold out at $67.99). They are so convincing, sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart from government employees. Zombies have been incorporated into classics of literature, in books named (I'm not kidding here), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I'll leave it up to deep social thinkers to figure out this one.
The biggest change in Halloween, however, is that is has been usurped by adults. In years past, we've had dozens and dozens of kids, sometimes in the triple digits. We even ran out of candy one year, necessitating the shameful act of hiding in your own house with the lights turned out. But of late, the numbers have been falling. Last year was the worst Halloween we've ever had in more than 30 years of home ownership — six kids. Six! I'm not complaining (more candy for me), but going to the mall to pester store owners for candy is a sorry substitute for actually going out at night, in the dark.
What are they afraid of… sexy zombies?