Halloween is big business in the UK and as October comes to an end, it's a difficult holiday to ignore: supermarkets stock up on pumpkins, fake cobwebs and plastic skeletons, corner shops lay out bags of fun-sized chocolate bars and everywhere from the launderette to the local decorates their windows with rubber spiders, dangling bats and dripping blood.
Image via Flickr from Heather Franks
Of course, decorations don't come for free, and the revenue generated by Halloween in the UK has rocketed over the last decade. In 2001, Brits spent a modest £12m on decorations, Halloween fancy dress costumes, seasonal confectionery and other related products. A decade later, retail analysts estimated that the total expenditure had ballooned to £315m - that's an increase of over £30m per year.
Around the world, some are beginning to criticise the changing face of Halloween, blaming corporate greed for the increase in the commercial values of the holiday. We may be spending more on Halloween, but has the holiday always been so commercially driven, or is the new capitalist face of the holiday just another US import?
Halloween's roots are difficult to trace, with multiple cultures celebrating festivals with a similar macabre element in the autumn months, but the heart of the holiday's history lies in Celtic Ireland. The seeds of today's customs and practises were actually exported to America during the Potato Famine of the 1800s, when hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants fled to the US to avoid starvation.
Over the decades, we Brits have woven several contemporary American practises into our Halloween traditions, such as carving pumpkins instead of turnips and decorating our properties with increasing enthusiasm. Even trick or treating as we know it was only introduced to the UK in the 1980s via the United States, having been "hijacked and Cellophane-wrapped by the confectionery business."
Splashing cash on Halloween-themed goods isn't necessarily a US import, however. Although American households spend an estimated total of $6.8 billion on Halloween every year, there's also an emphasis on handcrafting seasonal treats, costumes and decorations. Enthusiasts across the pond take great pride in creating homemade decorations, going as far as learning to "weld, build pneumatic-powered devices, tackle advanced electrics and software coding" to create DIY haunted houses, ghost trains and lavish spooky displays that lure thousands of visitors over the Halloween period.
Halloween is a valuable asset to the UK's economy, particularly in light of the recent recession. Kim Einhorn, of the party planning company Theme Traders, suggests there's a direct correlation between the economic crisis and the rise in Halloween's commercial success. She explains that: "Recession sparks an appetite in people for an escape to a fantasy world, and that's what Halloween is all about."
The last decade has seen a surge in fantasy for Brits, with supernatural pop culture also enjoying a boom: Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural and Harry Potter have all captured the imaginations of kids, teens and adults alike, and in turn such books, movies and TV programmes may well have contributed to the increasingly commercial bent that Halloween has taken.
Then again, perhaps the popularity of such material merely reflects the appetite that we have, as a nation, for all things spooky - in which case Halloween is surely just supplying our demand?
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