I had my first proper American Halloween (Hallowe’en for Brits). You can’t grasp that $4.96bn figure for their spending on the event until you see it in on the night.
First up, there’s this curious salutation that people start using first thing in the morning: “Happy Halloween!” they cry to each other. Two days ago I ran past the local high school and the same greeting was on their announcements board, in letters nearly a foot tall. Surely ‘Happy Halloween’ is an oxymoron—isn’t it supposed to be anything but happy?
Zoe is with her father this week, so we had to pick her up. But she was already out trick-or-treating with her friends Jonah and Scout. We met them out on Mirabel, a quadruple cul-de-sac neighbourhood that could pass for a movie set. And there weren’t just a few kids—hundreds of them roamed free in the darkness dressed in elaborate costumes. Many had blue or green glow-rings around their necks so parents could keep track of them, all of them had swag bags full of goodies.
Many of the houses had gone to town to celebrate the evening, decking out their houses with fake spider-webs, pumpkins, life-sized horror mannequins—even a smoke machine. The Speers—owners of the main local grocery store—had a complete mock graveyard lit by a strobe light.
I was asked by friends how it compared to the UK. Although it’s only taken off in England in the last decade, when I was a five-year-old in Glasgow, and at primary school in the North East of England, we had something much akin to it—but nothing on that scale, and no one would ever have decorated their houses so elaborately for the event.
“What I find amazing,” I said to Scout and Jonah’s mother, Lauri, “is that America is the most practising Christian country in the world by far, with church attendance up around fifty percent. Yet no one celebrates this very pagan festival the way America does.”
“It’s very American,” she said. “Any excuse for a party—that’s the American dream.”