The Economics of Halloween

By: Dr. M. Ray Perryman
Published in syndication October 25, 2006

Holidays and special days of remembrance generally have a central theme or in some cases, several of them. For example, on Mothers' Day, children often demonstrate their appreciation by sending cards; Thanksgiving is a special time for family reunions and turkey dinners; and Christmas and Hanukkah are traditionally highlighted by special presents to friends and loved ones.

Perhaps no occurrence, however, has as many themes, unusual aspects, or cultural accretions as Halloween, which will be observed on the last day of October. The origin of this day is not well documented, nor is the beginning date for wearing outlandish costumes or carving pumpkins. (In Ireland, the turnip was the original vegetable of choice for carving.)

The establishment of these customs with which we are so familiar is shrouded in the mists of history and may go back several thousand years. Some people identify Halloween with the occult and refrain from any celebratory activities. Others, while recognizing Halloween's early pagan influences, note that the holiday was later co-opted by religious institutions to mark festivals or special holy days. Most people probably consider Halloween a purely secular event devoted to wearing costumes and harvesting as much candy as possible.

Today, Halloween is celebrated throughout much of the Western world, particularly the US, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Its popularity is growing in Australia and New Zealand. The commemoration was probably brought to the US in the 19th century and has since become a central part of our pop culture. After Christmas, Halloween is the most profitable holiday for US retailers. The National Retail Federation estimates Halloween spending this year will reach nearly $5 billion.

The first city in the US to celebrate Halloween officially was Anoka, Minnesota, in 1921. Costumes and visiting neighbors in search of foodstuffs became popular in the 1950s. Several years later, trendy store-bought yard embellishments began to replace home-made decorations and, by the 1990s, they had become fashionable. Approximately 67% of consumers are expected to purchase general Halloween decor this year.

Thus, on October 31, all across the United States, thousands of doors will be opened to over 36 million "ghouls and goblins" shouting "trick or treat" while pleading for candy and other sweets.

The holiday also brings benefits to farmers, as many of the nation's more than 108 million housing units will be decorated with pumpkins, or Jack O'Lanterns, complete with candlelit faces. These pumpkins, as well as many others that didn't endure artists' knives, are a part of the approximately 1.1 billion pounds of the vined orange gourd that are used to create various delicacies during this time of the year. Hundreds of both new and old recipes will undoubtedly be meticulously followed in the making of myriad soups, breads, pies, and other desserts.

Pumpkin patches can be found from coast to coast. The national leader in pumpkin production is Illinois (almost 500 million pounds last year). California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania produce more than 100 million pounds annually. In Texas, the fourth-leading state in commercial pumpkin production, some 5,000-8,000 acres of pumpkins are planted each year. The yield varies from 20,000 to 33,000 pounds per acre. About 95% of Texas farmers' pumpkin crops are grown for seasonal ornamental purposes.

Some $1.5 billion will probably be spent on Halloween candy this to satisfy visiting "gremlins" calling for treats with accompanying half-hearted threats of malice for non-participation. Many of the children, along with older siblings and parents, will be decked out in homemade outfits, but about $1.8 billion will be spent this year to purchase creative costumes. Millions more will be used to obtain attire from the nation's more than 2,500 rental establishments.

There are scores of ways to spell Halloween and even more ways to participate in the distinctive events associated with it. Regardless of how you do either, be sure, on the last day of the month, to be prepared to avoid tricks by passing out treats. It's fun and, even more, it's good for our economy.

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