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Halloween: More Than Just Big Business

New York, Oct 29, 2004

Americans spent more than $2 billion on Halloween candy in 2003, according to the National Confectioner’s Association. With the bags of candy, costumes, accessories and decorations bought every year, Halloween has become America's second largest commercial holiday.

The holiday's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on Nov. 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. Celts believed that, on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred abd the ghosts of the dead could return to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

The word Halloween was created to have Celtic celebrations sanctioned by the Church. In the 800s Pope Boniface IV picked Nov. 1 as All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. Because saints were called hallows in Middle English, the day became known as All Hallows, and the night before became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.

Traditions The Irish and English carved faces into turnips or potatoes to ward off evil spirits but it was Americans who first carved pumpkins, which are native to North America, and placed them on their doorsteps.

The American tradition of “trick-or-treating” dates back to the English All Souls’ Day parades. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

The celebration of Halloween started in the United States as an autumn harvest festival. In the late nineteenth century, with the large influx of Irish immigrants into the U.S., Halloween became associated with ghosts, goblins and witches.

Information complied from

Fun facts

  • The word “witch” comes from the Old Saxon word “wica,” meaning “wise one.” The earliest witches were respected dealers in charms and medicinal herbs and tellers of fortunes.
  • Black cats were once believed to be witch’s assistants who protected their powers.
  • Orange and black are represented as Halloween colors because orange represents the fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
  • More than 93 percent of children will go trick-or-treating this year.
  • Bite-sized chocolate candies are the post popular type of candy to be included in Halloween activities (76 percent), followed by bite-sized non-chocolate candies (30 percent).
  • Eighty-four percent of kids said candy and gum are their favorites.
  • Ninety percent of parents admit to sneaking goodies from their kids’ Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
  • Kids ages 6-11 years old say if they were given lots of candy, 66 percent said they would share some with their family; 64 percent said they would share the candy with friends, 26 percent said they would give candy to their teacher, and 7 percent said they would keep it all for themselves.
  • Oct. 30 is National Candy Corn Day. More than 35 million pounds of candy corn will be produced this year. That equates to nearly nine billion pieces, that is enough to circle the moon nearly four times if laid end-to-end.
Fun facts provided by National Confectioners Association.

The Business of Halloween

  • Halloween is expected to bring in $3.12 billion in sales this year.
  • The National Retail Federation says the average consumer will spend about $43.57.
  • The average candy purchase is expected to be $14.83.
  • It's the second-biggest decorating holiday of the year, after Christmas.
  • Some 54 percent of Americans aged 18-24 plan to wear a costume.
  • About 82 percent of Americans over 55 years old plan to hand out candy.

Halloween Safety Tips and Standards

  • Flame Resistant Costumes: When purchasing a costume, masks, beards, and wigs, look for the label Flame Resistant. Although this label does not mean these items won't catch fire, it does indicate the items will resist burning and should extinguish quickly once removed from the ignition source. Avoid costumes made with flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts. (Example of an applicable standards reference: ASTM D1230-94(2001) Standard Test Method for Flammability of Apparel Textiles )

  • Pedestrian Safety: An adult or an older, responsible child should accompany young children. All children should walk, not run from house to house and use the sidewalk rather than walk in the street.

  • Choosing Safe Houses: Children should go only to homes where the residents are known and have outside lights on as a sign of welcome. Children should not enter homes or apartments unless an adult accompanies them.

    People expecting trick-or-treaters should remove anything that could be an obstacle from lawns, steps and porches. Candlelit jack-o'-lanterns should be kept away from landings and doorsteps where costumes could brush against the flame. Indoor jack-o'-lanterns should be kept away from curtains, decorations, and other furnishings that could be ignited.

  • Costume Designs: Costumes should be short enough to prevent children from tripping and falling. Purchase or make costumes that are light and bright enough to be clearly visible to motorists. For greater visibility during dusk and darkness, decorate or trim costumes with reflective tape that will glow in the beam of a car's headlights. Bags or sacks should also be light colored or decorated with reflective tape. Reflective tape is usually available in hardware, bicycle, and sporting goods stores. To easily see and be seen, children should also carry flashlights. (Example of an applicable standards reference: ASTM E1501-99e1, Standard Specification for Nighttime Photometric Performance of Retroreflective Pedestrian Markings for Visibility Enhancement)

    Apply a natural mask of cosmetics rather than have a child wear a loose-fitting mask that might restrict breathing or obscure vision. If a mask is used, however, make sure it fits securely and has eyeholes large enough to allow full vision.

Related Articles

The History of Halloween" - The Sierra Star, October 29, 2004

Ghoulish Garb Should Be a Reflection of Safety This Halloween - ANSI Online News, October 30, 2003

 Homeland Defense and Security Standardization Collaborative