Boo.Halloween is an annual celebration–but what of exactly? The word itself (a corruption of All Hallows Eve) didn’t even show up in a dictionary until the 1700’s, and its origins lie in the Catholic Church as a day of observance to honor of all saints–that day being November 1st. But in the 5th century All Hallows Eve got tied into the Celtic new year, which ended on October 31st. According to legend, on that night disembodied spirits returned from the grave in search of living bodies to possess, and so on new year’s eve (Halloween) people would extinguish the fires in their homes in order to make them cold and undesirable, then dress up in ghoulish costumes and go parading noisly around the village in an attempt to frighten away the bodiless spirits. Sounds a lot like the office Halloween party.  Speaking of, when exactly did modern Halloween customs go from a celebration of tooth-rotting candy and kids rolling the lawn of “that grumpy old man down the street” into a $3.12 billion industry (up from $2.96 billion last year) geared mainly for adults?

According to Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy for BIGresearch, “Today’s adults aren’t willing to relinquish a holiday they grew up enjoying. Halloween remains one of the only days where society gives adults permission to act like kids again.”  What does he mean “one of the only days”? This is the age of extended adolescence after all, where every day is Casual Friday and that booming bass that’s rattling your bones could just as easily be coming from the banker in the beemer behind you as the teen ‘banger on the corner. Do adults really need to hijack Halloween too? Tracy Mullin, the President and CEO of the National Retail Federation, says that it’s already too late. “Halloween is celebrated today mostly among young adults, with more than 69 percent of 18-34-year-olds planning to celebrate the holiday.” And of those, over half of 18-24-year-olds plan to dress up in costume and throw, or attend, a party–perhaps such as New York City’s Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. This annual event began modestly enough in 1973 as a neighborhood walk for family and friends. Today it has evolved into a huge festival that regularly draws over a quarter-million people–and most of them are adults.

So if everybody’s getting all dressed up and going out to parties on Halloween, who’s left at home to hand out the candy to the kiddies? Why, that “grumpy old man down the street” of course. Mullin estimates that 82.7% of adults 55 and over are either out trick-or-treating with the grandkids while their parents are off at some Halloween party, or else the seniors are sitting at home manning the candy bowl and answering that relentlessly ringing doorbell. Come to think of it, that’s probably why that old man’s always so grumpy. Please don’t roll his yard.

(c) 2010 Jim Yoakum

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