Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween is a bigger deal than the election

When you live and work in a big city and don't have children, it is almost possible to be oblivious to Halloween. Almost. But that gap in an urban dweller's acculturation can be quickly cured by a visit to nearby suburbs to walk precincts or otherwise visit where most of the electorate live. Every time I work an election, I rediscover that these things take place right after this semi-holiday and marvel at the creativity and energy many folks unleash.

The Financial Times' resident cultural anthropologist (and derivative decoder) Gillian Tett is apparently living for awhile in the United States and she marvels at our Halloween:

US Halloween spending is projected at $8bn, more than the sum being spent on the 2012 election

Yes, I know that for anyone outside the US, particularly over the age of 12, it might seem peculiar that a pumpkin-focused festival could provoke much interest. And I daresay there are still a few kid-free – or politics-obsessed – people here in the US who have somehow failed to notice the orange buzz.

But for anyone with a family, or who is plugged into a social media network, it is almost impossible to ignore the looming shadow of Halloween. Walk along the streets of New York, and you are regaled with specialist shops selling ghoulish masks and costumes. Hail a cab, and the back seat television screen will proclaim that the city is celebrating Halloween all month. ...

In the US’s postwar years, Halloween was an event primarily focused on children. But in the past two decades it has expanded fast and this year, according to the National Retail Federation, a record 72 per cent of the population will celebrate (up from 69 per cent last year). It will cost Americans $80 per person on average, and total spending is projected at $8bn. Astonishingly, that is more than the sum being spent on the US election (estimated to be some $5.8bn right now). “By the time Halloween rolls around each year, it’s safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely loved holidays of the year,” says Matthew Shay, NRF president. Yes, you read that right: two months.

Like Tett, I had no idea.

But I can share a few recent snapshots from (mostly) the 'burbs where Halloween flourishes:

We don't seem to know whether this is a harvest festival or a remembrance of the dead -- but much of its observance is decidedly cheerful.

The mere display of the orange autumn fruit -- yes, this squash is a fruit -- is mostly too tame, though they can be lovely.

3bones emerge.jpg
Lawns sprout rising skeletons.

4halloween ghost.jpg
Some of our ghosts are ghoulish.

5halloween boo.JPG
Others announce themselves cheerfully.

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This shot is urban, spotted several weeks ago at dawn. Happy Halloween, wherever you live!.

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