Halloween's Homecoming: Born in England, Perfected in America


Twenty years ago, as a study-abroad student in London, I was homesick for Halloween. The festival of All Hallows Eve originated in England, so where were the candy corns, the jack-o-lanterns, the trick-or-treaters, the parties and the haunted houses? The day passed with so llitle fanfare, it might as well have been the Fourth of July. Six days later I experienced my first Guy Fawkes night. I was a little hazy on the historical significance, and despite the real bonfire it was a holiday I never warmed up to. It didn't hold a candle to Halloween.

In the U.S., Halloween is famously the second spendiest holiday of the year after Christmas. In 2014, Americans spent 7.4 billion dollars on Halloween-related items--350 million went on pet costumes alone. I know it's kind of obscene, but you know what else it is? FUN. Halloween is a time of year when we can get silly, transgressive, eat too much candy, drink too many glasses of green punch and scare the pudding out of each other. And now, thanks to cultural imperialism, the festive spirit has come home to England.

There has been a bit of eye-rolling, but Halloween is finally a hit in the UK. Spending is up--from 12 million pounds in 2001 to an estimated 330 million this year. Shop windows are looking festive, and not in a ho-ho-ho sort of way. Kids are ecstatic. And I'm doing my part, ordering up the black and orange crepe paper streamers, a 6-foot glow-in-the-dark skeleton for the front window (though I drew the line at tombstones for the front garden), and a few of Sainsbury's Best Large Carving Pumpkins. It would be un-American not to.

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