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Halloween and All Souls Day in the U.S.

Daisy Sanchez, third from left, is surrounded by admirers after winning the DARE TO BARE 2012 title in Maria Amor’s yearly Halloween event held at the Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale. Traditionally intended for trick-or-treating kids, Halloween has since evolved into an $8-billion business that some 170 million Americans indulged with revelry today. Photo by Dionesio. Grava.

Halloween and All Souls Day in the U.S.
by: Lilia Rabe Grava

Halloween is supposed to be kid stuff, a season for tiny ghouls and myriad other costumed characters in teen parties or gathering sweets in the neighborhood. Some houses transform their front spaces into instant cemeteries and horror houses for business abound. Corporate America being what it is, the day has evolved into yet another major excuse for enticing the populace to make a beehive to the malls and specialty stores.

The ring at the cashier’s booth tells it all. In 1997 the business of promoting revelry and hoopla came out with $2.5 billion worth of retail business — second only to Christmas in terms of visibility and commercial transactions. In the current year the National Retail Federation said that a “record 170 million people plan to celebrate Halloween this year with spending up to an expected new all time high of $8 billion dollars… Seven in ten Americans (71.5%) are into the haunting Halloween mood, up again from last year and the most in the 10-year survey history.”

Among the main items of revenue are, of course, the costumes, masks and decor. NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said that “when it comes to Halloween, new costume ideas for children, adults and pets, and the latest in home and yard decor top people’s shopping lists.” Yard art, the inflatable devices that people put in their yard, is getting to be more and more elaborate. The average person will spend $28.65 on costumes this year, up slightly from $26.52 in 2011, it said.

Popular are the trappings of horror movies – the fangs and capes of Dracula, witch’s hats and brooms, Frankenstein monster’s neck bolts, vampire bats, the cobwebs of haunted dwellings, coffins and tombstones and everything that evoke the worst of one’s nightmare. Not to be outdone are the representations of the rich and famous, the more identifiable politicians, celebrities, knights and princesses, comic heroes and cartoon characters. Then there are the pumpkins, glow-in-the-dark items, pieces of jewelry, black spider ties with mini lights and just about anything imaginative merchants could link to the occasion. Having evolved into the realm of the adults, there are also the sheer and flimsy attires that have less to do with costumes as they are about cheesecakes.

In Los Angeles where Latinos are a majority of the population, it’s “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) the observance of which dates back to the Aztecs who believed in an afterlife — that the spirit of the dead returns as part of the natural world. It was an August ritual then but the colonizing Spaniards moved the holiday to November 1 and 2 to coincide with their own All Saints and All Souls days. Consequently, Día de los Muertos is now the kind of cultural blend typical of the Mexican people. Traditional families trek to cemeteries to visit their loved ones, to clean and weed the graves and decorate them with bright flowers. Just like what Filipinos do with their 300 years of Spanish rule.

I recall a childhood story that at night on this particular time ghosts roam the earth and that people have to make them happy otherwise these nonliving creatures would create havoc. Thus explain the costumes and masks and the trick-or-treating as a sort of parade to lead the ghosts out of town.

In the U.S., the celebration supposedly connected with this holiday was the Pilgrims’ way of expressing gratitude for surviving a harsh winter in 1621. In the interregnum, corporate America took over and thus the masks and the heroes’ attires, the party wares, the black cat and toad figures. The movie people have to share in the bounty, too, with scary films; the pumpkin farmers have to get rid of the 17 trillion or so produced each year otherwise these will rot, and so on.