Like many kids, I loved everything about Halloween — so much so that I traveled to a distant friend’s Halloween-obsessed neighborhood so I could celebrate the holiday in the best way possible. I left with practically enough candy for the following October 31st.
So imagine my surprise, some fifty years later, when I received an email from a gourmet company advertising a Halloween sale on caviar. No chocolate bars. No peanut butter cups. But good old fish eggs. Just what every red-blooded American child longs for.
Obviously this was not a sale aimed at children. On the contrary, it was all about the adults. Or, as the retailer advertised in its Halloween promotion: “Whether you’re hosting a decadent brunch, a hair-raising gathering or an elegantly spooky dinner, our caviar collection promises to add a touch of luxury to your festivities.”
But again, there’s nothing really surprising here. In recent years, Halloween has turned more into a day for adult fun. Look around and you’ll find everything from wineries hosting Halloween events — like trick-or-treating your way to receiving glass after glass — to fast-food chains selling Halloween meal buckets. And let’s not forget all those costume contests in the office.
Speaking of dressing up, here’s a telling statistic: The National Retail Federation reports that today more is spent on Halloween costumes for adults ($2 billion) than on children’s costumes ($1.4 billion).
“This year, people are expected to spend more on Halloween costumes for adults than on children’s costumes.”
Spending on adult fun is clearly helping to make the holidays bigger than ever. The NRF says Halloween spending will reach a record high of $12.2 billion this year, surpassing last year’s record $10.6 billion.
Is it just me, or is there something sad about all this Halloween hoopla, especially on the adult front? It’s like the meaning of the holiday – at least, the kid-oriented meaning of your mid-twentiese The America of the century has been ignored and now it’s just an excuse for adults to party, get drunk and maybe stuff themselves with caviar. Until a few years ago, I thought the definition of Halloween for adults was raiding your kid’s candy pile.
Several reasons are offered by those aware of the hows and whys of this shift in the holidays. Start with the fact that Halloween’s roots were much more meaningful: the event reportedly began as a pagan religious celebration when the Celtic people of Europe welcomed the harvest at the end of summer. It has undergone several changes over time. The latest incarnation is perhaps the most inappropriate.
But some also say that what we’re seeing today is a reflection of the tendency among Gen Zers and Millennials to hold on to their childhood for as long as possible. It ties in with what’s called the Peter Pan syndrome – or the emerging adulthood stage. And it speaks to the fact that this younger cohort is finding it increasingly difficult to get ahead as adults, especially considering the costs involved: Think of how much harder it is to buy a house now compared to decades ago.
Linus Owens, an associate professor at Middlebury College who has researched the evolution of Halloween, also says that younger people today often feel like their creativity is being stifled at work. Halloween gives them a day to “express who they are,” he argues.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kelsey Latimer adds, saying that Gen Zers and millennials are “focusing on working to live, not living to work.” This means they are “more likely to participate in parties and social events.” Halloween is a perfect platform in that regard.
“Yet another event on the calendar just became an opportunity to sell, sell, sell.”
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that once retailers and others in a position to gain financially sensed the shift, they jumped on the adult Halloween bandwagon. It’s arguably no different than how other holidays have become overly commercialized – just another event on the calendar that has become an opportunity to sell, sell, sell.
“It’s mandatory marketing,” says Craig Agranoff, an experienced marketing professional from Boca Raton, Florida.
Yet at its worst it can be downright tactless: Consider the way Juneteenth, our newest federal holiday and a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the US, turned into a sales event. Walmart WMT,
even released a Juneteenth-themed ice cream, but faced a backlash.
On Halloween, you could say there’s no such thing as going too far. After all, the holidays are about going to the extreme, so why not let the adults join in on the spooky merriment? Especially at a time when we could all use some distraction, some say.
“In a time of rampant inflation and economic uncertainty, a fun and relatively inexpensive party can relieve stress for adults,” says Scott Lieberman, founder of the financial site Touchdown Money.
My counterargument is that if the adults win, the kids lose. That is, when we take over the fun, we spoil it – at least a little bit.
“There were no zombie pub crawls during my childhood Halloween (trust me, they exist). ”
I think of the neighbors I once knew who turned their driveway into an outdoor bar on Halloween. The idea was that when parents brought their kids home for trick-or-treating, they could get their own “treat” as well. But somehow it seemed like the kids were forgotten in the mix and parents were tempted to linger at home for far too long and have another cocktail.
Other than this example, it’s more of a general issue of lost innocence. There were no zombie pub crawls during my childhood Halloween (trust me, they exist). They were just kids who wandered through the neighborhood in simple, often homemade costumes looking for that one house where large candy bars were handed out. There was certainly still money to be made from the holiday, but not in a way that suggested unbridled, adult-oriented commercialism.
Heck, you could still spend the evening waiting for the Great Pumpkin, like the mythical figure from the classic television special Peanuts. That show captures the spirit of Halloween as I most remember it – without mentioning the sale of caviar.
Besides, as Agranoff reminded me, adults already have enough fun in this world: “The adults have pickleball,” he says. “Give the kids some stuff.”
I would put Halloween at the top of that list.