Halloween is a shortening of “hallowed evening” and dates back to a time when the Celtic calendar celebrated the beginning of the new year on November 1st. The last night of the old year was known as a night of witchcraft; in opposition to this the church designated the day as the Eve of All Saints or All Hallows, and the battle lines between virtue and vice were drawn.
The word was first used in English in 1556 in Nichols’ History of London and in the centuries that followed it came to be associated with mischief, amusement and occasional gory cinematic death.
Trick or treating dates back to Canada in 1927 and has been common in the United States since the 1950s. As a young boy in Canada and America in the early 1960s the writer experienced the pleasure of collecting enough sweets to last to Christmas, and on moving to England was disappointed to find that Autumn fun was limited to burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes on November 5th.
The commercial potential of the day in the UK has been tapped more effectively since then, but at an estimated value of USD 500 million, sales of Halloween products in the UK lag well behind those in the United States, where they are expected to approach the USD 7 billion mark this year. Pumpkins, ghostly costumes and of course candy sales have made this the third most lucrative day for merchandising after Easter and Christmas Day.
Hollywood has inevitably found a way to take a share of the seasonal profits. In 1978 the story of an immortal masked serial killer launched a series of ten “Halloween” films which have generated almost USD 400 million in ticket sales. And while cinemagoers may choose to be frightened by a villain who refuses to die, many aficionados of the occult spend each October 31st at séances attempting to contact the spirit of magician Harry Houdini, who died on this day in 1926. One way or another, it’s going to be a busy night.
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