On Oct. 31, ghosts, zombies, comic book heroes, princesses and vampires will be ringing doorbells across the country, shouting, "Trick or Treat!" They'll eagerly wave their Halloween buckets, drooling in anticipation of the sugary, cavity (and obesity) causing candy that will be dropped into their eager hands. But this time, at my house, there won't be a Snickers bar or a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup waiting for them.
Piperlime store opening, New York City
No, there will no Halloween fare at my house this year -- not even a bag of pretzels or the unloved Tootsie Roll (TR) or the even more unloved apple. As I have patiently waited for the little ones to come to my door over the years, I have asked myself: Why am I giving candy out? Have I become brainwashed by Mars and Hershey (HSY) to believe the only acceptable way to spend this evening is to hand candy out to local children, many of whom I don't even know? Why do I feel pangs of guilt and daunting fear that I'll run out of Halloween goodies? Why does society force this obligation on its citizens?
Like Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, Halloween has become a manufactured and contrived holiday, brought to you by the candy industry and Madison Avenue ad agencies. Spooky skeletons and macabre monsters make their annual appearance in retail stores as early as August. Circulars promoting suggestive Halloween costumes and ghastly decorations come wedged between bills and magazines. The barrage of Halloween candy commercials and publicity almost bully people into celebrating.
Most people may not realize the Halloween we have all come to know so well was a completely different ritual a century ago. The holiday was never synonymous with candy until the confectionary industry employed what is certainly one of the best marketing machinations of all time.
History of Halloween
In the 1910s and 1920s, candy makers were looking for a new excuse to sell their goods to the public. Christmas and Easter were already popular candy-giving holidays, but candy manufacturers needed a revenue stream for the fall months. A marketing opportunity was born but the notion of giving out sweets for Halloween didn't truly catch on for another 20 to 30 years. Before that, pumpkins, nuts and apples were the preferred treats at the Halloween parties thrown by the wealthy. The push by the candy industry to move to chocolate and other sugary delights provided a convenient option for the majority of Americans because candy was inexpensive, widely available and easy to parcel.
The National Federation of Retailers expects a record number of Americans — 170 million — will celebrate Halloween this year. More than 15% of the nation's pets will also partake in the festivities (whether they want to or not) in their miniature Darth Vader and angel costumes. Based on the survey responses of 9,333 Americans, the average person will spend $79.82 on candy, costumes and decorations before Oct. 31 — up from $72.31 in 2011 — for a grand total of $8 billion.
But more than a quarter of the respondents polled by the NRF said the state of the economy would impact how they celebrate Halloween. The majority of those individuals (83.9%) will spend less overall, some (5.6%) will not hand out any candy, more than a third (36.1%) will cut back on their candy purchases and a sixth (15.9%) will not visit Halloween-themed activities such as haunted houses.
The fact that a smaller percentage of adults this year said they would cut back on Halloween candy purchases may reflect more optimism about the economy. Last year 40.2% said they would buy less, and that was down from 46.5% in 2009. For those who are completely nixing the holiday, as I am, the number has remained relatively unchanged, from 5.9% in 2010 to 5.7% in 2011. According to the National Confectioners Association, Halloween represents just 7% of annual candy sales in the U.S.
The Association projects that total seasonal confectionary sales will reach $7 billion this year, with Halloween accounting for $2.38 billion, an increase of 1.1% from last year. A report by market research firm Mintel found that U.S. chocolate retail sales grew 16% from 2006 to 2011 for a total of $18.6 billion. Sales growth dropped to 6% when adjusting for inflation. Hershey dominated the chocolate confectionary space in 2011, with a 41% share of the sales — a far greater percentage than any of the other companies measured, according to Mintel. Hershey's Reese's brand saw the biggest gain in the bar/bag/box segment, jumping 23.2% in 2011.
The NRF estimates Americans will spend an average of $23.27 on candy this Halloween season. Is that a lot of cash? Of course, the answer depends on your finances. There are currently more than 12 million Americans out of work. Many more are barely making ends meet in low-wage jobs. Others can only find part-time employment. Spending nearly $25 for the pleasure of strangers does not seem like the best way to use up precious monetary resources.
If I sound like the Grinch of Halloween, so be it. By not participating, I'm saving some cash and exercising my right to protest Halloween. Of course, this particular year, East Coasters may find their Halloween swamped by a "Frankenstorm" that could hit in the midst of the holiday. That remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, some Yahoo! Finance readers are speaking out in agreement with my Halloween-shunning philosophy. Here's what some of them had to say:
"I bought a ton last year and not ONE trick-or-treater ... Guess how much candy I'm buying this year" — Michelle Renee Strauss
"I am buying candy but not as much as I did last year" — Patsy Praytor Bennett
"NO HALLOWEEN FOR ME THIS YEAR AT ALL" — Patricia Grumbir
"Never believed in Halloween and having kids hit on strangers for stuff" — Pam Nielsen
What are your thoughts? Are you skipping Halloween this year, or are you as enthusiastic as ever? Please answer below! And you can email the author with your responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.