Halloween is a dangerous holiday, and I don’t mean dangerous in a witchy-ghosty way. Halloween equals candy and that, in turn, means grown-up temptation, the siren song of Milky Ways and Tootsie Rolls, the crunchy call of Kit Kats and Krackel candy bars.
Over the years, as the throng of children has thinned to a trickle, these sweets have become less for the tiny trick-or-treaters at my door and more for the decked-out revelers at boozy weekend parties. If I’m not careful, I can pack on as many pounds on candy corn as I do with Nochebuena pork.
Maybe the extra weight is just revenge for the adult takeover of a kid’s traditional celebration.
Once upon a time, Halloween was the holiday I spent with friends. We dressed in costume, stayed up late and feasted on free candy. Sometimes we ran around a neighbor’s haunted house, screaming our lungs out and holding fast to a brother’s hand. Sometimes we traded candy — your Snickers for my Babe Ruth. And sometimes we ate candy for breakfast.
Halloween, with its pumpkins, black cats and scary movies, ushered in a season of good, childish carousing. Along with school and homework, it was the official launch of autumn.
Then sociopaths ruined the holiday. They poisoned candies and buried blades in chocolate bars. Soon enough, too, our blood sugar spiked, our waistlines widened and our molars earned their cavities, so parents replaced sticky sweets with toothbrushes and healthy treats. A responsible, politically correct move, to be sure, but hardly a fun-inducing one.
Then Halloween tiptoed indoors. Malls began hosting trick-or-treaters. Church groups threw parties. And, for good measure, adults hijacked the last of our kids’ glorious sugar rushes. Now Halloween is all about grown-ups in sexy waitress costumes. Browse the shopping circulars if you doubt me.
Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween this year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation, and almost 66 percent of adults will celebrate in some way. Men and women, Gen X and baby boomers, red states and blues states, even purple ones, are equally likely to participate in the revelry. Pets, too. Fourteen percent of us expect to shop for a four-legged costume.
We will fork over more for adult costumes — $1.22 billion — than we will for children’s. And here’s the really scary part. The top five most popular costumes, or at least the most searched ones, include a twerker (thank you, Miley Cyrus) and a meth dealer (courtesy of AMC’s Breaking Bad).
The transformation of Halloween from pagan festival to commercial powerhouse reminds me of the evolution of Christmas, a holiday that has become all about pricey gifts and round-the-clock sales, about wrapping paper and extravagant light displays. “The reason for the season” is an afterthought.
This isn’t meant as one more obnoxious ode to bygone days, when cute witches and gap-toothed pirates raced from house to house to see who could ring the doorbell first. Progress is good; progress is necessary. However, I do believe we’ve lost something, a certain je ne sais quoi, by stripping the holiday of its silly artlessness.
In a fractured society that bickers incessantly about healthcare and government deficits, where public debate has turned coarser than a bar brawl, there is, and will always be, a winsome innocence in a pint-size zombie. You can’t say the same about a grown-up vampire.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.