Halloween has been taken over by grown-ups. Seriously. The candy bonanza of my children’s era is now an annual costume bash where adults get to dress up and sweets aren’t a part of the equation — unless these come in the form of alcoholic beverages.
Don’t believe me? Take a walk down the aisles of Party City. Or eavesdrop on a conversation at a coffee shop, where adults debate what outfits to buy for themselves. Apparently the popular ones are straight out of video games and TV and movie sets: Spider-Man, Descendants, Stranger Things and Fortnite.
According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend $8.8 billion on the holiday this year, and most of it will go toward costumes. Large-sized costumes. About half of adults plan to buy at least one, and if my online search is any indication, these don’t come cheap. Expect to fork over anywhere from $50 to $60, unless you’re creative enough to throw something together from Goodwill castoffs.
As a result of this appropriation by grown-ups, Halloween has become fraught with pitfalls, insults, hurt feelings and workplace lawsuits. People with jobs and driver’s licenses have a way of messing things up, even when they don’t intend to, and it doesn’t help matters any that the current political climate has made us oversensitive to pretty much anything that pushes boundaries or needles deeply held tenets.
Apparently more companies are skipping the office Halloween parties or telling employees to keep their masks and costumes at home on the last day of October. It only takes one employee coming into the office dressed as a pedophile priest — or a #MeToo survivor or, for that matter, Donald Trump — to turn the festivities into a nightmare for the human resources department. We all know that what might be hilarious to one person can be deeply insulting to another, and neither side seems to understand why exactly.
A social faux pas can prove embarrassing even when the dress-up venue isn’t in a conference room or the downstairs cafeteria. Off-site parties have cost employees a reprimand at best and their jobs at worst. A Kansas City, Missouri, nurse got the boot after her hospital employer was alerted to social media photos of her dressed in blackface. One Facebook comment: “I do not feel that it is safe having a racist employee working with the public.”
Another woman, a 22-year-old from Michigan, got raked over the coals when she wore a bloody Boston Marathon runner costume to a Halloween party six months after that tragic bombing. Not only did she lose her job, her parents received death threats and she was shamed off social media.
Who knows what will set off alarm bells this year. There are so many minefields, from politics to religion to gender, that the chances of wearing an insulting costume has probably shot through the roof. This saddens me because the holiday has lost some of its charm and its pleasure.
Granted, I tend to get a little nostalgic for the Halloweens of yore. I remember donning mask and scratchy clothing — costumes that were always too hot for Miami Octobers — to run up and down the sidewalks with my siblings. As a refugee kid, I considered Halloween as American as Thanksgiving. Later, I loved going around with my own children, then stealing my favorites from their candy bags, the better to safeguard their teeth. (Mine were already a lost cause.)
If the number of doorbell rings last year is any indication, traditional trick-or-treating is being replaced with home parties and trick-or-treat events. Like cable TV, like print publishing, music CDs and mailed letters, Halloween is evolving. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Change is often essential. But when adults hijack a beloved childhood tradition, the consequences are hardly ever ideal. Sometimes the kids just know better.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at email@example.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.