The orange Halloween lights went up early this year. And in our neighborhood, there seemed to be a lot more of them—along with tiny ghost dolls hanging from trees, cobweb-like fabric stretched across porches, plastic spiders perched on roofs, and bloody plastic hands emerging from cardboard gravestones. For some reason, Halloween seems to have become a bigger deal than it used to be.
It’s not just an impression. In 1999 Halloween became the second-biggest American holiday, based on the amount of money spent on decorations. According to Unity Marketing, Americans spent $659 million on Halloween stuff in 1999, pushing it ahead of Easter into the No. 2 spot. (Christmas is easily No. 1, with $1.9 billion spent on decorating.)
If festivals reveal something about the concerns of our culture, we have to wonder about the meaning of this new emphasis on Halloween. What does it tell us about Americans at the turn of the 21st century?