'Boo' -- as in Boom

October 31, 1992

When did Halloween become autumn's Christmas? If memories of our youth are accurate -- and, admittedly, many times they aren't -- we recall Halloween as a night of costuming, going door-to-door for treats, collecting change for charity and then eating candy till we turned chartreuse.

When did homeowners begin festooning their lawns with fake tombstones and spider webs like the set of "The Addams Family"? When did people begin decorating "Halloween trees" with little pumpkin ornaments? You can even buy "pumpkin carving kits," including patterns for designing jack-o-lanterns. Since when are two eyeholes and a zig-zag mouth inadequate?

A spokeswoman for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City says the greeting card company traces the rising popularity of All Saints' Day eve to the mid-'80s. Halloween was a $280 million business then. It rocketed to $390 million, industry-wide, by 1990 and may top $400 million this year because the holiday falls on a weekend. The seasonal novelty industry estimates that 50 percent of Americans decorate their homes for Halloween, second only to the 95 percent who do so for Christmas. About 35 million Halloween cards will be exchanged this year, 30 percent more than five years ago.

"What really changed Halloween is when adults said, 'We can have fun, too,' " according to Steven Baum, president of Greetings & Readings in Towson, which now does as much business in adult goods for Halloween as it does for children. The holiday's appeal for adults hasn't escaped the beverage industry, either. It heavily markets the event to spur Halloween party business. Beer pitch-witch Elvira, "Mistress of the Dark," even starred in a movie a few years back.

What's at the root of all this? Some people attribute the boom in "boo" to (what else?) that "pig in the python," the baby boomers, who a) are nostalgic for their childhoods, b) are never happier than when spending money, and c) never have been able to turn down an excuse for a good party.

Rest assured, 20 years from now, we'll lament the commercialization of Halloween. We can also be certain of where this is not leading:

Happy Arbor Day bashes.

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