The scary season Adults want to share in the holiday, too, and as a result, decorations are becoming more sophisticated.

October 25, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

It's a horrifying thought. Halloween decorations have gotten, well, tasteful.

It had to happen. In the past few years, Halloween has moved from being one fright night at the end of October to a monthlong decorating frenzy ushering in the holiday season. Once adults joined the celebration in earnest, the ghoulish holiday moved away from dime-store costumes and candy and started to get serious - in a fun sort of way.

For some of us, Halloween decorating has progressed from tombstones on the lawn to more upscale items that often have fall and harvest themes as well.

"Every year it's getting more and more adult-related and sophisticated," says Doug Frisch, merchandise manager at Stebbins Anderson.

This is the first year Margot McClellan has stocked much in the way of Halloween items at Menagerie, her Roland Park gift and accessories shop. There was so much available at the wholesale shows she had to recognize the trend. Some of the new decorative accessories she calls "very artistic."

Many of her customers are baby boomers, she says, and are affluent enough to invest in good things. They enjoy sharing the celebration with their kids.

That may be the central reason why Halloween has become more adult-oriented.

"This particular generation grew up and said, 'We don't have to put this [holiday] away,' " says Jack Santino, professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University. "They did the same thing with rock and roll and comic books and made them art forms."

This year Halloween decorating, if not quite an art form, has taken on an arts-and-crafts feeling.

"I'm seeing it get more sophisticated," says Mary Pat Andrea, owner of two local specialty shops, NightGoods and Hometown Girl. "There are more [decorative items] that will integrate better with the home."

This season, she says, '40s and '50s decor had an influence on some of the Halloween items her stores are carrying, including retro papier mache baskets, black cats and pumpkins. A rusted-looking lantern in the shape of a pumpkin might remind you of something you saw on your grandmother's farm.

"Partly we're going back to the iconographic look of our childhood," says Andrea.

Of course, spider webs and glow-in-the-dark tombstones are still big. Spending on Halloween should top $3 billion this year, reports the National Retail Federation. The dollars spent on home decorating for Halloween are second only to Christmas. You don't produce those kinds of figures by selling Fitz & Floyd tableware in charming harvest patterns.

Halloween is still the fun fall holiday as opposed to serious ones like Thanksgiving and the Jewish New Year. It's a time when adults can suspend critical thinking and judgment.

"Halloween appeals to our darker side," says Russell Hibler, chief psychologist at Union Memorial Hospital. "We're allowed to do some things that are a little bit wicked."

No wonder adults love it as much as kids do.

At the end of the millennium, when Americans seem to be fascinated with spiritualism and the occult, Halloween is a night - now more like a month - of mystery and magic. It's also a holiday with a real sense of community. Neighbors you never speak to the rest of the year come to your door with their kids. You give their children candy and take their pictures.

"It's a revival of the old village feeling, something Americans are hungering for in this technological age," suggests Steve Glosecki, an English professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a specialist in folklore and seasonal festivals.

That may be one reason there's been a shift, as many retailers point out, to decorations more friendly than frightening - smiling ghosts and perky witches.

And speaking of community, Halloween is a time to party, but a particular kind of partying - one where masks hide who we are and give us the freedom to be someone else or misbehave a little. And, of course, parties give us even more excuse to decorate just for the fun of it, particularly this year when Halloween falls on a Saturday night.

In general, we're decorating our homes for all the holidays more, says Carol Scheffler, the arts and crafts contributor for NBC's "Today" show, and Halloween is the prime example. The paradox is that Halloween is both more adult and yet more family-oriented than ever. Scheffler is planning a "Today" segment on decorating for the haunted holiday with your kids. It's scheduled to air Tuesday. Strange to think of Halloween as a whole holiday season, one that involves family values as much as ghastly ghouls, and one that demands nicer decorative accessories.

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