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The History of Halloween and Why Americans Spend $7 Billion on It — Second Only to Christmas

The History of Halloween and Why Americans Spend $7 Billion on It — Second Only to Christmas

Halloween’s depiction as a fun, family-oriented, and community-focused holiday has come a long way.

As with many holidays, what may have started as a religious ritual or cultural celebration has given way to Big Business — as Halloween spending in the United States is second only to that of Christmas.

Yet it’s always fascinating to think of the history of Halloween or any holiday, and to recount how we came to observe the same rituals year after year.

So I decided to research into the history of halloween and better still, share it with you!


The History of Halloween


The Celts

Halloween is thought to have originated with a group of ancient peoples known as the Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in an area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France.  The Celts celebrated the new year on November 1, coinciding with the end of summer, the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter — a time of year that was often associated with human death.

As can be imagined, the history of Halloween has much to do with the weather this time of year.  Of course, there was no global warming back then, and today we usually don’t have to wear coats over our costumes.

Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.  Celtic priests would make predictions about the future and huge bonfires were built during which the Celts wore costumes of animal heads and skins to ward off roaming ghosts and spirits.

That’s right:  the idea of wearing a costume you may have purchased for $20 in Wal-Mart originated over 2,000 years ago.  So when you are about to buy your costume, think about the history of Halloween.


The Romans

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, several festivals of Roman origin were rolled into Samhain.  In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs.  The holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween.


The Americans

The history of Halloween would eventually need to include its arrival to the New World.  Halloween arrived in Colonial America — but was very limited due to the strict Protestant beliefs.  However, as the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups as well as the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. (In America, we’re good at incorporating traditions and beliefs from different groups, aren’t we?)

However, by the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was surprisingly not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.  Soon though, in the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants — especially the Irish.  Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.

Indeed, trick-or-treating is quite an old American practice.  The next time you buy those bags of fun size candy at Walgreens, you can thank the history of Halloween for maintaining this tradition.

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. These parties focused on games, foods of the season (can we say pumpkin pie?) and festive costumes. Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century (like Christmas, in a way — but that’s another story).

The history of Halloween continued to evolve.  By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween morphed into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as costume contests and pumpkin picking.


And these activities add up to quite a bit of money

Today, Americans spend an estimated $7 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday behind Christmas.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail industry trade group, about 157 million Americans will celebrate Halloween in 2015 and the total spending is expected to reach $6.9 billion this year. According to their research, consumers spent the following on Halloween-related merchandise and activities in 2013:

$75.03: The average amount the celebrating consumer spends on décor, costumes, candy and fun

$2.6 billion: Spending on costumes, from the 43.6 percent of people who plan to dress up. Children’s costumes rack up $1.04 billion while adult costumes alone are about $1.22 billion.

$330 million: The expected spend on pet costumes for the 13.8% of those who say they dress their pet.

$66: The average amount an individual spends on a costume.

$39: The average amount an individual spends on candy.

$2.08 billion: The total amount spent on candy.

$1.96 billion: The total amount spent on life-size skeletons, fake cob webs, mantle pieces and other festive decorations.

$360 million: The total amount spent on greeting cards.

$6.9 billion: Total estimated spending on Halloween in 2013.

And as you can imagine, the numbers can only be expected to grow higher this year.  Other categories of spending, such as on non-candy food and beverages for parties, or how much corporations spend on Halloween events for their employees, aren’t included in these figures.

Of course, the history of Halloween as told by the dollars spent on costumes and festivities through the centuries does not exist.  Yet it is fascinating that the holiday has transcended centuries, continents, and even religions.

How will you celebrate Halloween this year?


Now, you can use PurpleSlate mobile app to plan a get-together or small celebration, and if you’re out of ideas, ask your friends to contribute!

Add some style to the history of Halloween via a special gathering, using PurpleSlate as your invitation maker on your mobile. Don’t forget to make your photos spookier by using the mobile app’s photo editor and use the in-app messenger to share it with whom you like.


Posted by Jake Wengroff on October 15, 2015.

Jake WengroffI have served as the Founding Chairman of the Social Media Strategies Summit, and have written for publications such as and InformationWeek. I have been quoted in Time, Reuters, Bloomberg, and other publications on the topics of social media and marketing. If you enjoyed reading this post, join our email list to get free email updates.

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