Before we get into the who, what, and how much of a typical American Halloween, we wanted to first take a look at the holiday’s origins and where a few of our modern traditions (like jack-o’-lanterns) came from.
A Brief History
Halloween in the United States has morphed quite a bit from its origins roughly two millennia ago. The essence of the holiday started with the Celts and was then filtered through several different cultures and Christianity to become the holiday we know today.
It all began with Samhain around 2000 years ago, also held on October 31. The Celts believed that the division between the human and spirit worlds became crossable on that night and that spirits would cross over to wreak havoc on crops and cause mischief.
The Celts wore costumes to protect themselves from the evil spirits.
In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated November 1 as All Saint’s Day—a day to honor Christian martyrs and saints with feasting and celebration. This day was sometimes called All Hallow’s Day, and the night before (October 31) later came to be known as All Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en.
In the American colonies, a mixture of Native American and European traditions blended to produce fall festivities that included harvest celebrations, where party-goers would tell each other’s fortunes, dance, and tell stories of those who had died. This later came to include telling ghost stories.
In American in the late 1800s, Halloween had morphed into large community parties, where children and adults dressed in costumes and played games. Trick-or-treating was added to the mix and became widespread between 1920 and 1950.
And just why is it called trick-or-treating? Originally, if a family gave treats to the neighborhood children, they would escape having tricks, or Halloween pranks played on them.
We discuss the history of jack-o’-lanterns and pumpkin carving later on this article because that’s how special they are; but, before we do, we take a look at some general statistics regarding Halloween.
How much are we really spending for Halloween, anyway? And do other countries celebrate Halloween? The answers may surprise you. Here is the percentage of people who planned to participate in Halloween activities last year:
As you can see, more than two-thirds of Americans planned to celebrate Halloween in 2018. The charts below break down total Halloween spending in the United States, followed by Halloween shopping purchases by category last year.
As you can see in the chart above, in 2005, planned total spending for Halloween was just over $3 billion. By 2018, that had risen to $9 billion—nearly tripling in that 13 year period.
So what were Americans planning to purchase with their $9 billion? We take a look below.
It should come as no surprise that 95 percent of Americans who intended to celebrate Halloween planned to buy candy for trick-or-treaters; but did you know that more than two-thirds of Americans celebrating the holiday planned to buy costumes?
And over 70 percent of celebrants planned to buy decorations.
More than one-third (37 percent) of consumers planned to purchase Halloween cards.
Although candy was being purchased by 95 percent of Halloween shoppers, costumes took the lion’s share of the amount spent in 2018—coming in at a projected $3.2 billion.
Decorations took second place, at $2.7 billion, with candy coming in right behind at $2.6 billion in projected sales for 2018.
Those purchasing greeting cards for Halloween were only projected to spend around $400,000,000.
But Americans aren’t the only ones who shell out money for Halloween.
We looked at data from Canada and the United Kingdom to see what our neighbors to the north and our friends across the pond do for Halloween, laid out in the charts below.
In 2015, Canadians planned to spend an average of $317 (Canadian) on the holiday, with the largest amount going for parties, followed by alcohol with an average of $55 (Canadian) and costumes at an average of $52 (Canadian).
In the chart above, you can see that spending across all categories in the United Kingdom has increased over the four year period in our chart.
Costumes/clothing took the lead with an estimated £166,000,000 spent in 2017, followed by food (includes candy) at an estimated £140,000,000 in 2017.
There is a large gap in spending between food and decorations and entertainment, with each staying below £100,000,000 for every year in our chart.
So how are we celebrating this holiday in the U.S.? We take a look at what men and women were planning to do last year in the chart below.
Nearly the same percentage of men and women (70 percent) planned on giving out Halloween candy to their trick-or-treating neighbors, while 14 percent more women planned to decorate than men (42 percent of men versus 56 percent of women).
Slightly more men were planning to host or attend Halloween parties, (34 percent) compared to 30 percent of women planning on celebrating the holiday this way.
Interestingly, more women than men planned both to dress up and carve pumpkins.
Since most celebrants (95 percent) planned to hand out candy, we decided to take a closer look below.
Delicious, Delicious Candy
Did you know that the average American child will consume around 3 cups of sugar on Halloween? That’s not all from trick-or-treating, as some of it comes from Halloween parties at school or elsewhere.
The American Heart Association recommends that children consume no more than 25 grams of sugar per day—so children’s average Halloween consumption is more than 16 times the recommended maximum. Yikes!
We take a look at a few statistics about Halloween candy in the chart below.
As you can see from the chart above, the vast majority of Americans hand out mini or snack-sized versions of candy to trick-or-treaters, and most parents will sample the candy their children bring home (even if the kids aren’t aware of it!)
Chocolate continues its reign as America’s favorite Halloween candy, but a stubborn 10 percent stick with candy corn as their favorite candy for Halloween. Do you have any friends or family who share the survey respondents’ love of candy corn?
We’ve got the candy—now all we need are some costumes! But who are we buying them for?
Halloween costumes aren’t just for kids—more and more adults are buying costumes for themselves, and even for their pets! In fact, in 2017, Americans spent around $440,000,000 on pet costumes alone. We break down the costume spending trends below.
As you can see from the chart above, Americans spent more on costumes for adults in every year of our survey than they did on costumes for children.
In fact, in 2017, Americans spent more than $1.6 billion for adult costumes and only around $1.2 billion on children’s costumes, a $400,000,000 difference.
Spending on pet costumes has increased from $220,000,000 in 2010 to $440,000,000 in 2017—doubling in that seven-year period.
So what were the most popular costumes in each group? According to the National Retail Federation, the top five costumes for pets in 2018 were (in order of popularity):
- Hot Dog
- Bumble Bee
We’re going out on a limb and assuming the cat costume was for dogs, although a cat dressed as a cat for Halloween would be the ultimate trick!
For children and adults, the order was as follows:
Surprisingly, the top adult and child costumes shared seven characters in common, with only Frozen characters, Spider Man, and princesses not making the adult list.
Ghosts held the number eight spot for both children and adults, and while witches were the number one choice for adults, this costume only made it to number five for children.
Vampires, zombies, and clowns were the only adult costumes that didn’t make the children’s list.
Did any of your favorites make the top ten? (And come on, who hasn’t dressed their dog as a hot dog for Halloween at least once?)
If you’re more creatively inclined and want to make a costume instead of buying one, where can you go to find cool, unique costume ideas? The infographic below shows where people were going last year to find Halloween inspiration.
Most people just did a quick online search for costumes to see what came up (around 35 percent), followed closely by browsing in the store to check out what was trending.
Interestingly, print media and Instagram were both used by nearly 12 percent of costume seekers to get ideas.
Where are we buying Halloween costumes? At a wide variety of locations! Check out the chart below for the specifics.
Nearly half of Americans purchased their Halloween costumes at discount stores, followed by specialty shops focusing on only costumes. Surprisingly, around 10 percent of Americans bought costumes at home décor stores, although it’s unclear what exactly they were purchasing.
While costumes take up a large portion of Halloween spending, they’re not the only things Americans splurge on for the holiday. Spending on decorations is nothing to sneeze at.
Don’t Forget the Decorations!
While putting up Halloween decorations isn’t as popular (yet) as putting up Christmas decorations, plenty of Americans still plan on it. In fact, last year, Americans planned to spend $2.7 billion on decorations for Halloween, including jack-o’-lanterns.
We explore pumpkin carving a bit more in the infographic below.
Last year nearly 148,000,000 Americans planned to carve jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween, slightly down from 150,000,000 in 2017. But do you know where that tradition came from? Well, it’s a bit complicated, but here’s a brief run-down.
The name comes from an Irish legend of a tricky man named, you guessed it, Jack. He managed to trick the devil at least twice and was cursed to roam the Earth as something neither alive nor dead with only a burning coal to light his wanderings. He was renamed “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack-o’-Lantern.”
It’s believed that people soon began carving root vegetables with faces on them to protect their homes from Jack (and any other evil spirits that happened to be wandering around in the dark).
In America in the mid-1800s, pumpkin-carving pranks started to become popular among children, in which they’d carve a face on a pumpkin, place a candle inside, and run up to people in the dark trying to scare them.
Over time, the legend of Jack-o’-Lantern, with his ghostly light seen after dark, and the ghostly faces carved in pumpkins that scared people at night became associated with each other in the United States, and that marriage produced the modern pumpkin carving tradition we know in America today.
While giving out candy, decorating our homes, and dressing up for Halloween are all fun aspects of the holiday, parents remain fearful for their children’s safety on this night, and we look at some crime statistics on Halloween to sort fact from scary ghost stories.
While Halloween is supposed to be a fun night for children, there always seem to be stories about increased crime on this night, and for decades, parents have worried about their children’s safety.
In fact, we break down the results of a recent survey below.
Are the treats kids get on Halloween really sabotaged in some way? And will everyone make it home ok? We took a look at crime statistics for Halloween to hopefully help ease some fears and set the record straight.
The only two deaths from tainted Halloween candy that have ever been confirmed both occurred in the 1970s, and in both cases the candy was poisoned by the affected child’s family members (not strangers).
In the first case, the child’s candy was tainted with heroin to hide the fact that the drugs belonged to family members. In the second case, the father wanted to cash in on a life insurance policy he’d taken out on his child.
The first confirmed case of a stranger tampering with Halloween candy occurred in 2000, when the perpetrator placed needles inside candy bars. The result? One child was poked by a needle when biting into the candy, but there were no other injuries.
Since that time, most of the reported incidents of tampering have been proven to be pranks pulled on unsuspecting parents by their children, or by one child on another, and were not actually caused by a stranger tampering with the candy prior to giving it out.
In fact, a telephone hotline was initially set up in 1982 by candy manufacturers to gather data from police reports on candy that had been tampered with, and in the 37 years since, the hotline has never received a verified report of candy being tampered with by strangers.
All this means that, while there may certainly be people with bad intentions out there handing out candy on Halloween, the chance that your child will receive treats that have been tampered with is incredibly slim. It’s still a good idea to examine your child’s candy before they eat anything, however.
So if your child’s candy is reasonably safe, then what about all the child-abductions that are taking place on Halloween?
A 2009 study in the academic publication Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment found that there was no increase in the rate of sex crimes against children just before or on Halloween.
The study further found that for the dates of October 29-November 1, only nine non-family child abductions had occurred in a five-year period, and none of those appeared to be related to trick-or-treating.
A similar 2010 study published in the Ohio State Law Journal found that only 0.001 percent of missing or abducted American children were taken by strangers. That’s one thousandth of one percent of all children who are missing/abducted.
The remaining 99.999 percent have either run away or have been taken by a relative or acquaintance of the family/child.
According to 2018 data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, less than 1 percent of missing children were abducted by strangers; meaning that these numbers have remained steady over time, and your child is not likely to be abducted by a stranger on Halloween or at any other time of year.
However, certain crimes do increase on Halloween, and these are laid out in the infographic below.
The biggest issues on Halloween are pedestrian-vehicle accidents, drunk driving, theft, vandalism, and in Boston, violent crime. Other cities, such as Los Angeles, did not report an increase in the violent crime rate on Halloween compared to any other day, and we could not find other cities reporting a jump in violent crime on par with Boston.
All that to say, Halloween tends to be as safe as any other day for children—except when it comes to vehicles, in large part because there are so many more children walking along roadways in the dark at Halloween, combined with an increase in drunk driving.
Is alcohol use really that prevalent on Halloween? We take a look below.
Alcohol and Halloween
Believe it or not, online searches for alcohol (specifically “wine” or “liquor”) jump dramatically in October, and have since 2004.
Millennials tend to drink more than other age groups, and it’s believed that they are driving the increased alcohol consumption on Halloween.
And of course, adult Halloween parties typically include alcohol in some form. In fact, on college campuses, Halloween has been added to the list of binge-drinking days by health care providers.
There are now a myriad of Halloween and pumpkin-themed drinks available, from pumpkin-spiced rum to pumpkin beers, with some drinks even coming in pumpkin-shaped bottles. One wine company saw a jump in sales after wrapping their bottles in Halloween-themed packaging.
One ER doctor noted that puncture wounds increase on Halloween, partially due to mixing alcohol and pumpkin carving.
We look at binge drinking and the holiday in the chart below.
Halloween wasn’t the holiday with the largest percentage of binge drinkers, but it did beat out Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and Labor Day for both men and women. (New Year’s Eve took the top spot, in case anyone was wondering.)
But this is still a sobering statistic for Halloween, which remains primarily a children’s holiday, with nearly one in five men binge drinking on this day, and more than one in ten women.
The biggest drinkers were between the ages of 20-24, followed by those who were aged 30-34, and men drank an average of 4 alcoholic beverages on Halloween compared to 2.9 for women. (The 19 and 12 percent of binge-drinking men and women drank more than the averages noted here.)
The top three alcoholic beverages of choice on Halloween were beer, tequila, and vodka. If you plan to consume alcohol on this holiday, be smart, be safe, and keep an extra sharp eye out for all the young trick-or-treaters out there!
Roughly 70 percent of Americans celebrate Halloween in some way, with 95 percent of those handing out candy. Americans spent a mind-boggling $9 billion on Halloween last year, with even our pets getting in on the action!
While car accidents, drinking, and drunk driving do tend to increase over the holiday, violent crimes appear to be no worse in most of the country than on any other day; and child abductions and tampered treats remain extremely rare occurrences.
So don’t be scared to enjoy Halloween this year!
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