Today is Halloween. While I don't have any statistics in front of me, I suspect Halloween may only be second to Christmas as most people's favourite holiday. I know that this is probably true of kids. Growing up, Halloween was definitely the second most holiday of most children in my class at school.
In some respects the holiday seems as if it has changed very little from when I was growing up and in other ways it seems as if it has changed more. One of the ways it has changed is that I think more people decorate their houses for Halloween. When I was a child, it seemed to me that most people didn't decorate for Halloween. And when they did, the decorations were more apt to be homemade: jack o'lanterns, handmade scarecrows and ghosts, and so on. Today it seems as if there are nearly as many Halloween decorations in stores as there are decorations for the Yuletide. And there is an amazing array of them, everything from Halloween lights to pre-made scarecrows, witches, and ghosts, to plastic jack o'lanterns. One big trend of late seems to be the large, lighted inflatables of ghosts, witches, Frakenstein's monsters, and so on. This year my brother got a big inflatable jack o'lantern. It is one of the cheaper ones and he has already made it twice. I don't know if it is representative of all inflatables and if all of them are as flimsily made, but I am not sure they are built to withstand Missouri winds.
Of course, one thing that hasn't really changed is Halloween parties. Indeed, my earliest memory of Halloween is of going to a party with my parents. One thing that has changed is that many schools don't have Halloween parties any more. And even if they do, the kids aren't allowed to wear their costumes to school. I guess Halloween is no longer politically correct for many schools any longer. The strange thing is that it seems to me that more businesses, community clubs, and other private concerns are observing the holiday. I don't know if they are doing it this year, but Columbia Mall usually has its own Halloween bash.
Speaking of Halloween events, haunted houses were popular when I was young and they are still popular. The biggest haunted house around here is FearFest in Columbia. I don't know how long it has been in existence, but it has been many, many years. A lot of people around here make the trip to Columbia just to see FearFest at least once around Halloween.
One thing that has changed since I was a child is that I think trick or treating is not nearly as big as it once was. I remember when I first moved into town we would have perhaps a hundred or more trick or treaters through the night. They would start about 5:30 PM and it would be nonstop until around 8:00 PM. Most Halloweens we would run out of candy. All of this changed around 2000, when the numbers started to inexplicably drop. Now I doubt we have even ten trick or treaters on Halloween, even though more children live in the neighbourhood!
Popular costumes haven't changed very much from when I was a kid. When I was a child it seems to me that the most popular costumes among us kids were the traditional monsters (vampires, witches, Frankenstein monsters) and superheroes. This doesn't seem to have changed much today. According to the National Retail Federation, the most popular costumes among kids in 2005 were princesses, witches, Spider-Man, and monsters. Among adults they were witches, vampires, celebrities, and monsters. Some things never change.
Anyhow, it seems to me that Halloween is bigger than ever. In many respects it has changed a great deal from when I was a child and in many respects it seems to have changed a great deal. One thing I have always thought is that, given the popularity of Halloween, it should be a national holiday. Let's face it, a lot more people celebrate Halloween in the United States than either Labour Day or Columbus Day. And it would make it easier on parents. Since they would have the day off, they would not have to rush home from work and then get the kids ready for a night of trick or treating. Unfortunately, I doubt it will become a national holiday any time soon. Of course, that won't stop more people from celebrating it than most national holidays....