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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why Do Older Folks Like Halloween?


Halloween has become a major holiday for adults. With all the adult costumes and parties and haunted house adventures, retailers have turned what used to be a fun celebration for children into a scary marketer's dream.

As a child, I remember celebrating Halloween as a night of trick-or-treating adventure. The hours of collecting candy were longer, and when I got older (later grade school years), I was allowed to take the goody bag around the nearby neighborhoods by myself. As I began to age, Halloween meant a party, a possible costume, and that was pretty much it.

Now, Halloween generates controversy in many respects. Parents worry about content of the candy people pass to their children; some older school-aged people still trick-or-treat; adults spend large sums of money for authentic-looking costumes and decorations; people generate large sums of money with fields or houses featuring gory monsters and apparitions, and businesses throw lavish parties with Halloween themes. Nothing is wrong with all of this. But, one thing is apparent. Halloween isn't just for the kids anymore. The celebration  has grown up.

Opinion pages editor R.L. Stine wrote about a tour he took a couple of years ago around New York City's Halloween haunted houses. Stine said, "As I made my way through the dark, twisting, fake-cobwebbed halls of one of these haunted houses, I was more surprised than frightened by the quantities of gore and blood.

"Screaming ghouls and zombies lurked in every room, with missing body parts, gashed flesh, hatchets embedded in open skulls, blood-soaked entrails hanging from gaping stomach wounds. Bloody handprints smeared the walls and sticky blood puddles stained the floors.

"When I finally staggered outside, shrill shrieks and maniacal laughter ringing in my ears, I gazed at a sign at the entrance I had missed: 'No One Admitted Under 18.'" (R.L. Stine, "Scariest Sight on Halloween? Grownups," The New York Times, October 30 2010)

Most adults have enjoyed the frightening flavor of the season and the opportunity to mask themselves as much as children. As these grownups started decorating and celebrating more and more, Halloween has become much more anticipated by  the older crowd.


Expenses and Halloween 

A National Retail Federation survey conducted by BIGresearch, found an average American will spend $66.28 on costumes, candy and decorations for Halloween this year. Total spending for the holiday will reach  $5.8 billion based on the extrapolation of the U.S. of adults 18+.   

The survey also found the following:

"This year’s data brings great news for retailers selling costumes: this year, the highest percentage of people in the survey’s history will dress up with four out of 10 people (40.1%) planning to don a costume, up from 33.4% in 2009. (An astounding 11.5 percent will dress up their pets as well.) Additionally, 33.3 percent of people will throw/attend a party, nearly three-quarters (72.2%) will hand out candy, 46.3 percent will carve a pumpkin, 20.8 percent will visit a haunted house and 31.7 percent will take their children trick-or-treating. Second only to the winter holidays in terms of plans to decorate, half (50.1%) of consumers celebrating will decorate their home or yard.

"... young adults will be most likely to participate in Halloween activities with 69.4 percent of 18-24 year olds saying they will dress in costume, the highest of any other age group. Young adults are also more likely than any other age group to throw or attend a party (55.4%) and visit a haunted house (38.6%)."  (Kathy Grannis, "After Spooky 2009. Halloween Spending Bounces Back to '08 Levels, According to NRF," National Retail Federation,September 23 2010)

Why Do Adults Celebrate Halloween?

Besides being a good excuse for a silly party, many wonder why adults are becoming increasingly interested in the holiday. Good research is difficult to find; however, some of answers may lie in the following.

1. Halloween history is rooted in a profound need to defy the powers of darkness by making light of them, mocking them. Psychologically healthy, Halloween is an example of a holiday essential to a survival of primitive religion. It's a manner of exorcising evil through a funny carnival. (Theo Hobson, "Halloween Is For Grown-ups Too," www.guardian.co.uk, October 31 2007)

2. Halloween reflects some of society's cultural immaturity: by treating evil in an offhanded, fantastic way, so that everyone does not have to admit true, serious evil exists. C. J. Jung said, “Today as never before it is important that human beings should not overlook the danger of the evil lurking within them. It is unfortunately only too real, which is why psychology must insist on the reality of evil and must reject any definition that regards it as insignificant or actually non-existent. Psychology is an empirical science and deals with realities.” In this statement Jung is not making a theological statement having to do with the metaphysical reality of evil. He is simply pointing at the psychological reality of evil, whose outward effects are evident all around us. Paul Levy, "Triggered By Evil," www.awakeninthedream.com)

3. Dr Sarah-Jayne Gratton, PhD in Psychology and an Advanced Diploma in Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy, says the ritual of putting on a mask to become someone else has been truly embraced in western society, not just as a means of entertainment, but as a means of escape. ("The Modern Psychology of Halloween," www.whydowecelebratehalloween.com, August 5 2010)

Gratton says, "Modern life has never been so easy – or so stressful.  The dichotomy presented by advances in technology is all around us; supposedly developed to make our lives easier, psychological research suggests that they can create a mental prison of inescapable responsibility.  With this in mind, the notion of a faceless boogeyman stalking us has never been more readily embraced by audiences, especially as it may well be linked to these increasingly common feelings of insecurity and disillusionment."

4. Following this release of this fear and as a result of all that adrenalin being pumped through the body, people often experience a similarly positive physiological response, where feelings of giddiness, euphoria and later relaxation weave their addictive charm and keep them coming back for more.

Ki Ann Goosens, a neuroscientist at the McGovern Brain Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says adenalin speeds up the metabolism and makes people feel more alive. People who see something like Freddy Krueger sneaking up on a victim in a movie become alert and aroused, but in control of the experience, which is a plus. “Many people enjoy the sense of control over their fear, turning it on and off, that an imaginary situation such as a movie produces,” said Goosens. ("Halloween Special: Why We Love to Scare Ourselves; the Anatomy of Fright," Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry, October 29 2010)


5. Many analytical psychologists explain that everyone has unconscious, repressed personality traits referred to as the "shadow."  Some of these psychologists believe that people can express their shadows through their costume choices. According to analytical psychology,  John Suler, Ph.D.,  who conducted a study of the psychology of online avatars, called "The Psychology of Avatars and Graphical Space," costumes can reveal hidden personality traits. Suler reports, "Wearing a costume at a real-life party does indeed filter out many of the physical features of your identity. You are somewhat 'anonymous.' But the costume also symbolically highlights aspects of who you are. It amplifies one of your interests, some facet of your personality or lifestyle, or something you wish for." (Briana Rognlin, "Halloween Psychology: Put Your Costume on the Couch," blisstree.com, October 25 2010)

6. Halloween helps provide humans the balance they collectively require, from the hormones in the body all the way up through multifaceted cultural dynamics. In modern times, Halloween cleans the body, the mind, and the spirits while preparing people for the coming of traditions of goodness - like Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. All are reflections of the cycles of balance, small to large, in space, in time, in size, and in life. (David Pincus, "Complexity, Coherence, and Halloween," Psychology Today, October 29 2009)

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