PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) – Stop telling Halloween ghost stories: They're scaring away the customers.
Wondering if there's really a killer with a hook for a hand terrorizing motorists on random lookout spots? Take a drive. Want to repeat “Bloody Mary” into a mirror 13 times to see if a ghost appears? go ahead. Want to say the word “Candyman” five times into that same mirror and see if Tony Todd or Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing projects reappear? Knock yourself out.
As with just about every Halloween myth, repeating it doesn't make it so.
The National Retail Federation suggests the holiday will bring in $7.4 billion this year, with the balance of Halloween spending shifting toward adults based on the $1.3 billion U.S. consumers plan to spend on adult costumes, compared with $1 billion for kids' outfits. And 19% of Americans say that the economy – and its reactions to geopolitical events in Russia, Canada, the Middle East and elsewhere – will have a definite impact on their spending habits.
Keep in mind that the NRF's suggestions are based solely on what consumers say they intend to spend on the holiday, which typically varies tremendously from what they actually spend. In truth, consumers don't need to spend a whole lot on Halloween to pull it off, and the stores that serve them don't need them scared off by the prospect of spending an increasing amount of money on Halloween each year.
We looked at some of the more potent Halloween myths out there and found five that are costly to shoppers and stores alike:
Myth 1: Halloween is closing in on Christmas
While it's true the Great Recession took the cheer out of holiday spending, and a sluggish economic recovery has made Halloween of greater importance to retailers, there's nowhere near enough demand to warrant a dramatic boost in holiday supply.
According to market research firm IBISWorld, Halloween spending in the United States is expected to grow to $7.29 billion this year. That would be lovely and far more than the $5.77 billion consumers spent on Halloween at the beginning of the recession in 2008, but less than half of the $18 billion spent on Mother's Day this year. With the Commerce Department seeing spending increase in seven of the past eight months after holiday shoppers took a cautious approach last year, Halloween succeeds largely because its shoppers aren't all that scared.
Among the retail holiday heavy hitters, Halloween ranks dead last behind Christmas ($68.9 billion by IBISWorld estimates), Valentines Day ($21.6 billion), Mothers Day, Fathers Day ($13.2 billion) and Thanksgiving ($8.2 billion). Turkey Day's spot in the lineup looks more vulnerable this year thanks to increased Halloween spending and Black Friday encroachment. Halloween's 3.4% year-over-year growth lags behind Thanksgiving's 3.7% growth in 2013, but not by much.
So does that mean shoppers might get a reprieve from the holiday creep that already puts candy and costumes in the seasonal aisle by Labor Day? Perhaps. Spending on decorations is expected to increase a sluggish 0.4% this year, but costume spending will jump 5.6%, to $2.72 billion. Hershey, Tootsie Roll, Mondelez and other confectioners will see a big boost in candy sales, as last year's $2.25 billion in spending climbs to $2.34 this year – a change of roughly 4.4%.
Halloween can give sagging third-quarter sales a bit of a boost, but it's still incredibly small compared with the roughly $57 billion spent on Black Friday alone last year. Halloween spending may be a bit more fun, but that winter holiday guilt still brings in a bigger grand total.
Myth 2: Halloween means needles in candy bars
Sorry, helicopter parent, but you're going to have to find some other place for this urban myth. Every year, parents try to dish out a little bit of fear and self-righteousness by putting candy tampering out there as an inherent danger. Every year, they're proven wrong.
”Yeah, well I know a guy who had a kid who had a cousin who this happened to.” Unless you can produce that phantom individual, the only quantifiable case of a child being poisoned by Halloween candy is that of Timothy Marc O'Bryan of Houston, Texas, who died on Halloween night after eating cyanide-laced Pixie Stix. That candy was tainted by Robert Clark O'Bryan, Timothy's father, and given to Timothy and his siblings, who hadn't eaten it. Robert Clark O'Bryan was executed for that crime back in 1984.
As Snopes makes clear, however, reports of candy poisonings before or since have been largely bogus. While there are documented cases of people shoving foreign objects into treats, the razor-blade-in-the-apple bit died out more than 50 years ago, while the more recent accounts of numbskulls putting pins into candy involve no serious injuries and no deaths. Beyond that, you have a lot of hoaxes that a rash of Tylenol poisonings in 1982 did little to help.
Still, this doesn't prevent parents from tossing pounds of candy and other treats every year on specious grounds. A razor blade isn't exactly the easiest thing to hide in a piece of candy – fun-size or otherwise – while a tampered wrapper is just as obvious. Unless you're just trying to eat some of your child's Halloween stash in the name of “safety,” stop throwing other people's money away.
Myth 3: Your child will be abducted on Halloween night
There are apps that turn your child's mobile phone into trackable homing devices. The government used to charge nearly $200 for a GPS device you could attach to your child to connect him or her to its Amber Alert system.
A full 15% of parents told children's advocacy group SafeKids that they fear their child will be abducted this Halloween. Everybody knows this, and everyone tries to make money off of that unreasonable fear.
Yes, it's unreasonable. There are more parents out on the streets and neighbors in doorways on Halloween than on any other cold night of the year, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's asserts there are no more child abductions on Halloween than on any other night. In fact, a 2009 study in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years and found that children faced no greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween than at any other time.
Not only do parents spend money to track their kids electronically and turn them into walking ADT systems – with a Pew Research Study indicating that two out of three U.S. parents do so regardless of the family friction that creates when those kids grow into teens – but they spend almost zero on something that's an actual Halloween danger: injuries from being hit by cars.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AAA point out frequently that Oct. 31 is the most dangerous night of the year for child pedestrians. More than twice as many children are killed in pedestrian/car accidents on Halloween between 4 and 10 p.m. than during the same hours on any other day of the year.
A combined 39% of parents will worry about their kids being abducted or poisoned this Halloween, but only 18% will put some reflective tape on that same kid to prevent them from being injured or killed by an oncoming car. Another 37% will send their child out into the dark with a flashlight. They're called priorities, and maybe parents should go trick-or-treating for some of them this year.
Myth 4: Halloween is the devil
Stop being the dad from Footloose and start realizing that Halloween isn't some sort of demon holiday spawned from pure evil.
Eternal damnation is a strong spending deterrent, but linking Halloween to Satan or any other supreme evil being in any form other than costume is a fundamental misunderstanding of the holiday's origins. Halloween traces its roots back to the harvest celebration of Samhain first celebrated in Celtic countries. Samhain marked the end of the summer, the reaping of that year's crop and a remembrance of the dead. By the Ninth Century, however, Pope Gregory IV saw fit to plant Christianity's All Hallows' Eve, All Hallows' Day (All Saints Day) and All Souls Day around the Nov. 1 date once occupied solely by Samhain.
As yet another step in the uneasy marriage of Celtic and Christian tradition (“Mom, was there a tree in the manger?”), modern Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales celebrated Samhain with “mumming and guising” as early as the 16th Century. That tradition involved people going house-to-house in disguise reciting poems and song in exchange for food. In England, meanwhile, the practice of “Souling” began in the 15th Century and involved baking “soul cakes” and sharing them with the poor who went door-to-door collecting them.
To this day in countries including Italy, France, Mexico and Spain, the days surrounding what is known here as Halloween are still dedicated primarily to remembering the dead and are marked with the visiting and decoration of relatives' graves. Even in the U.S., Dia De Los Muertos celebrations are still focused on remembering those who have died.
In fact, the only folks who really had a problem with Halloween, until recently, were the Puritans. The influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 19th and 20th Century brought Halloween into mainstream consciousness and began the celebration that we know today. There are still outliers who consider it “Satan's Birthday” – though Satan isn't mortal and predated our current calendar by a long stretch – and spread rumors such as those published on Alex Jones' conspiracy website InfoWars, which claims that Satanic groups in the U.S. breed children to sacrifice on Halloween. That the Church of Satan felt compelled to dispel that claim only further suggests that those boycotting Halloween are doing so only at everyone else's expense.
Myth 5: Black cats are bad luck/Satanic sacrifices
This is false, but that doesn't stop it from killing numerous cats each year.
The folks at Snopes hedged so much on this one that the grown-ups at National Geographic had to step in and dispel this myth once and for all: No, there are no cat-killing cults or groups of Satanists (whatever people think that means) collecting black cats for mutilation or slaughter around Halloween.
What National Geographic did find, however, was that veterinary professionals throughout the United States would routinely suspend black cat adoptions on Halloween based solely on hearsay. While they were motivated by the well-being of the animals, their unfounded fears are preventing cats from being adopted and demonizing the black cats themselves.
By worrying about the largely fictional slaughter of black cats, these same vets are unwittingly sending hundreds to thousands of black cats to their execution. A study conducted by the University of California at Berkeley last year found that black cats are already far less likely to be adopted from shelters than their siblings of other colors. A 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science looked into nine months of adoptions at a California pound found that black cats were about half as likely to be adopted as tabby cats and two-thirds less likely than white cats. Of the 3,000 cats of all colors that came into the pound during that time, only around 600 (20%) found homes. The rest were euthanized.
Cats have it tough enough as it is. The Humane Society estimates that 3 million to 4 million cats enter shelters each year, and only half are adopted. The rest, including disproportionate numbers of black cats, are euthanized.
We're going to put this as simply as we can: Unless a black cat is in a no-kill shelter such as Black Cat Rescue in Boston, its chances for post-Halloween survival aren't good. Halloween is just about the only time of year the general population is thinking about black cats in anything other than the most superstitious light. If a shelter is preventing them from being adopted on that day, it's throwing away the cost of caring for them up to that point and, potentially, throwing away their lives.
This isn't just some silly superstition: It's a flat-out lie that kills cats. If you want to help a black cat on Halloween, give it a good home.
— By Jason Notte for MainStreet
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