Check It Out: hallowe'en

YOU'RE WALKING in the pitch black. Eerie noises echo behind you and ahead there is spooky laughter. Although you can barely see two steps ahead of you, you carry on. Just then, a hand tugs at your sleeve. Your heart leaps. You let out a scream that hasn't escaped your lungs since the day your brother put a dead mouse in your lunch box. You turn to see a small creature, dripping with blood, bulging eyes staring out from rotting flesh. "Trick or treat, it's Hallowe'en!" shrieks the little devil. Then he produces a Trick or Treat bag with a blood-red Tesco logo on it, stuffed full of moody Mars bars.

Was Hallowe'en really once a great Celtic festival? Today, retailers have taken over the event to such an extent that you need a vivid imagination to lose yourself in its ghostly appeal. In America, things are different. Hallowe'en is fast becoming a bad taste holiday for adults celebrating the latest scandal. Last year's hit was a Mike Tyson mask, complete with a rubbery section of Evander Holyfield's ear. This year, "Wild Bill", a Clinton look-a-like mask covered in lipstick kisses with a panting tongue, is the thing to buy. The Hallowe'en holiday has become a $2.5bn (pounds 1.5bn) retail bonanza making it the second biggest holiday after Christmas in terms of sales.

This year, Hallowe'en falls on a Saturday, so there is every reason to make it party night. You may even find your children tempted to stay indoors and play games like apple bobbing. Safeway (01622 712987 for nearest store) has everything you need for a tasteful Halloween party. Decorate with black and orange balloons (pounds 1.49 for 12), and Trick or Treat Lights in witch, bat or skeleton designs (pounds 2.99). Safeway's Pumpkin Making Kit (pounds 4.99) is free during October with 400 ABC Loyalty Card points. If you want to make your own decorations, W H Smith (contact your local store for availability) has a Black and Orange Craft Card with Hallowe'en Stencils (pounds 2.99). For more ideas, try the Hallowe'en Activity Book (B Small Publishing, pounds 3.50).

Gap (0800 427789 for nearest store), which like Safeway is an American retailer, has a Hallowe'en freebie. Make any purchase at Gap Kids on Hallowe'en and you receive a free flashlight that hangs around your neck.

The night is synonymous with candy, and Marks & Spencer (0171 935 4422 for enquiries) has delicious chocolate or jelly treats decorated with witches and ghosts. The Fabric Pumpkin Bag (pictured far left) filled with 15 chocolate figures (pounds 4.99) would be most children's choice. For bigger appetites, try the BHS (0171 262 3288 for enquiries) Hallowe'en Bag, stuffed with popcorn and marshmallows (pounds 2.50) or candy canes filled with orange and black jelly beans (pounds 2.00).

Ordning & Reda has stationery decorated with a ghost's silhouette available by mail order (0171 240 8090) or from its stores in Covent Garden and Guildford. The Ghost Notebook (pictured left) costs pounds 6.50 and makes a stylishly spooky child's gift; or try the Ghost Photo Album for a family present (pounds 21.00). Also popular this year for children is Batty, a flapping bat character from the Beanie Babies Collection. Available from all good toy shops, Batty has Velcro strips so you can attach one bat to another (pounds 3.99). Happy haunting...

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