Why are we so scared of Hallowe'en? In America at this time of year there are pumpkins on every porch - real or electric - jack o' lantern leaf bags in every garden and ghostly bits of sheet fluttering in the shrubs.

Newsagents' racks creak under the weight of cards, and every self-respecting country store sells candles, badges, stickers and black-and-orange candy.

Here you are lucky to see a single pumpkin lantern.

Our resistance to Hallowe'en celebrations may be due to a national shortage of Roman Catholics (it was, after all, originally a religious festival) or a stubborn refusal to absorb any more Americana. But the season of ill-will seems to be creeping in, nevertheless.

Look around the shops. Your local stationers' may have little more than a couple of skeleton keyrings, but in the chain stores there are distinct signs of un-life. Marks & Spencer, for example, has ghost and pumpkin cakes, trick-or-treat bags and a chocolate Dracula in a cardboard coffin.

Thorntons, the chocolate chain, is selling jelly bats, chocolate witches and Hocus Pocus bags. And, the stores say, the demand is increasing.

Thorntons has been selling Hallowe'en goods for a decade, but has seen demand grow recently. 'Sales have increased in the past three years, and we doubled our turnover in the two weeks of Hallowe'en last year,' said product buyer Maureen Fabiano.

Lynn Dawes of Amscan, an importer of Hallowe'en tableware and toys, agrees that demand is up: 'It started three years ago when Hallowe'en fell at the weekend, and it hasn't fallen off.'

At the Kensington branch of London's Non Stop Party Shops (stop here for skeleton candles, pumpkin earrings and Happy Hallowe'en] toilet paper), Hallowe'en has become even bigger than Christmas. 'This is our busiest time of year,' said Dawn McFarlane, the manageress, 'Hallowe'en has got really quite mega. People are seeing pubs, restaurants and hotels decorated for Hallowe'en, and they want to do it at home.'

But even if we are giving grisly gifts, the whole Hallowe'en package may be harder to swallow. Hallowe'en cards - sent in the States by adults as well as children ('Hallowe'en will be ghastly without you'; 'Will you be looking ghoulish, grotesque and absolutely horrifying tonight . . . or will you be wearing a mask?') - leave us baffled. British card manufacturers, often accused of creating phoney holidays, have no plans to cash in. Catherine Sutcliffe, of the best-selling The Ink Group, said: 'We're cautious because card companies are often criticised for over-commercialising things. But if there was a demand, then of course we'd do them.'

The style-conscious are also wary of decorating their homes with battery-operated spiders and bleeding eyeball candles. But New Englanders take the sophisticated approach: a jack o' lantern in the window, corn stooks in the garden and piles of gourds on the porch. It can be as tasteful or as tacky as you want.

Hallowe'en US-style may be drawing nigh, a chilling prospect for some. But anything that interrupts the four-month shopping countdown to Christmas is fine by me.

(Photograph omitted)