Shops cash in as Britons dress up for Hallowe'en

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The Independent Online

Once it was celebrated by nothing more exuberant than a carved pumpkin. These days, Hallowe'en has been transformed into a multimillion-pound bonanza for the shops.

This year, Britain's retail giants have stepped up the commercialisation of the night when spooks and ghouls are celebrated.

Sainsbury's is selling four times as much Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night merchandise than last year and Woolworth's has 224 Hallowe'en products on its shelves, a third of them aimed at adults.

Not surprisingly, children are targeted with a range of costumes, trick or treat sweets and luminous battery-operated ghosts.

For retailers, Hallowe'en represents a welcome staging post on the long march to Christmas.

Attempts to take more money during one of the smaller events exemplifies the rise of seasonal retailing that has brought the commercial start of Christmas earlier each year.

The shops say there are many reasons for the growing celebration of 31 October, which is an entertaining party for some but also he biggest event on the calendar for pagans.

Woolworth's said that although Hallowe'en had traditionally been a mock-scary night for children, grown-ups were the ones making it more popular. "We have seen a shift away from people holding parties for Guy Fawkes Night and more celebrating Hallowe'en with their children," a spokesman said.

"Adults are increasingly turning Hallowe'en into an excuse for a dress-up party."

Marks & Spencer, which is selling a young witch's wardrobe - purple dress, pointy hat, pumpkin bag and broomstick - said many of the retailers had become more "inventive".

The wand-waving hand of Harry Potter, whose next movie adventure is released next month, has also raised interest in witchcraft and sorcery among children.

British children are also adopting the popular American practice of trick or treating.

Market researchers do not know the total value of the Hallowe'en market but Mintel said confectionery sales had doubled in three years to £4m last year.

One retail analyst reckoned the market for Hallowe'en products was growing apace every year. "The effort, importance and emphasis given to Hallowe'en has risen," said Richard Clark, managing director of BCMR market research

"There is more merchandise, more marketing, and more space in-store."

The bonanza comes at a good time for retailers, after a summer in which shoppers have been hit by higher interest rates and petrol prices.

But Britain's 30,000 paganists are divided over whether the high street is cheapening their most sacred festival. Hallowe'en is based on the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, a time when dead spirits can mix with the real world.

For some paganists, the sale of such cheap goods as plastic spiders and chocolate "pumpkin balls" is decidedly unwelcome.

Sarah Vivian, a regional co-ordinator for the Pagan Federation whose social circle includes witches, said: "It's getting more and more garish and lurid and bizarre every year. I spotted some three-inch green fingernails in the post office and it said: 'For witches' and I thought: Really! The shelf space in Tesco's seems to have multiplied. There's about half an aisle full now."

Ms Vivian, a painter, from St Just, Cornwall, said: "Individual pagans feel differently about it according to circumstances. I know some pagans with families who like involving their children in dressing up and trick or treating and think it's fine. But other people who are perhaps older will be disturbed by the commercialisation.

"Myself, I think it's quite sad that something that is the depth of seriousness has become so completely trivialised."