Trick or treat: Is Halloween another tacky American import or a bit of harmless fun that boosts the economy?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Heidi Scrimgeour explains why her children will be roaming the streets in scary costumes tonight

As urban legends go, the one about unsuspecting trick-or-treaters having their Halloween loot spiked with razor blades is pretty chilling. Spookier still is the "fact" that the only records of serious injury resulting from poisoned booty involved children booby-trapping the items themselves, or parents poisoning their own offspring. I suspect those rumours, like the one about hospitals offering to X-ray trick-or-treat sweets, are also the stuff of legend – but none the less it's enough to put us paranoid parents off altogether. And yet my children have been at near coma-inducing levels of excitement about their plans for weeks. Their outfits are ready, so too their plastic pumpkin buckets, and their last words before falling asleep each night are a variation of "How many more sleeps now, Mama?"

This is one of those classic parenting moments in which I theoretically adhere to one school of thought while practising another entirely. Some people call that hypocrisy; I prefer to think of it as the inbuilt survival instinct of a parent. Because, come tea-time today, I will be watching from a safe distance (about two feet) while my sons, aged three and four and a half, knock on the doors of our neighbours in a thinly-veiled attempt to beg strangers for items that are usually contraband except for on Fridays, special occasions, or when Mama needs to meet an urgent deadline. You see? It makes no sense. I spend all year instructing them never to talk to strangers but, for one night only, I'll actively encourage them to dress up as flesh-eating zombies and demand sugar-laden treats from people they don't know. Why?

Well, why not? I've heard all the arguments against trick-or-treating, from legitimate safety concerns, to the idea that it's just plain rude to let children knock on doors to demand treats. But I've still yet to hear an argument that counters the wonderment and excited glee that trick-or-treating elicits.

I wouldn't have considered trick-or-treating before we moved to a sleepy coastal town in Northern Ireland. In London we were unlikely to knock on a neighbour's door except to ask them to turn the music down but here, Halloween is huge and it seems churlish not to join in the fun, which culminates with a street parade and a fireworks display over the harbour. It surprised me to learn that Halloween originated in Ireland, and only became big in America in the mid-19th century when the potato famine drove more than one million Irish immigrants across the water. So it's not just a tacky US import after all, and we get to indulge in trick-or-treating in the name of embracing our Irish cultural heritage.

Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is said to have its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, sometimes regarded as the Celtic New Year. The tradition of trick-or-treating is an adaptation of the medieval practice of souling, where people would offer to sing and say prayers for the dead in return for food. In recent times the "trick" element has made headlines, with feverish talk of knife-wielding hooligans using the opportunity to terrorise the elderly and vulnerable, and rumours that some London boroughs had attempted to ban trick-or-treating altogether. That is precisely why I'm inclined to indulge my little zombies in their Halloween excitement. If we're too afraid of our own shadows to exchange pleasantries with our neighbours, then something's up with society.

Trick-or-treating might afford my children a unique opportunity to understand giving, sharing and neighbourliness. The best maths lesson I've ever had? Dividing up the Halloween spoils with my brother and our cousins. Far from banging on doors rudely demanding treats, trick-or-treating strikes me as a jolly good excuse to strike up conversations with the strangers we live next door to.

What's more, it's good for the economy. Halloween is now a multi-million pound industry in the UK, with some retailers seeing 31 October emerging as the second most lucrative trading period of the year after Christmas (and overtaking Easter, too). Last year, sales of Halloween items, including costumes, themed food and drink, sweets and decorations, were expected to top £195m, rising from an estimated £12m in 2001. According to analysts, British Halloween spending is catching up with the US, where an average family spends approximately £65 on Halloween paraphernalia in a nationwide industry said to be worth £4.7 billion.

While the economic downturn has sunk its teeth into UK spending, Halloween is biting back. Not even a recession can dampen Halloween spirit, it seems. A leading UK Halloween fancy dress and party manufacturer ( says more customers than ever have placed their orders early this year, with an increase of 124 per cent in the amount spent by customers by May of this year, compared to the same time in 2008. "Over the three months that we ship the Halloween stock to our retailers – August, September and October – we have seen a 15 per cent increase in sales compared to last year, and we expect this figure to grow by the end of the month," reports Smiffy's spokeswoman, Anouska Sawyer. "During this three-month period we've sold just under 124,000 Halloween costumes (that's 206 every hour) and 33,975 units of our white face paint (that's nearly one every minute). Recession? What recession!"

That's a view shared by many retailers, including Pure Party, part of the Clinton Cards group, which has more than 40 stores around the UK and has just launched an online shop to coincide with Halloween ( Pure Party saw a 41 per cent increase in sales of Halloween home decoration packs, and attributes this partly to the fact that Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, which may have prompted more people to host Halloween parties at home.

Kim Einhorn of the party planning company Theme Traders ( agrees that the recession has had an impact on Halloween spending. "Companies don't want to pay for full Halloween party planning and installation services this year but they're doing it themselves, imaginatively. We're hiring out far more props than ever before – everything from life-size Dracula statues to tables that resemble coffins," she says. "Recession sparks an appetite in people for an escape to a fantasy world, and that's what Halloween is all about."

Ashvina Lockmum, buyer of false eyelashes for high-street beauty retailer Superdrug, agrees. "Lashes are big business. Brits now spend over £10m a year on boosting their lashes with falsies," she reports. Superdrug expects to sell around 50,000 pairs of false eyelashes during Halloween week.

If Halloween gives consumers an opportunity to escape their recessionary woes, it's also a chance to indulge a dark sense of humour in dark times. According to retailers in the UK and the US, Michael Jackson and the convicted Ponzi fraudster Bernard Madoff are among the most popular costume choices for 2009. Analysts IBIS World report that last year, when the financial outlook was much bleaker, the Halloween spirit remained unaffected and US sales grew 5.1 per cent from 2007.

Liverpool's Alma de Cuba is a former church converted into a bar and restaurant which hosts one of the most popular Halloween events in the country. Last year's event attracted more than 500 revellers and this year's party theme is the "Battle of Angels and Demons". Marketing director Tekla Simo (who fittingly hails from Transylvania, the home of Dracula) says: "We're increasingly seeing people make a huge effort at Halloween to dress up and hit the town, which is very positive for the economy."

Greggs, the UK bakery retailer, took the Halloween spirit a step further this year by inviting a local coven of witches into its new £16.5m bakery in Manchester. Amethyst, Amber and Aquamarine blessed the recipes for a range of Halloween treats including bat biscuits, toffee apple lattices and creepy cupcakes before they were dispatched to 1,400 outlets across the UK. "We were delighted to be invited by Greggs to cast a positive blessing on the bakery and the goodies they're making," says Amethyst. "The traditional blessing we use brings protection and prosperity during an important and ancient British festival and it's great to think we're passing on some positivity to Greggs' customers around the country and at the same time dispelling some of the myths and stereotypes that surround our Craft."

That's a controversial move, given that Halloween is also traditionally connected to the Christian celebration of All Saints; a link that has largely been swept aside by growing commercial influences. In recent years the Bishop of Bolton, the Right Rev David Gillett, has challenged supermarkets to offer alternatives to the scary masks and costumes that are on sale. Halloween Choice ( exists in partnership with The Children's Society and the Church of England and campaigns for retailers to offer a wider range of goods to mark the occasion. A spokesman said: "Our concern is not with the fact that people are making money out of the event, as clearly the celebration has a positive impact on the UK economy, but with the type of products being stocked and the emphasis on goods designed to scare and shock. Not everyone want to see children dressed as monsters and murderers."

It turns out that flesh-eating zombies aren't actually all that popular with little boys either, so we've compromised on Spiderman costumes this year. Much less scary – and somehow so much more in keeping with the spirit in which we're going trick-or-treating. Where's the harm in a neighbourly visit from a pint-sized Spidey-duo on a dark and wintry night? And I promise to eat the lion's share of the sweets too, just to spare them the evils of the sugar, of course.

Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit