One of my favorite movies is "Meet Me in St. Louis." It is often re-shown on television around Christmas because of several of the main scenes at Christmas in the movie. I will watch for it again this year.
However, what made me think of the movie this year is because of the upcoming (already occurring) Halloween season. The movie has some marvelous scenes centered on Halloween The actress, Margaret O'Brien, who was 7 at the time of the filming, did such a marvelous acting job that she won an Oscar for being the Outstanding Juvenile Performer of 1944. Those of you who know the picture might remember her as Tootie. In the film, Tootie, on a dark Halloween evening, took a handful of flour and threw it in the face of the apocryphal neighborhood grump who supposedly hated kids. Later that evening, Tootie faked an injury that provided a neat twist to the story line. If you have forgotten the movie, watch for it in December.
Halloween is older than Christmas, having roots back to about 500 B.C.E. The Celts (ancestors of the Britons, Scots, and Irish) worshipped many gods, including one who was responsible for the beginning of summer (Beltane) and one who marked the beginning of winter (Samhain). Samhain empowered all the evil spirits who had died the previous year to return for one day to visit the living. The people who believed in Samhain would gather in circles of stone such as Stonehenge in England and light fires to burn through the night. The purpose of the fires and accompanying sacrifices were to ensure that the sun would return at the end of winter At the end of the night just one fire would remain from which area peoples would take an ember to start the fires in their own homes to last through the winter. Some of the sacrifices were offerings of food and nuts, hence our modern day offering of candies and such at Halloween. The purpose of wearing a mask was in the hope that a person could pass some of the evil spirits surrounding them without being recognized.
The Romans conquered Britain in 61 C.E., bringing the tradition of their goddess Pomona. Their holiday was held on Nov. 1. It was not until 834 C.E. that Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day from what was then May 13 to Nov. 1. The new All Saints Day was known as Hallowmas. Hence the evening of Oct. 31 was the evening before Hallowmas or Hallowed Eve or what we now call Halloween.
Halloween has become big business in the U.S. In 2009, spending for Halloween was about $4.8 billion. In 2010, $5.8 billion. In 2011, $6.9 billion. The prediction this year is that it will reach $8 billion.
While not everyone celebrates Halloween, of the approximately 170 million Americans who do, the expectation is that each celebrant will spend almost $80. With the growth indicated by the money spent, it is hard to believe that the celebrants are not better off now than they were in 2009.
I doubt that our household will reach the average celebrant's expenditure, but if you start counting what you do spend, it might be a little more than what you might think at first. Don't forget to count those pumpkins that you have on your front steps, the paper napkins for the table, the treats for the kids, the treats you take to other meetings or parties, any costumes for yourself or your kids or grandkids, orange and black lights for putting on trees or around windows, lighted plastic pumpkins, witches, and so on.
And do you have a pet? It seems unbelievable, but last year, $300 million was spent on pet costumes including costumes for pets in the manner of Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga, which are expected to be popular this year as well when spending is expected to reach $370 for pet costumes.
Even politics affects the costume business. As I recall, masks of presidents, past-presidents, and presidential hopefuls were all popular so you can expect a mask of both Obama and Romney to be in the mix. Romney's comment about cutting public funding to such shows as the one that has Big Bird has made Big Bird costumes a choice for Halloween celebrants this year.
As is so often the case, my thinking about one thing leads to another. After thinking about the data that indicated 170 million Americans would celebrate Halloween, I got to thinking about the U.S. and world population especially compared to the era around 1950. It is humbling to think that I am much less unique now than I was back then In 1950 I was one of just 152 million Americans and now I am just one of 315 million. Does that make me half as important now? Incidentally, I missed reporting in this column back in August that we had Pi Day. Recall the famous number Pi as being approximately 3.14159265. On Aug. 14 the U.S. population reached 3.14159265 times 100 million at approximately 2:29 p.m.
As for world population, it was about 2.556 billion in 1950 and this year that number is more than seven billion, roughly getting close to three times as many people on earth now as there were in 1950. That makes me feel even less unique!
Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!