One morning about this time last year I stopped at a coffee shop. The line moved peacefully along, until it was my turn to order. “What’ll it be?” said the fellow behind the counter, still looking down at his cash register. “A chocolate croissant and a cup of–Aah!” I yelled. The man had raised his head and was looking at me with yellow goat-eyes. “. . . a cup of coffee, with milk,” I finished, shakily. He was, of course, wearing special-effect contact lenses. But I had forgotten that it was almost Halloween, and, as far as my atavistic self was concerned, I had just gazed into the eyes of a monster. For a split second, it was terrifying.
Forget soaring rates of obesity, bankruptcy, and out-of-wedlock births: By far the scariest statistic about contemporary American life is that people now spend more on Halloween than on any other “holiday,” apart from Christmas. We spend with abandon even when in the slough of national despond: In October 2001, with Ground Zero still smoldering and the country questioning whether it would ever laugh again, Americans still bought over $6.9 billion on tubes of fake blood, plastic pumpkins, and ghoul costumes. Heaven knows what the wallet-letting will be this year.
“Mummy, look! A circle of ghosts!”
The children are straining against their seatbelts in excitement as we drive past the most egregious manifestation of Hallo ween’s new prominence: home decorating. Until the last five years or so–and I can’t imagine what happened to change things–most Americans confined their Halloween celebrations to an orgy of candy-giving and -eating. But for whatever reason, the zeal to adorn homes with satanic images seized the national imagination. Lo, people began spiking witch hats and upside-down witch feet into their lawns to make it look as though a cauldron-stirrer had erred in her flight path and crashed straight into the ground.
“Over there! A giant spider web! Wow!”
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–Meghan Cox Gurdon is an NRO columnist. (Her column appears on Fridays.) Gurdon lives in Washington, D.C. and writes as much as her young family will permit.