Whose Holiday Is It, Anyway?

By Julia Feldmeier
Friday, October 27, 2006

If Halloween has a spirit, these are its soul suckers: Sugar-free-candy-dispensing dental hygienists. Overgrown trick-or-treaters. Costumeless partygoers.

We forgive the adolescent candy-seeker as much as we do the well-intentioned hygienist: After all, losing a tradition hurts as much as losing a tooth. But the suit-wearing executive who arrives "in costume" as a businessman?

Step aside, please.

"We're throwing a party -- you can at least entertain the hell out of us," said Steve Silverman, 30, a Halloween party host who is implementing a strict dress code this year: No costume, no entry.

To Silverman and many other adult Halloween revelers, the anti-costume partygoer is a Halloween naysayer -- the costume boycott an implicit suggestion that, alas, Halloween is for kids.

Hardly. According to a 2006 survey by the National Retail Federation, more than 85 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say they plan to celebrate the holiday, up from 66 percent last year, and more than 75 percent of consumers ages 25 to 34 say they plan to join in the fun. The Halloween mood, it seems, is becoming increasingly adult. Jay Hofkamp, director of marketing for the online costume store BuyCostumes.com, said adult costumes accounted for 37 percent of total Halloween sales last year, while children's costumes represented only 24 percent.

Why the lingering attachment among adults to Oct. 31? According to Chris Riddle, the Halloween trend-spotter for the card company American Greetings, nostalgia is the binding link for 20- and 30-somethings.

"These people used to be your traditional trick-or-treaters when they were young kids," he said. "It was so much fun to run yourself to death for two hours and be out with your friends. It really doesn't change as you get older."

Maybe so, but for some of us, the Halloween of our youth had a singular appeal: candy, and lots of it. Factor in disposable income and the diminishing appeal of free handouts, and what's left?

Self-expression, for one. Halloween, more than any other holiday, is a chance to flex some creative muscle.

On a Saturday in mid-October, Silverman was in Backstage Inc., a costume shop in Southeast Washington, holding a Jolly Green Giant costume he'd plucked from the wall and searching for accoutrements, which ultimately included a white sash (across which he planned to write "Banned by the FDA"), makeup for gory scars and a blood-covered meat cleaver. His outfit is complete: killer spinach.

Others, like Eric Dunn, 39, a graphic artist from Alexandria, enjoy the challenge of creating costumes that mimic favorite characters from television or movies.

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