Halloween 2021: Go Big and, then, Forget About It

I have always loved Halloween.

I grew up in a rural part of central Ohio and October meant changing leaves, pumpkin festivals, and trips to the haunted house. I spent hours helping my mom decorate, stringing lights on bushes and hanging skeletons from every tree branch I could reach.

While I loved trick-or-treating, I had the most fun coming up with a Halloween costume. My parents were big believers in DIY costumes and, each year, I accepted the challenge. Lacking artistic flair and the sage-like guidance of Pinterest, most of my costumes were pretty run-of-the-mill. I was a vampire, a ghost, a zombie, and a short, but just as terrifying, Jason Voorhees. A couple of years in a row I stretched myself creatively and went as The Great Pumpkin (oversized orange t-shirt stuffed with pillows and topped with a green winter hat) and a robot (boxes from the grocery store wrapped in tin foil).

Now, as a parent of two boys, I still think about costumes, but for an entirely different reason. I almost never get my sons to create costumes, instead, they ask me to order one for them. Typically, it is a protracted negotiation. I have limits on what I will spend and my boys are always trying to eke a little more money out of my wallet. This year, however, I just bought the costumes without a word. No negotiations filled with whining and high-drama, just an online order.

My oldest son as Social Distance Frakenstein (2020)

Apparently, I’m not the only one who just said “yes” to the costume this year without batting an eye. According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 65% of Americans plan on celebrating Halloween this year. Spending is expected to reach an all-time high of 10.14 billion dollars with consumer purchases on candy, cards, decorations, costumes, pumpkins, and parties. Not surprisingly, consumers with children will spend twice as much on Halloween as consumers without kids.

My youngest as the Grim Reaper.

So, why do we have the go big or go home mentality this year?

The National Retail Federation says that we want to make Halloween 2021 “memorable.” That rings true. Eighteen months into the pandemic parents continue to juggle work and family, often trying to manage their on-again, off-again quarantined children. With this reality, who could blame us for wanting our costumed kids to run around pestering neighbors for free candy and a bit of nostalgia for ourselves?

What remains to be seen is whether our collective memory will be shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social scientists find that the desire for public commemoration is strong, except for when it comes to pandemics. In the wake of a pandemic, the push to forget and move on from tragedy is strong, while the incentives to remember it are weak. Memorial construction, for example, commemorates enduring values such as sacrifice and heroism. Pandemics involve massive loss of life, which, once an epidemic ends, survivors quickly hope to forget.

So, while our spending this Halloween may be a social response to recover some sense of normalcy, in five years, we may be mostly recovered and doing our best to forget about why we shelled out record numbers of cash in October 2021.

Dr. Deana Rohlinger is a professor of sociology. You can learn more about her work at http://www.DeanaRohlinger.com.

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