Halloween is upon us! It's a fun-loving time, right? So, why do Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, thereby making it the country's second largest commercial holiday. Notice the emphasis on commercial.

Some people claim we shouldn't be spending so much money on what is considered demon worship. Actually, its origins are in the Catholic Church and it basically comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve, but you already know that. All Hollows Day (sometimes referred to as All Saints Day) is clearly a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints, which is November 1st. However, if we jump back to the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31st and that holiday was called Samhain, the Celtic New Year.

There is one story that says on this particular day the disembodied spirits of all those who died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. Well, it comes as no surprise that the Celts didn't want to be possessed so on the night of October 31st they extinguished the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable, and then they dressed up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and parade around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess. (We used to call that Mischief Night when we were kids.)

In any event, turning to America, the custom of Halloween was brought here in the 1840s by Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine at the time. The favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. But the custom of trick or treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts but rather within a 9th century European custom called souling. Early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars received, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors.

You following me thus far? Good, I'm starting to get lost.

But now, leave it to us Americans. We decided to turn it into a holiday that was more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft. So, Halloween parties became the most common way to celebrate the day. These parties focused on games, food of the season, and festive costumes. Newspapers and community leaders encouraged Halloween celebrations and any superstitious or religious overtones were quickly lost.

Yup, and there we have it today. Last year, I took my granddaughter Jamie, all decked out in her $39.99 princess costume, by the hand, and we shleppled from house to house. What we got in response was rather sobering. Apples were no longer given out; there was fear of their being injected with some kind of poison. Cookies got the same treatment. Some wrapped candy was offered although even there rumors abounded that "sick" people were putting terrible things in them. So, what Jamie's bag principally held was money. That's right.  Lots of it. In a single hour jaunt, she picked up a tidy $12.53. Don't ask about the three cents.

And now you know about the $6.9 billion. I'm dressing up this year.

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