Published on 31 Oct 2010 Sections

Halloween: a thoroughly British festival?

A decade ago Britons spent just over £10m on Halloween, but in 2010 we are set to splash out £280m on trick or treating, costumes and pumpkins. So are we embracing a US tradition, or creating our own?

Halloween began life as an Celtic festival, exported by immigrants to the US. But now it’s thriving here, and our celebrations have tempted over American Halloween staple Alice Cooper.

According to a YouGov poll, 15 per cent of Brits will be wearing costumes to ghoulish parties this Halloween, and figures show that two in five British people have purchased sweets and chocolates ready for knocks on their doors.

Tesco is on course to sell one and half million costumes by today, Sainsbury’s to sell half a million. Asda reports its sold a witch outfit every ten seconds in the past few days. But costume buyers reflect the growing trend of people hosting private parties on All Hallows.

While the UK still has a way to go before we match the enthusiasm of America that so revels in Halloween – where revellers dress up their houses and are expected to spend around £3.5bn this year on tricking and treating and breaking world pumpkin records – we are getting there

Figures show that while the British spent just £12m on Halloween in 2001, in the last few years that figure has rocketed so that this year celebrations will boost our economy by £280m.

Among the winners are farmers – Britain is now the largest pumpkin producer in Europe. Oakley Farm in Cambridgeshire used to grow 10,000 of this Halloween staple a year in the 90s, but in 2010 it is producing 2.5 million. A nearby farm in Lincolnshire is producing three million more, mainly supplying British supermarkets.

Why? America’s king of Halloween, Alice Cooper , is here here in Britain for two frightnight shows at the Roundhouse in Camden. He says he is expecting all his audience to be in costume, and he is surprised it took us so long to really embrace it.

“You need escapism,” he told Channel 4 News. “You get to be whoever you want to be. All year you sit in a cubicle and you’re looking at your computer, and then that Friday you get to dress up as whoever you want.”

But there are those who are resisting. Another 16 per cent of British people admit to turning off lights to avoid trick or treaters, according to a YouGov questionnaire for Sainsbury’s, and even put up posters now issued by police forces around the country.

But for retailers, it is spend, spend, spend this Halloween, which has overtaken Valentines Day and Mothers Day. It is now only eclipsed by Easter and Christmas.