The Sociology of Halloween 2019

Halloween’s not a huge deal in the United Kingdom, but it is still an annual festival/ ritual that everyone recognizes, and I imagine most people can relate to it having gone trick or treating as kid?

At the very least you’ll likely be exposed to it via Strictly’s Halloween Special.

Some stats on Halloween

  • One third of Brits believe in ghosts, spirits or other paranormal activity
  • Britain is divided on Halloween – over half (56%) of the public say they won’t be celebrating it!
  • Britain is also divided over trick or treat – 40% think it’s harmless fun, but 38% would feel unsafe opening the doors to strangers.
  • Only 11% of Brits say they’ll be dressing up to go to a party.
  • Despite the low numbers of people who celebrate it, expenditure on Halloween has been increasing in recent years, and is now around the £400 million mark!

Sociological Perspectives Applied to Halloween

Functionalist Durkheim argued that national rituals are worth analyzing as they can reveal something about the collective conscience of a society – I think this is true to an extent: it’s now more commercialized than ever and the relatively high levels of fear of trick and treat are a reminder that we live in a ‘risk society’ .

However, more than anything the poll results show how divided we are as a nation, and how privatized – we’re split over Halloween, just like we are over Brexit, and it seems it’s mostly a private affair, rather than a public celebration, as evidenced in the fact that trick or treating is in decline.

Going back to Strictly, maybe that’s it for most of us – we experience Halloween like how we experience so many other things in life – through celebrities having a jolly old time playing dress up, while we cower indoors with the lights off to ward off the trick or treat threat?!

Maybe Halloween does offer us a commentary on social life today after all, just not the kind you’re likely to see revealed in an opinion poll.

Sources

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Why is Trick or Treating in Decline?

I seem to remember most of kids in the local neighbourhood going out trick or treating when I were a lad: dressing up in naff home-made costumes and then marching up and down the houses with a tub of sloppy porridge for the hand of the occasional unfortunate who didn’t have some sweets to give us.

And then round someone’s house to sugar load and enthusiastically whinge about the idiots who gave us fruit or toothbrushes (yes, someone actually did that!)

However, I’ve had the intuitive feeling that the number of kids going out trick or treating has been declining in recent years. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any data to support my intuition about what’s occurring during the spooky season here in the UK, but there is some data from our colony in America, and the data shows that trick or treating is declining rapidly!

According to some recent polls (details here) the number of Americans giving out candy during Halloween declined from 118 to 106 million in the years 2011-15, while the number of parents taking their kids out trick or treating declined from 52 to 48 million.

 

So how do we explain this decline in trick or treating?

There’s lots of possible sociological explanations…

Paranoid Parents….?

This seems like the most obvious place to start…. Parents are more worried than ever about stranger danger and child safety, and letting your kids go out, at night, knocking on strangers’ doors probably seems risker today to most parents than it would have done in the 1970s.

This is certainly the view of Jack Porter, writing in the Utah Chronicle, who outlines how trick or treat has declined even his ‘safe, white Mormon neighbourhood’, because, according to comments on Facebook, people feel as if they can’t trust their neighbours. (Maybe their right when it comes to white U.S. Christian males?!?)

In the U.S. ‘Trunk or Treat’ events have emerged as an alternative to ‘trick or treat’  – basically vetted community events, often with activities, which children attend with their parents, and where they can go trick or treating from car to car, rather than house to house.

Maybe it’s commercialisation…?

While I’m pretty sold on the paranoid parenting/ culture of fear argument being one ‘causal factor’, I don’t think it’s the only one. Halloween has been getting more and more commercialised here in the UK for years, so I dread to think what it’s like in the U.S. Maybe trick or treating in the local community just doesn’t cut it any more… perhaps parents give their kids their Halloween fix by just buying them Halloween shit they don’t need.

It’s also probably privatisation and individualisation

We’ve become more socially fragmented over the last decades…. Local communities are less important as we go online to forge our networks, and thus each individual household in a street will spend less time engaging with other households in the same street. From this perspective, kids going around trick and treating is a bit odd, it breaks the privatised minimal local contact norm, so it’s simply less likely to happen!

Or maybe trick or treating isn’t really in decline?

The initial stats I used might not be valid indicators of the decline in trick or treating. It may be that kids are still going trick and treating, without their parents, and going to fewer houses: so perhaps the parental accompaniment ratio has gone down and the candy given per household ration has gone up per child trick or treater.

Unlikely, I know, but possible.

Final Thoughts…

I say that trick or treating has declined, but it’s not quite Halloween yet. Who knows, maybe I’ll get inundated on Wednesday. I bought some ‘candy’ just in case!

Sources

http://paragonpoll.com/halloween-data-2015/