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Promoting Pumpkins

Ghoulies and Ghosties, long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. Halloween is hard upon us and the 2017 celebration bids fair to be the most extensive—and expensive—in American history.

Halloween spending is expected to reach $9.1 billion, up from $8.4 billion in 2016.

More than 179 million Americans, adults and children, plan to take part in Halloween festivities, spending on parties, decorations, candy and costumes.

It is a holiday with roots that stretch back into a Celtic past but it has seen a remarkable transformation in the United States in the past 80 years. Once the province of rowdy adults who went “guising” with costume parades and “licentious revelries,” it was domesticated during the Victorian Era and consigned to children.

Early Halloween costumes were made at home from materials on hand but in the 1930s the holiday became commercialized when a number of firms began mass-producing Halloween costumes. Trick-or-treating—a toned-down version of the mummery of the past—took over. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts and witches roamed American neighborhoods in the second half of the 20th century, a litany of characters soon expanded to include pop culture figures and science fiction-inspired characters.

Whereas an old sheet once produced a ghost and cast-off clothing was the basis for a hobo’s costume, today American’s spend on average $38 per costume.

But that is not the least of the expense. The humble pumpkin once served as the major Halloween decoration. Children, usually with an adult hovering near by, were entrusted with knives to clumsily cut through the pumpkins tough rind, hacking out triangular eye and nose holes, A lop-sided mouth accented with two or three irregular teeth completed the composition.

The Jack-o-lantern was born in ancient myth and transported to these shores by Irish immigrants. It has undergone as vigorous a transformation as the holiday itself. The Irish used the Jack-o-Lantern as protection against “Stingy Jack,” a ne’er-do-well who, having tricked the Devil twice, was condemned to roam the Earth, his way lighted only by a burning coal in a carved-out turnip. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack O’Lantern.”

How unlike today. Today, the Jack-o-Lantern ranges from grotesque to beautiful. It can be sculpted, painted, covered with fabric or “blinged-out” with applied crystals and sequins. Form the crystals into a glittering spider web and top with a glued-on spider for a special effect.

Juvenile fingers can now be protected from unintended nicks and cuts by painting faces on uncut pumpkins or by buying plastic features easily attached to the unbroken surface of the fruit (yes, botanically the pumpkin is a fruit!).

Some decorators are constrained only by the limits of their own artistry, excising the front of the pumpkin, installing a Styrofoam base in the hallowed-out center, and then creating a spooky panorama within from different cut-outs and found items. This method of preparation has the virtue of being virtually mess-free. (Who can forget the slimy feel of inserting hand and arm into the depths of a decapitated pumpkin to remove its stringy innards!)

Recycling items from the sewing basket can produce startling effects. Buttons can create stunning googly eyes while a zipper tacked to the surface of the pumpkin can be transformed into a leering smirk. (Paint the area between the metal teeth for a finished effect.)

Want an even scarier look—use toothpicks to produce a piranha-like grin for your jack-o-lantern.
Special carving sets are now sold for those with an artistic flair. Bas-relief designs can be created by paring away the deep orange surface to reveal the pale flesh below the skin.