Halloween – A great British holiday?

01 Jan 2013 12:00 am

How did Halloween begin?
Halloween, the celebration of superstition, is believed to have originated in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would dress in costumes and dance to fend off stray ghosts.  The holiday as we know it now developed in the eighth century, when Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as 'All Saints Day', a celebration of the Church's saints and martyrs.  The term Halloween itself stems from the evening before, known as 'All Hallows' Eve'.

It has since evolved into a secular holiday with trick-or-treating, ghoulish costumes and parties and for many years was only celebrated in the US.  In recent years though, like many holiday periods, Halloween has been somewhat commandeered and invigorated by the retail industry as a seasonal marketing tool and has become a global sensation.  Halloween is now the second grossing commercial holiday after Christmas.  The National Confectioners Association (NCA) in the US has predicted that retail sales of Halloween candy in 2015 will be a staggering $2.6 billion.  In total, it is estimated that $6.9 billion will be spent on Halloween around the world in 2015.

Driving the popularity of Halloween in the UK
In the UK, it is the younger generations spurring the growth of Halloween.  According to Mintel, in 2013 58 percent of 16-24 year-olds and 55 per cent of 25-34 year olds spent money on Halloween related products and services.  Overall, 43 per cent of people in the UK purchased products or services for the holiday.

The UK food and drink sector is another driving force for the growth of Halloween, with Halloween related product releases growing by 263% between 2009 and 2013.  A key indicator for Halloween growth in the food and drink sector is sales of pumpkins, which in two short years grew from £3.2 million in 2008, to £4.5 million in 2010.

Media coverage of Halloween
Like the retail industry, the media has steadily increased its focus on Halloween over the past 20 years and many, if not all UK national newspapers will cover the holiday in some form or another.

We ran a search in Nexis Analyser for references to Halloween, limiting it to UK national newspapers, to demonstrate the growth in popularity of the holiday in the UK.  As can be seen from the chart, coverage has grown exponentially over the two decades.  In 1995, just 66 articles appeared in UK national newspapers referencing Halloween, and several pointed towards the release of 'Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers', the sixth film in the 'Halloween' series.  Ten years later in 2005, Halloween coverage had risen to 300 articles and by 22nd October, the Halloween article count for 2015 is already at a staggering 1220.

chart 1

Analysing the media profile of Halloween in this way also supports the theory that the younger, more connected millennials are behind the growth in popularity of the holiday.  If we drill down further into the results, we can see that this growth has paralleled that of online content, with the Mail Online covering Halloween in almost 500 articles.  The Mirror, another publication with a strong online presence, has covered Halloween more than 200 times both in print and online over the last two decades.

chart 2
Biggest UK Halloween yet?
In addition to its growing popularity, there seems to have been an awakening this Halloween.  Leading online retailers have reported that the top-selling costumes this year have been 'Star Wars' related, following anticipation of the release of the first new 'Star Wars' film in ten years, 'The Force Awakens', in December.  With Halloween falling on a weekend this year, and around 25 million doors in the UK ready to treat or be tricked, it seems we may have a perfect storm brewing for the biggest Halloween celebration in the UK yet.

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