A Brief History of Halloween

Yesterday I wrote about how the money spent on adult Halloween revelry now rivals, or even exceeds, that spent on kids. This may seem like a surprising shift, but it turns out it’s the focus on children that’s new. Halloween as the kid holiday we know it in the U.S. today was really invented in the 1950s.

This, and more fun facts about the history of Halloween, in this two-minute History Channel summary:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Chart of the Week: The Business of Halloween

Measured by spending, Halloween is the second largest holiday in the U.S. after Christmas. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $7.4 billion dollars celebrating Halloween this year. In total, 74% of households will buy something for Halloween and, among those, the average will spend $125.

2

There’ll be a bumper crop of pumpkins, more than ever before, and worth about $149 million dollars.

4

A full two-thirds of the population will buy a costume, spending an average of $77.52 each. That’s a record in terms of both spending and the sheer number of costumes sold.

3

Interestingly, the holiday has evolved from primarily a children’s holiday to one celebrated by adults, especially millenials. Less than half of the money spent on costumes is going to costumes for children. Adults dress up (to the tune of $1.4 million) and their dress up their pets ($350 million). They also throw parties for other adults and patronize bars and clubs, which increasingly feature Halloween-themed events, food, and drinks.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Our Annual Halloween “Sexy What!?” Post

Here are my picks for the bizarrest sexy costumes this year. Enjoy!

Sexy George Washington (via):

2

Sexy Crime Scene:13

 

Sexy Lobster:

11

Sexy Yoda (via):

4

Sexy Scrabble (via):

2

Except — I know, I know — nothing’s sexier than Scrabble.

 

Sexy Mr. Peanut:

12

I take it back; that costume is fantastic.

 

Sexy BDSM pig (via):

3

Okay, I admit. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here.

Want more? See sexy what!? (2012) and sexy what!? (2010) or What do sexy Halloween costumes for men look like?

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Do Witches Ride Brooms?

According to an article by Megan Garber at The Atlantic, they did it for the drugs.

Starting in the 1300s, Europeans developed a taste for hallucinogenic drugs. Unfortunately, ingesting them often caused nausea and vomiting. Absorbing them through the skin came with fewer side effects and delivering them through the mucous membranes of the female genitals was ideal.

A physician quoted at The Guardian says the claim is medically sound:

Ointment would have been very effective as a delivery method… Mucous membranes are particularly good at transporting drugs – that’s why cocaine is snorted… Vaginal application would be pretty efficient, and the effects of the drugs would be noticeable quite rapidly.

According to legend, then, witches would coat the handle of a broom — a convenient household item — lift their skirts and get high.

2

The women who trafficked in hallucinogenic substances were often accused of being witches.  Or, conversely, women accused of being witches were also accused of making magic ointments (from the fat of murdered children, no less). And witch experts in the 15th century claimed that they used these ointments not just to get high, but to get high; that is, that they literally flew using ointments.

Hence, witches on brooms.

Vintage witch poster for sale here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

School Shootings: What’s Different About Europe?

Yesterday’s killing was the 39th school shooting in the U.S. this year.  Most of those got little press coverage. Unless someone is actually killed, a shooting might not even get coverage in the local news.

Yesterday’s did.

Why would an apparently happy kid shoot several classmates? That seems to be the question that’s getting the attention of the press and perhaps the public. “Struggling to Find Motive,” said one typical headline. That’s the way we think about school shootings these days.

It’s unlikely that any of the motives that turn up will be all that strange. Fryberg may have been upset by a racial comment someone had made the day before or by a break-up with a girl. He may have had other conflicts with other kids. Nothing unusual there.

But “why” is not the question that first occurs to me. What I always ask is how a 14-year old kid can get his hands on a .40 Beretta handgun (or whatever the weaponry in the shooting of the week is).  For Fryberg it  was easy. The pistol belonged to his father. Nothing strange there either.  Thirty million homes in the US, maybe forty million, are stocked with guns.

Do European countries have school shootings like this? Surely kids in Europe get upset about break-ups; surely they must have conflicts with their classmates; and surely, some of them may become irrationally upset by these setbacks.  So surely there must have been school shootings in Europe too.

I went to Wikipedia and looked for school shootings since 1980 (here and here).  I eliminated shootings by adults (e.g., Lanza in Sandy Hook, Brevik in Norway). I also deleted in-school suicides even though these were done with guns and were terrifying to the other students. I’m sure my numbers are not perfectly accurate, and the population estimate in the graph below  is based on current numbers; I didn’t bother to find an average over the last 35 years. Still the differences are so large that I’m sure they are not due to technical problems in the data.

1 (3) - Copy
Does the U.S. have a much greater proportion of kids who are mentally unstable? Do our schools have more bullying? Are European kids more capable in dealing with conflicts? Are they more stable after break-ups? Do they spend less time with violent video games? Do their schools have more programs to identify and counsel the potentially violent?  I’m not familiar with the data on these, but I would guess that the answer is no and that our kids are no more screwed up than kids in Europe. Or if there are differences, they are not large enough to explain the difference in the body count.

No, the important difference seems to be the guns.  But guns have become the elephant in the room that nobody talks about.  Even asking about access to guns seems unAmerican these days.  Thanks to the successful efforts of the NRA and their representatives in government, guns have become a taken-for-granted part of the landscape. Asking how a 14-year old got a handgun is like asking how he got a bicycle to ride to school.

When the elephant’s presence is too massive not be noticed – for example, when the elephant kills several people –  the elephant’s spokesmen rush in to tell us that “No, this is not the time to talk about the elephant.”  And so we talk about video games and psychological screening and parents and everything else, until the next multiple killing. But of course that too is not the time to talk about elephants.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Just for Fun: The Tax Return and Other Sexy, Sexy Costumes for Halloween

Our previous sexy Halloween costume mockery was so popular (30,000 likes!), we thought we’d offer you another.  This one is from genius comic Gemma Correll.  Lose hours on her site like I did.  I dare you to click.

5

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Men Dressing Up as Fat Women

Flashback Friday.

An excellent piece of evidence that femininity is hilarious or ridiculous in U.S. culture, or even frightening or disgusting, is the fact that men use the category “woman” as a Halloween costume. We laugh when we see men dressed up as women because how ridiculous, right? Women do not generally dress up like a generic man on Halloween because adopting masculinity is an everyday things for us. It’s valued, not mocked.

Many costume manufacturers (or homemade costume makers, for that matter) add fat hatred to the mix. Because there is nothing more disgusting and hilarious, we are told, than a fat woman. Except, perhaps, a fat woman who fails to be properly humiliated.

The costume manufacturers know this and are trafficking in this hatred on purpose. Here are some examples, sent in by Michaela N. and Shane M., from several different online costume stores:

3

34509_5

15839c-beauty-queen

547932 3

Pamela Anderson’s character on Baywatch wasn’t fat. This reveals that the costume manufacturers aren’t just making costumes that let people dress up as fat others, they’re adding fatness as a joke.

Halloween is a disturbing fun house mirror, showing us what we really think about each other.

Originally posted in 2010. Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

From the Archives: Halloween

It’s that time of year again!  We are about to embark on seven straight days of Sociological Halloween Images.  As usual, you’re welcome and we’re sorry.

Look, Ashley S. is sad already:

1 (2)

In the meantime, enjoy our collection of Halloween posts from years past or visit our Halloween-themed Pinterest page.

Just For Fun

Screenshot_2

Halloween, Politics, and Culture

Race and Ethnicity

Sexual Orientation

Gender

Gender and Kids

The intersection of Race, Class, and Gender

And, for no conceivable reason…

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.