Halloween is being taken over by grown-ups

Halloween has been taken over by grown-ups. Seriously. The candy bonanza of days gone by is now an annual costume bash where adults get to dress up and candy is barely part of the equation – unless you count treats that come in the form of alcoholic beverages.

Don’t believe me? Take a walk down the aisles of party stores or even department stores, or eavesdrop on a conversation between adults, where instead of discussing their kids’ costumes, they’re debating what outfits to buy for themselves. Apparently, the popular ones are straight out of video games and TV and movie sets: Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Stranger Things, and Fortnite. (I have no idea what the latter two would look like; I’ve only heard them mentioned.)

According to the Retail Council of Canada, Canadian consumers are so wild about Halloween that we now spend more per capita on the holiday than our U.S. counterparts do, topping $2 billion this year. And while a lot of that goes to candy, the lion’s share goes to décor and costumes.

Large-sized costumes. About half of adults plan to buy at least one, and if my experience searching is any indication, they don’t come cheap. Expect to fork over a good $50 to $60, typically, unless you’re creative enough to throw something together from second-hand finds (which, by the time you buy those and the necessary accessories, might cost you just as much as something tailor-made).

As a result of this appropriation by grown-ups, Halloween has become fraught with offence, insults, hurt feelings, and even employment issues. People with jobs and driver’s licenses have a way of messing things up, even when they don’t intend to, don’t we? And it doesn’t help matters any that the current political climate has made us hyper-sensitive to pretty much anything that pushes boundaries or needles deeply held beliefs.

Apparently, more companies are skipping the office Halloween parties or telling employees to keep their masks and costumes at home on the last day of October. It only takes one employee coming into the office dressed as something inappropriate by someone’s standards – something meant to be funny but taken the wrong way, or a controversial figure – to turn a fun day into a nightmare for a human resources department. We all know that what might be hilarious to one person can be deeply insulting to another, and neither side seems to fully appreciate the viewpoint of the other to any manageable extent.

A social faux pas can prove embarrassing even when the dress-up venue isn’t at work. Off-site parties have cost employees a reprimand at best and their jobs at worst. A Missouri nurse got the boot after her hospital employer was alerted to social media photos of her dressed in blackface. One Facebook comment: “I do not feel that it is safe having a racist employee working with the public.”

Another woman, a 22-year-old from Michigan, got raked over the coals when she wore a bloody Boston Marathon runner costume to a Halloween party six months after that tragic bombing. Not only did she lose her job, her parents received death threats and she was harassed so badly she quit social media.

Who knows what will set off alarm bells this year. There are so many minefields, from politics to religion to gender, that the chances of wearing an insulting costume has probably shot through the roof. And it makes me sad because the holiday has lost some of its charm and a lot of its pleasure.

Granted, I tend to get a little nostalgic for the Halloweens past. I remember those cheap plastic smocks printed with the likeness of He-Man, and I can still smell the mask, the one with the too-small nose holes and the elastic that goes around the back of your head. I remember wanting nothing more than to be a cool genie but having the outfit ruined by the snowsuit my mom made me wear under it because of Nova Scotia Octobers. Later, I loved taking my kids out and then stealing my favourites from their candy bags. Halloween used to be so much fun. Now, instead of asking what costumes my kids will wear on the big night, they ask if I’m dressing up to go dancing the weekend before.

If the number of doorbell rings the past few years is any indication, traditional trick-or-treating is becoming runner-up to parties and special events. Like music CDs and mailed letters, Halloween is evolving, I guess. There’s not a whole lot we can do to preserve what once was. I just wish kids would dictate that evolution, not adults.