The end of October seldom arrives without the Bulletin fielding a handful of calls asking when Halloween will be celebrated this year. What might appear on the surface to be a silly question is actually more complicated than that. With the multitude of fall festivals and other Halloween season activities scheduled in the community across more than a week, the appropriate time to let children ring doorbells in your neighborhood can be difficult to determine.

Weíll decline the opportunity to be the official arbiter of the communityís trick-or-treating schedule. Halloween is Oct. 31, and trying to change that would be almost as pointless as trying to change New Yearís Eve. But for those already uneasy with the traditional Halloween connection to underworld creatures, it is particularly unsettling when Oct. 31 falls on a sabbath. For any who also reserve Wednesday nights for religious observances, the holidayís practices are just as problematic when Halloween falls at midweek, as it does this year.

With certain adjustments, however, the show does go on, and sometimes related events are scheduled around the official trick-or-treat date of Oct. 31. For many days prior to the actual observance, and often over the previous weekend, churches, nursing homes, shopping centers and other organizations sponsor parties and any number of other activities ó complete with candy and costumes and the understanding that participants will not utilize evil or frightening themes. Meanwhile, the real-life horrors that await innocent youngsters wandering around unsupervised at night in todayís world have reduced the trick-or-treat procedure of past generations to a point where it is an anti-climactic exercise ó if itís done at all.

But these changing traditions arenít scary to merchants. While itís not true that Americans spend more money on this holiday than any other except Christmas, Halloween continues to be a major retailing event. For the first time, purchases are expected to top the $5 billion mark this year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. The average consumer will spend $64.82 on Halloween this year, up from $59.06 last year.

The average person will spend $23.33 on Halloween costumes (including childrenís and petsí costumes), though young adults will spend far more. According to the survey, 18-24 year-olds plan to be the most festive, spending $34.06 on costumes, nearly twice as much as they plan to spend on candy ($19.65). Average spending will rise in all categories, including candy ($19.84), decorations ($17.73) and greeting cards ($3.92).

The most popular activity on Halloween will be handing out candy, with nearly three-fourths (72.9 percent) of consumers planning to stay home to hand out treats. Other popular activities will include pumpkin carving (43.3 percent), decorating a home or yard (47.8 percent), and throwing or attending a Halloween party (28.3 percent), the survey indicated.

Itís interesting that as the Halloween tradition has moved away from random trick-or-treating toward more formal activities, the spending on this observance has increased. Such events certainly help make the holiday safer for youngsters, and less frightening for their parents. And if the consumer is willing to foot the bill, Halloween is certainly a welcome start to the crucial fourth quarter of the year for retailers.

Halloween might not be so spooky, after all.

Brownwood Bulletin