The economic downturn has not reached Texas - but donít look at your retirement fund portfolio until the stock market has some more time to rebound. However, even in parts of the nation where significant difficulties are being experienced, the prospects for a happy Halloween remain bright.

Perhaps, just perhaps, that bodes well for the rest of the holiday season. We can keep our fingers crossed. Retailers nationally were already anticipating only a marginal increase in business during the crucial Christmas shopping period - maybe a 2 percent boost in sales - before the financial markets tanked a few weeks ago.

Pulling a page from the ďhow time does flyĒ file, I had to blink twice this week. If today is Halloween, you know that Thanksgiving canít be far behind. And then itís Christmas and New Yearís. I had promised myself I was going to be fully prepared for the holiday season this year. Is it too late already?

Maybe the upbeat mentality that exists for Halloween can be sustained through the rest of the year. According to a survey made for the National Retail Federation, U.S. consumer spending on Halloween decorations, candy and costumes has not been hurt one bit by the economic hurdles many Americans are facing. Instead, they are apparently using the Halloween observance as a respite from the more serious aspect of life right now.

Indeed, many of the costumes being chosen take those topics as starting points. Tonight, youíll no doubt see some 401(k) portfolios and a sprinkling of stockbrokers. Dyed-in-the-wool Democrats will be dressed as Sarah Palin, and hard-line Republicans are making themselves over as Barack Obama.

While traditional costumes like witches (14.9 percent), pirates (4.4 percent) and cats (2.5 percent) remain favorites among adults, children are adding a bit more flair by choosing from Hannah Montana (No. 3) and Star Wars characters (No. 6). Other popular childrenís costumes include the top-ranked princess (10.5 percent), witch (3.9 percent), Spider-Man (3.5 percent) and pirate (3.3 percent).

This yearís survey results are reminiscent of 2002 Halloween data, federal analysts said. Though consumers at the time were uncertain about the economy and a host of geopolitical factors, Halloween spending was strong. The holiday was seen as a way for consumers to escape from the uncertainties of daily life. In addition, many consumers at the time saw Halloween as a way to let loose during an otherwise tense period. Some of the same patterns are anticipated this year for Halloween. Consider the fact that the number of people who plan to celebrate is up and that people plan to spend moderately more than a year ago.

Spending on Halloween this year is projected to be almost $6 billion. The average person plans to spend $66.54 on the holiday, up from $64.82 one year ago.

This year, consumers will spend an average of $24.17 on Halloween costumes (including costumes for adults, children, and pets). People will also be buying candy ($20.39 on average), decorations ($18.25) and greeting cards ($3.73).

Halloween remains most popular with young adults, as 18-24 year-olds plan to spend $86.59 on the holiday, the most of any group.

People will celebrate Halloween in a variety of ways, with the most popular activities including handing out candy (73.7 percent), carving a pumpkin (44.6 percent) and decorating (50.3 percent). Many consumers will also dress in costume (35.3 percent), throw or attend a party (31.1 percent) and take children trick-or-treating (33.6 percent).

Even though a few scattered Christmas selections are already visible in retail stores, that shopping season will be in full bloom by the time jack-oí-lanterns come off from the shelves tomorrow. Christmas is an important time of year for all of us, especially from a spiritual and emotional perspective. But itís also important, like it or not, from an economic standpoint for so many people. Itís not necessarily a matter of greed for them; for many, itís a matter of merely keeping a job.

Letís hope the real treat we get tonight, despite gloomy forecasts and fears, will be a happy and prosperous holiday season for us all.

Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.deason@brownwoodbulletin.com.