If there’s anything the many compounding crises of the last 19 months have taught me, it’s that nothing picks me out of our end-times doldrums quite like a $3 plastic pumpkin can. Before the pandemic, I believed the people who elbowed their way through Target’s seasonal decor section to buy “You’ve been ghosted” stickers and fake glitter gourds had a deep sickness. But now, I am one of them.
“It’s my first year decorating for Halloween!” a friend texted me last week, showing me a photo of her front yard decked out in fake gravestones, a wreath of leaves hanging over her door. It was painfully cheugy and extremely basic. Pre-pandemic me would have scoffed. The new me was very jealous.
Chalk it up to a nationwide trend: The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that spending on Halloween items “is expected to reach an all-time high of $10.14 billion” this year. The average person surveyed plans to buy around $102 worth of spooky goods that, of course, immediately become obsolete on Nov. 1. While costumes obviously remain the category that people splurge the most on at $3.3 billion this year, decorations come in a close second at $3.2 billion. That’s a lot of glitter gourds.
Around 52 percent of American shoppers plan to decorate their home or yard, according to the NRF’s report. Sixty-five percent will be celebrating the holiday in some way, which is close to pre-pandemic levels of 68 percent back in 2019. (Last year, the proportion of revelers fell to 58 percent.)
The report also noted that consumers “are shopping for Halloween items earlier than ever, with 45 percent planning to shop in September or earlier and another 39 percent during the first two weeks of October.”
Amy T., a 24-year-old office manager from Huntsville, Alabama, recently moved into her first house—she’d always lived in apartments—so she and her boyfriend decided to go all out this year. “We both have criminal justice degrees, so we take interest in anything morbid or what most people find uncomfortable,” Amy said. “This is the perfect chance to scare and mildly disturb the neighborhood kids and hopefully even their parents.”
And decorate they did. Outside of their charming ranch-style house there are chains and hooks hanging from trees, scattered amputated “body parts,” bloody handprints dotting the windows, and a ring-around-the-rosie circle of ghostly “children” dancing around a fake fire. Oh, and there is a “body” wrapped in trash bags hanging upside down from a tree. “We put a wig hanging out to make it more realistic,” Amy added.
“With everyone social distancing, I feel like outdoor decorating is a great way to express ourselves from afar,” she said. “It’s already caused a neighbor I’ve never spoken to to initiate conversation because of our caution tape.”
Amy said she feels “proud” of her DIY masterpiece. “It’s been a great bonding experience with my boyfriend,” she said. “We had some other ideas but had to scale back because we didn’t want the cops called on us.”
Candice Orick, a 36-year-old technical writer from Missouri, has always considered herself a “Halloween person.”
“My entire life I have always loved the weird and macabre and Halloween is the one time of year when everyone else acts like me,” she said. “I can share my joy of spookiness with everyone around me.”
But Orick hasn’t always been a decorator. “I don’t really have an eye for design or color,” she said. Plus, her old job’s salary didn’t allow for much frivolous spending. But the pandemic, and a better-paying gig, shifted her priorities this year.
“With COVID still affecting everything around me, I need to make my home even more of a sanctuary from outside stresses,” Orick said. “If work was exceptionally stressful that day or if my two kids had a hard day at school, we can come home and be instantly cheered up with Halloween spirit.”
“The decorations cheer me up,” she added. “Other things in the world may be spinning beyond control, but this is something that I can take control of. I can keep the Halloween spirit running high all October and get to feel like I can at least make myself happy.”
Kathrine, a 32 year-old from Phoenix, Arizona, has an 8-year-old son and worries about coronavirus exposure, so she was able to turn their first-time decorating into a “date night” with her partner. “We don’t go out to eat at all anymore and can’t really go places for traditional dates,” she said. “So we put up the decorations and watched Midnight Mass after. I’m an extrovert, so any fun I can add to being stuck at home helps.”
One 24-year-old makeup artist from Florida named Kasie said she’s always loved “all things spooky.” But she’s never had the space to do it, even as a kid. This year, she’s making up for the lost time with decor she found on Amazon, Marshalls, Ross, and Walmart.
“This is like a childhood dream,” she said. “I’m a mom and my son is now two and I can really start to experience Halloween and have these memories I didn’t experience when I was his age.”
Last year, folks told The Daily Beast they were putting up their Christmas decorations much earlier than usual, to bring a little cheer to a dreary pandemic holiday. The twinkle lights and tinsel meant a lot to them. It was not just something to look at, but a small defiance of all the sadness and weirdness that was 2020.
It seems like people feel similar about their Halloween trinkets too. I certainly do. At times, it feels like my entire mood is being held together by a few artfully placed jack-o-lanterns. As Kasie put it, “Decorations make me feel like my life is put together.”