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Germany Gripped by Halloween Fever

Across the country, Germans are dusting down their pointy hats and flying broomsticks. The Halloween industry is booming.


In recent years, Halloween parties have become increasingly popular in Germany.

Halloween, the festival of ghosts, is an old tradition in the United States. October 31st, all hallows eve, is the night witches and wizards come out to play. Legend has it that on this evening, Celtic priests walked from house to house demanding human sacrifices. They left behind what's nowadays called a "jack o' lantern," a hollowed-out pumpkin with a wickedly scary face.

In recent years, the heathen custom of Halloween has become increasingly popular in Germany. It's approached in much the same way as Carnival, another popular celebration of pre-Christian myths, when the demons of winter are driven away and the longer days of spring ushered in.

Big Business

These days, Oct. 31 spells big business. Once considered a strange overseas tradition, Halloween has fast become a new party trend. Bernd Schneider manages Germany’s biggest store for costumes in Cologne. His explanation for why more and more Germans like giving each other the creeps is that "in Germany, Halloween became popular with movies like Halloween or Nightmare on Elmstreet. They mainly shaped the way Germans celebrate this evening. The more shocking, the more scary, the more they like it."

According to Schneider, favorite outfits include "the mask from the Scream movie, first of all. And classical masks like devils, witches, Dracula, the Grim Reaper, gravediggers, skulls. All this is very hip."

Once dressed up, the scary crowd goes "trick-or-treating" from door to door -- begging for candies or threatening their neighbours with little tricks. That's why the candy industry also profits from the new German Halloween boom. Last year, candy industry sales increased to over €7 million, twice as much as in 2001.

All in all, in 2002 retailers and supermarkets earned around €180 million from Halloween sales. This year, they are expecting sales of more than €200 million. Toy manufacturers also expect an increase in sales of up to 40 percent. For Bernd Schneider’s store, Halloween is a fixed business date. "One third of our sales volume is due to Halloween", he says, "and it becomes more every year."

An ungodly import

But not everyone is as thrilled with the trend as the retailers. Speaking on InfoRadio Berlin-Brandenburg, Bishop Wolfgang Huber expressed concern that "Halloween has become a day celebrated by Satanists." His views are echoed by Moscow's Orthodox Church, whose calls for a Halloween ban in schools were heeded by the Moscow Education Department.

Meanwhile, in France, Catholics are organizing a series of events celebrating All Saints Day on Saturday and the Festival of the Dead on Sunday, which they hope will draw attention away from what they see as an ungodly U.S. import.

In an interview with Reuters news agency, Ines Azais from the French Catholic Church lamented the fact that "Halloween has put Christian holidays in the shade. Lots of young people don't know them anymore."

But to others, the pagan aspect of the festivities is the whole point. Bernd Schneider points out that "for everyone it’s fun to imagine what could be one’s dark side. You can be the Grim Reaper, or a vampire, a witch or a devil maybe – someone really brutal. But first of all, it’s fun to dress up -- and to have a good time together with friends."