A new survey indicates that only a minority of Norwegians celebrate Halloween, but those who do are spending record amounts. Retailers’ revenues have quadrupled in the past three years, after they wised up to the profit potential and started promoting the holiday heavily.
Figures from the new survey conducted by research firm YouGov for Danske Bank in Norway show that 24 percent of Norwegians over age 18 planned to mark Halloween. Of those, the vast majority are likely to have children, since the holiday has mostly caught on in day care centers and elementary schools. It’s now become common to have parties for children on Halloween, while the “trick or treating” so common in the US, for example, remains rare.
“In all honesty, I haven’t had a single treat-or-treater ring my bell in the past three years,” said Virginie Amilien, a cultural historian who’s been researching Norwegian attitudes towards Halloween for the state consumer research institute SIFO. She told newspaper Dagsavisen this week that Halloween has nonetheless “become a new ritual in the course of one generation,” since it, like Valentine’s Day, was virtually unknown until the mid-1990s. It didn’t begin to make inroads with the public until the 2000s.
“This holiday that was clearly imported from the USA and promoted by the retail establishment sparked lots of opposition and attention,” Amilien said. “The controversies around Halloween included unnecessary consumption, vandalism and criticism that it was not a Norwegian tradition.” She added, though, that it also became a topic of “open dialogue, both in the media and at the local level in schools and day care centers.”
Children predictably embraced it because of the costumes, sweets and what Amilien calls a “carnival atmosphere” where it’s allowed to be naughty for that one evening. She also noted how it provides an excuse for a celebration just as the “dark season” sets in, with shorter and shorter periods of daylight in the autumn and winter.
“Despite, or perhaps because of, the purchase pressure and imports, Halloween was gradually adapted to a local culture of celebration where families with small children and Norwegian values take a major role,” Amilien told Dagsavisen. That’s how she explains the growth in the numbers of Norwegians celebrating Halloween, up from just 15 percent in 2012 to the 24-percent now reflected in the Danske Bank survey. Other studies put the number at closer to 30 percent.
Giving in to purchase pressure
Spending, meanwhile, has jumped from less than NOK 300 million a few years ago to an estimated NOK 1.2 billion this year, according to YouGov’s survey. That’s based on average consumption of NOK 1,333 on sweets, costumes, decorations and hosting parties.
“The amount we’re spending on Halloween has quadrupled in three years,” Cecilie Tvetenstrand, consumer economist at Danske Bank, told news bureau NTB. “Even though not much is spent on costumes, it can become a considerable amount when you also want food, candy, decorations and maybe invite people for a party.”
Around 40 percent of those responding to the survey admitted to feeling pressured into spending money on Halloween, given all the promotion in local stores, and that’s more than the amount of those actually celebrating. Older Norwegians continue to dislike Halloween and view it as a retail-driven event imposed upon them from abroad. Most blame the US, but the tradition actually was brought to the US by Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 1800s, according to the Norwegian encyclopedia Store Norske Leksikon, and the first reports of children dressing up in costume and roaming around neighbourhoods came from Canada in 1911. “Trick or treating” spread south of the border to the US in the 1930s.