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Is Halloween a pagan holiday?


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September 13, 2011 2:13AM

European immigrants brought Halloween to the United States, and the celebration really gathered steam in the 1800s, when Irish-American immigration exploded.

Anoka, Minnesota, may be home to The United States' oldest official Halloween celebration. Beginning in 1920, the city began staging a parade and bonfire.

Anoka historians say townsfolk wanted to curb Halloween pranks that loosed cows on Main Street and upended outhouses.

In all, U.S. Halloween spending is predicted to reach $5.77 billion, despite the current financial crisis, the U.S. National Retail Federation says.

"Our survey found that consumers will be spending about what they did last year, actually a little bit more," NRF spokesperson Kathy Grannis said. "This is a great way to forget about 401(k)'s and home values."

NRF also surveyed Americans on their 2008 Halloween costumes. That includes adults too, 52 million of whom are planning to dress for Halloween-a growing trend.

Classic costumes are showing staying power, but TV and the movies are inspiring imitation.

"Costumes like Batman and Hannah Montana are a direct result of what's going on in Hollywood and with pop culture," Grannis said. Americans give about 35 million Halloween greeting cards a year, with the most popular variety being grandparent-to-grandchild, according to Deidre Parks, a spokesperson for Missouri-based Hallmark Cards.

"The first Halloween cards that we can detect in the U.S. were produced in 1908," Parks said.

There are some 36 million potential trick-or-treaters (children aged 5 to 13) in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2007 the average American consumed 24.5 pounds (11 kilograms) of candy, much of it during the Halloween season, according to census data. Far from the pumpkin's native Central America, chilly Illinois produces more than 90 percent of U.S. pumpkins.

Across the U.S., farms grew 1.1 billion pounds of the fruit in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Total value: about $117 million.

The current world record for biggest pumpkin was set in 2007 by a 1,689-pound (766-kilogram) monster grown in Rhode Island.

About 90 percent of a pumpkin's weight is from water. A champion pumpkin can add 40 pounds a day and grow to roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. (See"Giant Pumpkins 'Go Heavy' This Halloween.")

More than a third of Americans say they believe in ghosts, according to an AP-Ipsos poll conducted before Halloween 2007.

Twenty-three percent claimed to have seen a ghost or sensed one's presence.

About one in five people believe that spells or witchcraft are real, according to the poll. (Learn more about modern witchcraft.)

Some Halloween spook stories just won't die-even if there's little substance behind the scare.

For example satanic cults, far more common in fiction than in fact, are thought to sacrifice black cats on Halloween.

But experts say there is little evidence for such fears, and that the few isolated incidents involving abused black cats were the work of disturbed-often adolescent-loners.

Candy tainted by poisons, needles, or razor blades is another Halloween hobgoblin.

Sociologist Joel Best said dangerous-candy rumors may be manifestations of fears and anxieties about the future. In a world where so many threats-terrorism, crashing stock markets-seem uncontrollable, Best said, it may be comforting for parents to focus on preventable calamities, such as a child biting into a spiked apple.

Best, of the University of Delaware, conducted a study of alleged tainted Halloween candy incidents.

"I have been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating," he wrote.