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Bishop urges shops to sell less scary Hallowe'en goods

02 November 2006

by Pat Ashworth

THE Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd David Gillett, has urged the chief executives of the UK’s five biggest shops to rethink the way they promote Hallowe’en. He has asked them to “pose a not-so-scary challenge”, and to offer goods such as glow tubes, face paints, and hair braids for Hallowe’en parties.
Bishop Gillett (pictured, above, with Hallowe’en merchandise) writes of the  influence of shops on how families celebrate Hallowe’en, and emphasises in a letter to them that he has no wish to diminish their commercial success nor to spoil anyone’s fun: “I would like you to offer your consumers a choice. Among your Hallowe’en displays, I would like to see products that enable parents, teachers, and children to choose a positive, alternative way to celebrate Hallowe’en.
“Many parents are concerned about the underlying tone of some of the goods offered at Hallowe’en, and the emphasis on products designed to scare or shock others. Indeed, you will be aware that some supermarkets already stop selling eggs to teenagers during October, and that many police forces have had to resort to extra patrols and awareness-activity to try and deter the more anti-social aspects of the event.”
The Bishop commends a new book by Nick Harding, children’s officer for the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, and a member of the General Synod. The book, Better Than Halloween (Church House Publishing, £9.99; 0-7151-4101-5), encourages churches to host alternative celebrations, which focus on light and fun rather than the traditionally frightening images surrounding the festival.
Mr Harding said: “I hope the supermarkets will take up the Bishop of Bolton’s suggestion to display bright and colourful party items as an alternative. I believe a lot of people would be much happier with their children celebrating the light and colour in the world, and the light of Christ who brings light to the dark places.”
The Hallowe’en market is estimated to be worth £100 million over a six-week sales period. Britons spent £30 million on Hallowe’en in a single week last year, with sales of scary masks, spooky lanterns, ghoulish costumes, witches’ hats, and pumpkins hitting record levels. Woolworths reported that Hallowe’en was ahead of Bonfire Night in the spending stakes, and came third behind Christmas and Easter.
The store had 224 different Hallowe’en lines last year, with almost a third of the range aimed at adults. Adults had adopted the festival and “turned it into the perfect excuse to dress up and have a big party”, said Stephen Robertson, its marketing director.
The top ten most popular Hallowe’en lines at Woolworths are listed as: the Hallowe’en witch’s outfit; boys’ skeleton outfit; trick-or-treat spinning game; trick-or-treat lucky bags; eyeball and pumpkin nets; kids’ devil costume; adult werewolf mask; pumpkin costume; Hallowe’en wellies; and Hallowe’en spider sandals.
Figures for last year showed a peak in shopper numbers in the week that included both the Hallowe’en weekend and the school half term, giving a big boost to retailers. The retail analyst FootFall noted a 16-per-cent increase in shop visits  over the Hallowe’en period in 2004, which represented a four-per-cent rise over 2003. It noted that Hallowe’en was being celebrated with “renewed vigour” across the UK.
Bishop Gillett reminded the supermarkets of the potential spending power of the “positive Hallowe’en” market in the C of E’s 13,000 parishes, 4700 church schools, and more than 90,000 voluntary youth workers. The supermarkets’ willingness to meet the challenge would “help promote a wider debate about exactly what place Hallowe’en should take in a modern Britain”, he said.

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