Straight, No Chaser: Bats in the Belfry


As anyone going to their local supermarket or up the high street of any big town in Denmark can hardly have failed to notice, it is that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to the C-word but to the H-word: Halloween.

Outside my local Netto are large boxes full of pumpkins. Toy shops are advertising Halloween costumes and other paraphernalia, and children dressed as zombies, vampires, skeletons, werewolves, witches, etc will be knocking on the door asking for money or sweets in the annual shake-down known as ‘Trick or Treat’.

All good fun, you might say. But how did this Christianised ancient Celtic harvest festival manage to gain such a foothold in Denmark?

The horror, the horror
Although originating in the British Isles, Halloween spread to America with the European settlers and really took off in a big way. It seems that Halloween was launched in Denmark in 1998 by the newspaper Ekstra Bladet, when it put on a horror-film marathon at the Scala cinema. The audience was encouraged to dress up and there were prizes for the best costumes.

Soon afterwards, toy shop chain BR began to sell Halloween merchandise, and in 2006, Tivoli jumped on the bandwagon, opening in the autumn school holiday with a Halloween theme.

Double, double …
Make no mistake, this is really serious business.

Toy retailer Top-Toy (BR, Toys”R”Us) are somewhat coy about actual sales figures, but will say that sales of Halloween-related products have increased dramatically over the last few years and the trend is still growing. A quick glance at BR’s website shows that a ready-made Halloween costume costs in the region of 150-250 kroner, and accessories such as ghost masks, spiders, fake blood, rubber bats etc between 30 and 50 kroner.

Last year, Samsø market gardeners Brdr Kjeldahl sent over 300,000 pumpkins to market though the major supermarket chains. A quick price check shows that, depending on size, these sell for anything from 20-79 kroner – a minimum income of 6 million kroner if they are all sold.

In 2006, 260,000 people went through the turnstiles to Tivoli’s first Halloween festival. In 2013 this figure had risen to 417,000 and the season extended by a week to take in the Swedish holidays. It seems safe to say that Halloween is here to stay.

Religion stripped, lingerie left
Although Dansk Folkeparti might not like it, Danes seem to have no problem embracing strange foreign customs.

As well as Halloween, St Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day have also become mainstream. These, too, are mini retail bonanzas. You might be forgiven for thinking that St Valentine was the patron saint of florists, chocolateers and lingerie manufacturers.

Strip out any residual religious significance and combine the universal desire for dressing up, drinking and having a party with hard-nosed commerce, and you’re on to a sure-fire winner.