Imagine living in a country where no one knows what Halloween is. The kids don’t dress up to go trick-or-treating, there are no haunted houses, no Halloween parties, no horror movies on TV during the last week of October and jack-o’-lanterns don’t exist because nobody even knows what a pumpkin is.
That country was Germany. Or it was up until the early 1990s, at least. But the birth of German Halloween actually begins with the Gulf War in 1991.
With bombs falling in Iraq, no one in Germany felt like celebrating Carnival, that otherwise so wildly popular festive masquerade season that takes place before Lent. Many major Carnival events and processions were canceled and, unfortunately, many Carnival-related companies were hard-hit because of this. Sales plummeted, employees were let off and some businesses even had to close.
And this unhappy state of affairs only made all the more obvious another problem the German Carnival industry had already been grappling with. The Carnival season is very irregular. Although it always begins on Nov. 11, Easter is a moveable feast and this affects the length of the Carnival season accordingly. Some seasons can be extremely short and with each “missing” week representing up to a 5 percent drop in sales, the Carnival industry needed to find a way to offer its members a little more consistency and stability.
This is when Dieter Tschorn, a German public relations consultant working for the German Toy Industry Association, enters the picture. He was in the position to know what makes Halloween so attractive for marketers in the United States. It was the date on which it takes place, in an otherwise “dead” part of the calendar. Falling after back-to-school and long before Thanksgiving and Christmas, it has little competition when it comes to getting consumers’ attention. And in Germany this dead part of the calendar is even larger. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, of course, and this is one reason why Christmas goodies appear in German supermarkets as early as September.
The solution was clear. It was time to introduce Halloween as a German holiday. And Dieter Zschorn and co. had a pretty easy go of it in the end. With hard work, patience, endurance and wave after wave of newspaper articles promoting the new holiday, Halloween has slowly grown in popularity with each passing year, and this despite the fact that Germans are still divided on how they should react to this new American import (Germans are often divided if not downright paranoid when it comes to their love-hate reactions to all things American).
After all, isn’t this just another shameless and greed-driven holiday marketing gimmick infected with globalism and soulless American merchandising madness? Sure it is. Or it is that, too, I should say. But as the years roll on, it looks as if many of these wary misgivings have been cast to the wind. Most Germans seem to have accepted the idea that Halloween is what most Halloween fans – now the world over – have always taken it to be; unpretentious harmless fun that also happens to boost the economy.
And Halloween sales in Germany have been climbing. According to one report for Halloween 2012, Carnival companies sold some 30 million Euros worth of costumes, make-up and party goods. Around 700,000 costumes are now purchased annually. Nearly 10,000 tons of pumpkins are sold during the Halloween season. The event industry is also cashing in, and filling halls with Halloween party bookings. The entertainment and television industry can’t complain, either, with Halloween classics taking over the programming in October. Some estimate that the revenue for all branches will now be over 200 million Euros annually.
So sure, Germany may still be a country where most residents continue to be baffled about what to do when costumed kids show up at their door asking for sweets on October 31, but this Mardi Gras in autumn has clearly taken up roots here for good.
Originally from California’s Central San Joaquin Valley and washed ashore on the coast of old West Berlin, Charles Larson is a freelance writer well versed in German and German culture. For more info, feel free to visit his website at EnglishPro & Co.