Tricks, trips and trends: Halloween is becoming a big-spending holiday

Some of the 6,000 real and synthetic gourds on display as part of Pumpkins After Dark in Edmonton's Borden Park. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)
Some of the 6,000 real and synthetic gourds on display as part of Pumpkins After Dark in Edmonton's Borden Park. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)

A new event featuring 6,000 real and synthetic hand-carved pumpkins is drawing large crowds for a nighttime stroll through Edmonton's Borden Park.

Kevin Blackburn, a co-owner with Lantern Events Inc., said 3,000 to 4,000 people a night have been taking in the experience since it opened on Sept. 29.

"I love Halloween," Blackburn said. "We're very excited about how things have turned out and we're very much looking forward to coming back next year."

Adrienne Lamb/CBC
Adrienne Lamb/CBC

The warmer fall weather has helped attendance but so did people's eagerness to celebrate the spooky season free of pandemic restrictions, he said.

The company is also running Pumpkins After Dark shows in Milton, Ont., Burnaby, B.C., and in Calgary.

You can see more at Pumpkins After Dark on the Halloween Edition of Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. on Monday on CBC TV and CBC Gem.

"Edmontonians really do love festivals, they love events — people like to come out," said Blackburn.

He noted that people are spending more on costumes, more on decorations and more on fun things to do in the fall.

"Halloween is the fastest growing consumer holiday in North America," he said.

In fact, the spooky season has now overtaken Easter as the second-biggest spending holiday in Canada after Christmas, according to Heather Thomson, executive director at the University of Alberta's Alberta School of Business Centre for Cities and Communities.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the average Canadian spent just under $100 during the Halloween season.

Submitted by Heather Thomson
Submitted by Heather Thomson

"It was $50 in 2020, It was $68 last year, and $87 this year so we're seeing a really consistent bounce back in terms of spending," Thomson said.

She's drawing on data from the Retail Council of Canada, Statistics Canada and credit card companies.

Most of that money is spent on candy, pumpkins and other decorations and costumes, but Thomson said spending is increasing on Halloween experiences like Dark, Deadmonton and other corn mazes, haunted houses and ghost tours.

"People are looking at experiences to sell, and that's a new form of retail, and this is a huge part of it," she said.

As people start to incorporate more experiences into their lives, those experiences become traditions. Thomson said annual traditions are profitable and a good business model because they tap into nostalgia, with families often returning year after year.

Adrienne Lamb/CBC
Adrienne Lamb/CBC

For Natasha Guindon, all the Halloween hype means more work as a pumpkin carver.

Guindon has been carving up real pumpkins in a display tent at the Pumpkins After Dark event.

"You work for sometimes up to eight hours on a piece and to see it glow, that warm glow, is just so rewarding," said Guindon, who started carving professionally in 2017.

Most of the pumpkins in the display are synthetic, made from a polyurethane foam.

It takes between six and eight artists an entire year to carve the displays for the Edmonton show.

Adreinne Lamb/CBC
Adreinne Lamb/CBC

The faux gourds "carve a lot like a regular pumpkin," said Guindon, who's now able to do this work from July to the middle of September.

She said the appeal for her is passing along that jack-o'-lantern glow to the kids.

"I think there's a generation of us that had really magical Halloweens," she said.

"I won't name the generation, but it begins with an M, and I think the reason we had such magical Halloweens is the reason it keeps lasting."

Tickets for Pumpkins After Dark cost between $18 and $22. The event closes on Oct. 31.