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Halloween Scares up Tricks and Treats in US

Every year, on the last day of October, children in the U.S. dress up in their most creative costumes to celebrate Halloween. VOA's Laura Ellsworth reports on how this big event for children has also become a day of big profits for businesses.

At the end of October, visitors to America may notice something a little strange going on. If the average home does not look as welcoming as it could, it is just part of a growing phenomenon in America: the celebration of Halloween. On October 31st, children all over the country will don costumes and go house to house saying the words "trick or treat" so people will give them candy.

The celebration dates back to Celtic rituals where people tried to scare away spirits. In the U.S., the first city-wide Halloween celebration was recorded in the northern state of Minnesota in 1921. The holiday's popularity is growing fast. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly two-thirds of Americans plan on celebrating Halloween this year, up from just over half the country last year.

Ellen Davis, the Federation's spokesperson says that is because people do not view the holiday as just one day anymore. "It is an entire month or even a season long celebration, and as a result even more people are getting in on Halloween activities, and we are seeing more businesses, like theme parks and orchards, creating activities around the Halloween theme."

Cox Farms in the state of Virginia is one of those places. Hundreds of children pour into the farm every day during the fall to go on hay rides, enjoy Halloween-themed games, and, of course, pick out the perfect pumpkin.

The growing interest in the holiday has been anything but scary for American businesses. Consumers are expected to spend nearly $5 billion on Halloween this year. That is nearly $2 billion more than in 2005. That money will be spent mainly on a combination of costumes, candy, and decorations.

Davis says Hollywood often influences costume choices. "The most popular Halloween costume for kids this year: for girls, princesses are big and for boys, pirates are big. We find that pop culture tends to dictate what most of us want to be for Halloween and this year because of the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean a lot of kids want to be a pirate this year."

Even the National Zoo in Washington D.C. is getting in on the celebration. In a few short weeks, zoo spokesman Matt Olear says, the zoo sold out 18,000 tickets to come to their annual Halloween event where the kids dress up, but they are not the only ones getting treats. "We give pumpkins to the elephants and the pygmy hippo and the Nile hippo and some of the other animals, and here in the great ape house they get treats as well."

And the kids of course, get to act like animals.

But the most important thing about Halloween is that everyone has some fun getting a little bit scared.

"Happy Halloween!"