BOSTON (State House News Service) – Americans mark holidays based on the day of the month – Veterans Day, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day – or by assigning it a specific day of the week at a certain point in the month – Election Day, Presidents Day and Thanksgiving.
Aided by his local state representative, a Pembroke selectman wants to change when Bay Staters celebrate Halloween, moving the spooky, costume-clad holiday from Oct. 31 to the last Saturday in October.
“It would be nicer not to have to worry about people racing home to get to their kids,” said Arthur Boyle, a selectman for 15 years in the South Shore town. Boyle, who told the News Service he brought the idea up a couple months ago, said sticking the holiday on the weekend would allow authorities to better plan for it.
Rep. Josh Cutler, a Duxbury Democrat who represents Pembroke, filed a bill to officially change the celebration, though he is not completely convinced it is the right idea.
“I’m a bit torn,” Cutler wrote to the News Service in an email. “Having young kids I know it isn’t always ideal having Halloween on a school night, but I’m also a believer in holiday traditions.”
Filed on the Wednesday before Halloween the bill would establish the last Saturday in October as the holiday “recommending that the people carry out appropriate celebrations on said day.”
An often ghoulish festival where people dress up in costumes, carve jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins and give out candy to trick-or-treating youngsters, Halloween has a particular foothold in the North Shore city of Salem whose 17th century persecution of “witches” makes it a destination for those in search of the occult.
Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets, a non-profit that focuses on downtown, said a state law changing the celebration of Halloween wouldn’t make much difference for the tourists from around the world who descend on the city Oct. 31.
“I don’t think it would impact when they choose to visit,” Sullivan said. She said in Salem “Saturday before Halloween is a great time for adult celebrations,” with private venues holding events, and there has been a trend of tourists arriving earlier in the year, into September.
Sullivan said no matter what day of the week it falls on the last day of October is the biggest celebration, with people wandering the streets in costume “seeing and being seen.”
Boyle said a Saturday celebration “would make sense from a public safety standpoint,” because trick-or-treaters would not be walking around in the dark as people are driving home from work.
Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association President Brian Kyes, the chief of police in Chelsea, said initially the proposal “sounds like a pretty good idea,” by separating trick-or-treating from rush hour traffic, but he also noted a spike in trouble-making and violence when the holiday falls on a weekend night.
Kyes told the News Service that when Halloween falls on a Monday or Tuesday “usually the drama is not at its peak,” and this year, when Halloween was on a Monday, it was “very quiet.”
“It definitely has the potential to get out of control,” Kyes said.
Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said he would want to hear from members before taking a position, but he has personal experience with a major business lobby interested in how the calendar affected Halloween.
In the 1980s working as a lobbyist for the Hershey Company in Pennsylvania, Hurst said there was much discussion in the candy industry about extending daylight saving time – when clocks are set one hour earlier than standard time – so there would be more light for trick-or-treaters in the early evening.
“It was just something that was openly discussed among the candy industry,” Hurst told the News Service.
About a decade ago, federal lawmakers changed daylight saving time so that clocks are not set back until after Halloween. While unsure about the proposed Halloween calendar change, Hurst said Halloween is a “growing spending phenomenon.”
Lawmakers this year took a move to potentially alter Bay State time-keeping, establishing a study commission to look at potentially remaining on daylight saving time year-round, though not all of the appointing authorities have named people to the commission yet.
According to a brief history on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s website, Halloween is an amalgam of various ancient traditions including the Celtic New Year’s festival, All Saint’s Day, All Souls Day and Guy Fawkes Day – with the earliest predecessor holiday traced to Samhain, a Celtic harvest festival.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were 40,900 acres of pumpkins harvested in the United States in 2015, and nearly 49,000 people employed in the chocolate and confectionary industries in 2014.
Told about Cutler’s proposal, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash had a one-word response, calling it “interesting.”
Co-sponsors of Cutler’s bill are Reps. James Cantwell, of Marshfield; Diana DiZoglio of Methuen; Mathew Muratore, of Plymouth; Thomas Calter, of Kingston; and Brian Ashe, of Longmeadow.
Oct. 31 will next fall on a Saturday in the year 2020.