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Halloween costumes are displayed at a shop in New York, October 25, 2011.

EMMANUEL DUNAND

The business of frightening

"Why do people choose to pay people to scare them?" asks Leisure & Travel Week. "The Haunted Attraction Association (HAA) sheds some light on this age-old question and the results might surprise you. 'In all forms of entertainment, the common goal is to elicit emotions. Haunted attractions excel at exploiting the emotion of fear in a fun way and offer a huge adrenalin rush not found very often in today's overly cautious world. Haunts ultimately take people out of their comfort zones and create an experience that can't be felt sitting at home on the couch,' said Patrick Konopelski, HAA president." The weekly notes: "The Haunted Attraction Association serves as the voice of the haunt industry. The organization's mission is to promote a network of haunted attractions. … The association also advises the industry on haunt safety standards to protect customers."

Why do clowns upset us?

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One of the most common phobias is coulrophobia – a fear of clowns, says The Daily Mirror. "Clinical hypnotherapist David Samson, 55, said: 'If your mum smiles at you when you are a baby, her eyes twinkle and she makes you feel happy. When you see a clown, his smile is painted on but the face doesn't move and this frightens many. Parents get really excited when they see a clown and push their children toward them, which can confuse kids and scar them for life. This is also the reason so many people get spooked at Halloween, as people wear masks and dress up and you cannot read their facial expressions or body language."

Halloween crouching

"Let me paint a picture," writes Sam Leith in London for The Wall Street Journal. "Most Friday nights, there tends to gather below my window a knot of sullen teenagers debating the ups and downs of their love lives in language that would make a sailor blush. On Oct. 31, thanks to the importation of a charming tradition from small-town America, these kids are licensed to ring my doorbell. … In years past, when I lived in a frisky area of South London, I simply didn't answer the doorbell after dark on Oct. 31, and I know I wasn't the only one. It's not unknown, indeed, for people to cower at home with the lights off and their heads below the level of the windows in the hopes trick-or-treaters will think that they're out and be reluctant to waste a dog's egg on the letterbox."

Halloween purgatory

"Call me a killjoy, but I loathe Halloween," writes Sophie Elmhirst in The New Statesman. "What's it for? Are we celebrating or remembering? …[Halloween]derives from All-Hallows Eve, the night before All-Hallows Day, or All Saints Day. Which seems simple enough until you try to find out why Oct. 31 became a festival in its own right. Some historians think its origins are in the Roman feast of Pomona, goddess of fruit. Others believe it is Celtic, linked to the festival of Samhain, which celebrates the harvest. The witches and ghosts and other accessories are a confusing confluence of Celtic myth and Gothic literature, of Dracula and Frankenstein and Scottish poets such as Robert Burns. Even the pumpkins were a later, American addition. Carving a squash was originally a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory, but over here we used to do it with turnips."

Guard the family pet

"A pile of Halloween candy can be a big risk if you're a pet owner," says SmartMoney.com. "Chocolate ingredient theobromine is toxic to cats and dogs, toffee and peanuts can trigger pancreatitis and candy wrappers might block the intestines, says Dr. Jules Benson, the president of veterinary services at PetPlan. Even healthy-for-kids raisin boxes can cause kidney failure in dogs. A lone candy bar might not do much damage, but Halloween tends to be more dangerous because pets have access to quantity. 'When you have a bowl of 50 fun-size Snickers, that's going to cause a problem,' says Dr. Benson."

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Many witches skip Halloween

"Isaac Bonewits," says the Cleveland Daily Banner, "author of Bonewits's Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca, describes Halloween as … 'a time to lift the veil between many material and spiritual worlds in divination, so as to gain spiritual insight about our past and futures … to deepen our connection to the gods and goddesses we worship.' For such reasons, many choose not to celebrate Halloween while others still see it as harmless fun for children."

Thought du jour

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true."

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), American author

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