By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer Wed Oct 26, 4:20 PM ET
VIENNA, Austria - It's almost Halloween — and all those ghosts, goblins, tricks and treats are giving Hans Kohler the creeps. So the mayor of Rankweil, a town near the border with Switzerland, has launched a one-man campaign disparaging Halloween as a "bad American habit" and urging families to skip it this year.
"It's an American custom that's got nothing to do with our culture," Kohler wrote in letters sent out to households. By midweek, the mayors of eight neighboring villages had thrown their support behind the boycott. So had local police, annoyed with the annual Oct. 31 uptick in vandalism and mischief.
Although Halloween has become increasingly popular across Europe — complete with carved pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, makeshift houses of horror and costumed children rushing door to door for candy — it's begun to breed a backlash.
Critics see it as the epitome of crass, U.S.-style commercialism. Clerics and conservatives contend it clashes with the spirit of traditional Nov. 1 All Saints' Day remembrances.
And it's got purists in countries struggling to retain a sense of uniqueness in Europe's ever-enlarging melting pot grimacing like Jack o' Lanterns.
Halloween "undermines our cultural identity," complained the Rev. Giordano Frosini, a Roman Catholic theologian who serves as vicar-general in the Diocese of Pistoia near Florence, Italy.
Frosini denounced the holiday as a "manifestation of neo-paganism" and an expression of American cultural supremacy. "Pumpkins show their emptiness," he said.
To be sure, Halloween is big business in Europe.
Germans alone spend nearly $170 million, on Halloween costumes, sweets, decorations and parties. The holiday has become increasingly popular in Romania, home to the Dracula myth, where discotheques throw parties with bat and vampire themes.
In Britain, where Halloween celebrations rival those in the United States, it's the most lucrative day of the year for costume and party retailers.
"Without Halloween, I don't think we could exist, to be honest," said Pendra Maisuria, owner of Escapade, a London costume shop that rakes in 30 percent of its annual sales in the run-up to Oct. 31. Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, haven't logged any significant increase in crime.
But not everyone takes such a carefree approach toward the surge in trick-or-treating — "giving something sweet or getting something sour," as it's called in German.
In Austria, where many families get a government child allowance, "parents who abuse it to buy Halloween plunder for their kids should be forced to pay back the aid," grumbled Othmar Berbig, an Austrian who backs the small but strident boycott movement.
In Sweden, even as Halloween's popularity has increased, so have views of the holiday as an "unnecessary, bad American custom," said Bodil Nildin-Wall, an expert at the Language and Folklore Institute in Uppsala.
Italy's Papaboys, a group of pope devotees who include some of the young Catholics who cheer wildly at
Vatican events, have urged Christians not to take part in what they consider "a party in honor of Satan and hell," and plan to stage prayer vigils nationwide that night.
Don't take it all so seriously, counters Gerald Faschingeder, who heads a Roman Catholic youth alliance in Austria. He sees nothing particularly evil about glow-in-the-dark skeletons, plastic fangs, fake blood, rubber tarantulas or latex scars.
"It's a chance for girls and boys to disguise themselves and have some fun away from loud and demanding adults," Faschingeder said. "For one evening, at least, kids can feel more powerful than grown-ups."
Associated Press reporters Marta Falconi in Rome; Tommy Grandell in Stockholm, Sweden; Jenn Wiant in London, and Matthias Armborst in Duesseldorf, Germany, contributed to this story.