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Trick or tinsel? When Halloween marries Christmas, they produce some wild decor

Wreaths fashioned from skeleton bones. Towering fir trees black as coal, studded with glass ornaments of leering pumpkins, malevolent ghosts and glaring skulls. A tree skirt stenciled with monster heads. A tree-topper that is a vulture.

You can be excused, when shopping for Halloween decor, if you think it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — a somewhat twisted Christmas, that is.

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Halloween has appropriated the trappings of its heartwarming December cousin and done them up in suitably macabre fashion. It’s a trend with real traction, retailers say, as people are decorating more elaborately for holidays in general, and are leaving decorations up for longer.

With Halloween expected to reach $9 billion in spending this year, according to the National Retail Federation, customers are going beyond the typical front-porch trick-or-treat decorations to full-on interior design schemes that may go up in September and remain through October and beyond.

That consumer desire has moved the Halloween industry to turn to traditional Christmas design elements as a template to expand decorating options.

“Everything you do for Christmas, you can do for Halloween,” asserts crafter and blogger Jennifer Perkins, who hosts a weekly Facebook Live DIY program that delivers plenty of crossover ideas such as that monster tree skirt.

Halloween crow wreath from Williams-Sonoma.
Halloween crow wreath from Williams-Sonoma. (Williams-Sonoma)

Elaborate wreaths and funereal mantel swags are one thing, but nothing quite makes a statement like a full-size tree — the perfect vehicle to display what, for many, is the array of Halloween-theme ornaments.

And that tree market is growing, up 15% last year at Treetopia, a San Francisco-based vendor of artificial fir trees, reports Carrie Chen, senior vice president for marketing. Among its offerings are top-selling black and orange trees in heights up to 9 feet.

Perkins, a “brand ambassador” for Treetopia, usually decorates half a dozen in her house as examples to spark her followers’ creative juices.

“People might say, ‘Whoa, that one’s too obnoxious for me,’ but they also can see a toned-down one,” she says. “I see it coming to everybody.”

Credit the internet for stoking the Christmas-at-Halloween mood. “Younger collectors are spearheading the tree decorating because of social media,” says Jessica Weston of online retailer the Holiday Barn. “There’s a lot of sharing their designs. And they like the little edgier look.”

Retailers find that the ability to create a unique design drives this market. “With trees, you can express yourself in a very personal way,” notes Hedda Staines, head merchant for Roger’s Gardens nursery in Newport Beach, famous for its Halloween displays.

Halloween decorations at Traditions in the San Fernando Valley.
Halloween decorations at Traditions in the San Fernando Valley. (Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times)

On the practical side, full-size trees provide the blank canvas and supportive branches needed to display these striking ornaments, with images from whimsical to unsettling. The materials vary, but glass ornaments have dominated the field.

“Spectacular pieces,” ranging from $20 to $120, come from Polish artisan glass blowers, Staines says, but more affordable glass ornaments come largely from China.

Doug Lauer, president and chief executive of Old World Christmas, which manufactures glass ornaments at its own factory in China, has seen “double-digit growth every year for the past three years” in the market for its Halloween-themed ones.

For Debi Thomas, whose Traditions shop in Canoga Park carries an exceptional collection of Halloween décor, the Christmas-at-Halloween trend is one she noted, and built on, 15 years ago. Her younger clientele “start with a small black tree and a few ornaments, next year a bigger tree and more ornaments.”

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“That’s the fun of it,” she adds. “The hunt, over the years.”

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