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What folklorists say began as ancient pagan festival celebrating the Celtic New Year, has today evolved into a multibillion-dollar commercial opportunity.

An estimated 71.5% of Americans are planning to celebrate Halloween this year, up from 52.5% in 2005, according to the country's National Retail Federation (NRF). It was once dominated by children, but today Halloween is a decidedly adult affair.

The NRF estimates Halloween spending in the U.S. alone will hit a record $8 billion this year, with the average U.S. consumer expected to shell out $80 on costumes, candy and decorations.

Halloween candy sales are expected to be higher this year than at any other time in the past decade, a treat for an industry used to 1 to 3 percent annual growth. “Candy is a very affordable luxury,” said National Confectioners Association spokeswoman Susan Whiteside. “Particularly when economic times are tough.” The association estimates that consumers will spend $2.4 billion on candy for Halloween, the top holiday for candy sales, while expecting overall candy sales for 2012 to reach $32 billion, up from $24.7 billion in 2007.

In the UK, Planet Retail forecasts Halloween sales will reach nearly $549 million, up 12% from 2011. Adults are helping drive that rise.

"In the last few years, there have been more adult parties going on at the Halloween weekend and it has become more of a big event," says Nicole Parker-Hodds, an associate analyst at Planet Retail.

Halloween is a holiday that morphs with the times, says Morton: "It goes through cycles and changes its identity about every 40 years."

Its reincarnation as a commercial fun fest for adults may be fleeting, but for now, business keeps booming.