Hallowe’en, A Question

Halloween brings tricks and treats tomorrow, darkness falls an hour earlier on Sunday with the return of standard time, and the 2008 presidential election concludes next Tuesday. For someone who can’t help pondering questions about how we got here, the next few days offer abundant incentive for contemplation.

Halloween. My 1960s childhood Halloweens included costume parties with games like bobbing for apples, treats my grandmother made (popcorn balls and caramel apples), and trick-or-treating for UNICEF. But how did these ways of celebrating come to be? How did an ancient Celtic festival mix with Roman harvest traditions and the influence of Christianity, and bring us to a hugely popular and very commercial holiday?

(Just how commercial? The National Retail Federation reported last month, “Halloween celebrations rise as consumers look to escape everyday realities — total Halloween spending to reach $5.77 billion.”)

The library was designed to indulge wandering interest. I wasn’t actively looking for anything when I walked by a small alcove display on the First Floor. Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History caught my attention, and I checked it out. (Serendipity, a term coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, is the guardian angel of the library.) Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History claims that its readers will “Discover the fascinating & diverse origins of the traditions, celebrations, & superstitions surrounding America’s fastest-growing holiday in the only book that tells the whole story.”

In a public research library like CLP – Main, I was sure this would not be the only book attempting to tell the whole Halloween story. Taking that claim as a challenge, I hand picked a few books to help fill out the history of Halloween. (Hallowe’en is shortened from All Hallows’ Even, the eve of All Hallows’ Day, now known as All Saints’ Day.)

The Halloween Encyclopedia by Lisa Morton

The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year by Jean Markale

Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration of Fun, Food, and Frolics from Halloweens Past by Diane C. Arkins

Wishing you well, whatever and however you celebrate!


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