Boasting a rich, complex history rooted in Celtic and Christian ritual, Halloween has evolved from ethnic celebration to a blend of street festival, fright night, and vast commercial enterprise. In this colorful history, Nicholas Rogers takes a lively, entertaining look at the cultural origins and development of one of the most popular holidays of the year.
Drawing on a fascinating array of sources, from classical history to Hollywood films, Rogers traces Halloween as it emerged from the Celtic festival of Samhain (summer's end), picked up elements of the Christian Hallowtide (All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day), arrived in North America as an Irish and Scottish festival, and evolved into an unofficial but large-scale holiday by the early 20th century. He examines the 1970s and '80s phenomena of Halloween sadism (razor blades in apples) and inner-city violence (arson in Detroit), as well as the immense influence of the horror film genre on the reinvention of Halloween as a terror-fest. Throughout his vivid account, Rogers shows how Halloween remains, at its core, a night of inversion, when social norms are turned upside down, and a temporary freedom of expression reigns supreme. He examines how this very license has prompted censure by the religious Right, occasional outrage from law enforcement officials, and appropriation by Left-leaning political groups.
Engagingly written and based on extensive research, Halloween is the definitive history of the most bewitching day of the year, illuminating the intricate history and shifting cultural forces behind this enduring trick-or-treat holiday.
"Coming to Canada in my early twenties, I was bewildered by Halloween, a North American festival about which I knew nothing," writes Rogers, originally from the English West Country and now professor of history at Toronto's York University. In addition to covering much of the same ground as Skal, Rogers argues that in the 19th century "Halloween's capacity to provide a public space for social inversion and other transgression held it in good stead at a time when other potentially raucous holidays were becoming more institutionalized and domesticated." While Rogers shows that Halloween eventually met the same commercial fate as other U.S. holidays, it still provides a modicum of transgression. He covers the many forms those transgressions have taken, ending, like Skal, with Halloween 2001, when "U.S. citizens abandoned gore for more patriotic motifs."