The History of Halloween

Our Review of the Week looks at the history behind America's spookiest holiday

Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween

Morton, Lisa. Reaktion Books, 2012
229p, 9781780230474 $29.00

Morton offers the first comprehensive history of the “misunderstood festival” of Halloween. She playfully sets the record straight on the origins of Halloween, explores its migration from the Old World to the New and back again, discusses the role of consumer culture in establishing supposedly ancient traditions, and concludes with an observation that Halloween’s ever-changing nature has allowed it to be adapted for countless purposes around the globe. Using a wide variety of written and visual sources, Morton sees Halloween as a lens through which to look at global history. Key topics include mass production (candy corn); gender studies (sexy, pin-up style costumes for women that appeared during WW II); race (the Ku Klux Klan’s 1921 insistence before Congress that their white uniforms were innocent, Halloween-like costumes); and global appropriation of traditions (the Japanese integration of “cosplay”—“costume play”—into the holiday). This book is an excellent example of the scholarship on holidays as a means of accessing many facets of history (see Joe Perry, Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History, 2010).

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.
Reviewer: B. Blessing, University of Vienna
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – History, Geography & Area Studies
Choice Issue: Apr 2013