The best books on the history of Halloween

Who am I?

As a kid growing up in Southern California during the 1960s – what some now call “Golden Age of Trick or Treating” – I always loved Halloween, but I didn’t develop a real obsession with it until I wrote The Halloween Encyclopedia (first published in 2003). Since then, Halloween – once almost exclusively an American celebration – has achieved global popularity, and has created an entire cottage industry in haunted attractions. I remain fascinated by Halloween’s continuous expansion and evolution.

I wrote...

Book cover of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween

What is my book about?

Halloween has spread around the world, yet its associations with death and the supernatural as well as its inevitable commercialization have made it one of our most puzzling holidays. How did it become what it is today?

Trick or Treat is the first book to examine the origins and history of Halloween and to explore its current global popularity. Festivals like the Celtic Samhain and Catholic All Souls’ Day have blended to produce the modern Halloween, which has been reborn with new customs in America—but there are also related but independent holidays, especially Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Lisa Morton lifts the cobwebs off everything from the explosion in popularity of haunted attractions to the impact of events like the global economic recession, as well as the effect Halloween has had on popular culture through literary works, films, and television series.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Book of Hallowe'en: The Origin and History of Halloween

Why did I love this book?

Originally published in 1919, Kelley’s book is the first in-depth history of Halloween, and it remains entertaining and surprisingly accurate. The book also includes charming photographs and a brief bibliography. Although the book is scarce in its original printing, it is readily available as either a free e-book or an inexpensive print-on-demand hard copy.

By Ruth Edna Kelley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Hallowe'en as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its original publication in 1919, Ruth Edna Kelley's THE BOOK OF HALLOWE'EN remains the all time classic exploration of Halloween history, from the mysterious year end rites of the ancient Celts, to the autumnal reign of Samhain, the Druid god of death, to the coming to Europe of Christianity and "All Saints Day," to the charming early 20th Century Halloween beliefs and customs of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, France, Germany and America. Filled with Halloween poems, games and tried and true ancient methods for divining the future (especially for discovering the identity of one's future spouse!), THE BOOK OF…

The Halloween Tree

By Ray Bradbury, Joseph Mugnaini (illustrator),

Book cover of The Halloween Tree

Why did I love this book?

A wonderful, beautiful book, written in Bradbury’s inimitable style. Not only is The Halloween Tree (first published in 1972) entertaining and superbly written, it also provides a crash course in Halloween history. It also served as the basis for a charming 1993 animated television movie. There are editions available from different illustrators, including Gris Grimly and Bradbury's longtime collaborator Joseph Mugnaini, but the gorgeous story will always be what's front and center here.

By Ray Bradbury, Joseph Mugnaini (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Halloween Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Make storytime a little spookier with fantasy master Ray Bradbury as he takes readers on a riveting trip though space and time to discover the true origins of Halloween.

Join the shadowy Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud as he takes eight trick-or-treaters on an unforgettable journey to find their missing friend, Pip. Travel through space and time, from the tombs of ancient Egypt to the gargoyles of Notre-Dame Cathedral, all the way to the cemeteries of Mexico on el Día de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Is Pip still alive? And if so, can his friends save him from a…

Book cover of Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History

Why did I love this book?

Lesley Bannatyne’s Halloween. An American Holiday, An American History brought the study of Halloween history into the modern era. Published 71 years after Ruth Edna Kelley’s seminal The Book of Hallowe’en, Bannatyne’s book opened the gates for consideration of Halloween as a subject deserving of more serious consideration. This was the book that certainly inspired ME in my Halloween scholarship!

By Lesley Pratt Bannatyne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Halloween as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Lesley Bannatyne's fascinating book . . . will be widely appealing to anyone who ever wondered where witches, trick-or-treating, and jack-o-lanterns really came from. It is by far the best book on the history of Halloween available today."
--Alison Guss, senior producer,"The Haunted History of Halloween," The History Channel

"An excellent resource for research into the history of holidays . . . in the United States
. . . Highly Recommended."
--The Book Report

"Deserves attention as a recommended library acquisition with years of 'life' to its information."
--The Midwest Book Review

"Overflows with rich and provocative details of ritual,…

Book cover of Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween

Why did I love this book?

David J. Skal’s delightful books always offer insight alongside history, and his history of Halloween (published in 2002) is no exception. Death Makes a Holiday (which was recently reprinted under the title Halloween: The History of America’s Darkest Holiday) remains probably the most popular recounting of the holiday’s long and fascinating history.

By David J. Skal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death Makes a Holiday as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Using a mix of personal anecdotes and perceptive social analysis, acclaimed cultural critic David J. Skal examines the amazing phenomenon of Halloween, exploring its dark Celtic history and illuminating why it has evolved-in the course of a few short generations-from a quaint, small-scale celebration into the largest seasonal marketing event outside of Christmas.

Book cover of Halloween in America: A Collector's Guide With Prices

Why did I love this book?

Published in 1995, Schneider’s book was the first to suggest that vintage Halloween memorabilia had value to collectors, and it didn’t just open the floodgates for books on Halloween collectibles, it exploded the entire market of Halloween collecting. Thanks to Schneider’s volume, prices for Halloween items ranging from turn-of-the-last-century postcards to 1950s costumes exploded. Whether you're a collector (which might be like me!) or just a fan of Halloween, the book is packed full of glorious images of bygone Halloweens.

By Stuart Schneider,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Halloween in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Next to Christmas, more money is spent on Halloween decorations and novelties than on any other holiday. This wonderful book has been credited with inspiring the Halloween collecting craze, giving its devotees a chance to celebrate the holiday all year round! In addition to color photography and a brand new price guide, there are also many fascinating insights into Halloween. Most people are familiar with the symbols-ghosts, Jack-O'-Lanterns, witches, bats, skeletons, and black cats-but few know about Halloween's past. Why does it exist? What is the origin of trick-or-treating? Why does it fall on October 31st? Through these pages you…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Halloween, time travel, and the Celts?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Halloween, time travel, and the Celts.

Halloween Explore 79 books about Halloween
Time Travel Explore 313 books about time travel
The Celts Explore 34 books about the Celts

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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