The best books on Halloween celebrations

Lesley Pratt Bannatyne Author Of Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night
By Lesley Pratt Bannatyne

Who am I?

I have loved Halloween since I ran through the suburban streets of southern Connecticut with ears and a tail. For more than thirty years I’ve been researching and writing about the holiday, and each year I find something new. Most of all, I’m a Halloween advocate: At Halloween we can wrap our arms around the reality of the other 364 days and satirize, exorcize, and celebrate it. The joy of Halloween is not that it’s dark and we revel in that; it’s that Halloween can bring a bit of light and laughter into the darkness. And, of course, it’s big, creative, candy-fueled fun.

I wrote...

Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night

By Lesley Pratt Bannatyne,

Book cover of Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night

What is my book about?

On a mission to define 21st century Halloween, I talked with fanatics and fang makers, professional haunters, registered mediums, psychologists, and Halloween enthusiasts ranging from NPR's Garrison Keillor to The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" writer Mike Reiss to find out what goes on behind the scenes at prop shops and national Halloween conventions, at quiet commemorations of Samhain, giant pumpkin festivals, zombie crawls, parades, haunts, ghost stake-outs, and so much more. How is it that this boisterous celebration unites us in a community based on fantasy and fear, and what draws us together on this one night when we open our doors to strangers? If you love Halloween, really love Halloween, this book is for you. Chances are pretty good it's probably about you, too.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

Why did I love this book?

This is my go-to book whenever I start a new Halloween writing project. It grounds me in details about the origins of Halloween (and holidays throughout the year) and illustrates brilliantly why the turning of the seasons has always been critical, and how holidays mark important cultural moments in so many ways. The origin of Halloween is here, but so is the origin of celebration itself.

By Ronald Hutton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Stations of the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Comprehensive and engaging, this colourful study covers the whole sweep of ritual history from the earliest written records to the present day. From May Day revels and Midsummer fires, to Harvest Home and Hallowe'en, to the twelve days of Christmas, Ronald Hutton takes us on a fascinating journey through the ritual year in Britain. He challenges many common assumptions about the customs of the past, and debunks many myths surrounding festivals of the present, to
illuminate the history of the calendar year we live by today.

Book cover of Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

Why did I love this book?

Ghosts are at the nexus of any Halloween celebration. The first Samhain tribal gatherings likely involved the spirits of the dead; old Irish literature chronicles the opening of the otherworld at this time of year; and even in the 21st century we tour graveyards, dress as ghosts, and conjure up the dead every year at Halloween. Mary Roach’s hilarious, entertaining examination of the world of spirits tackles the question no has been able to answer: what happens after we die?

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that's that-the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my lap-top?" In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die.

Book cover of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon

Why did I love this book?

Not only is this a complete history of pumpkins – it’s a fascinating history of America. There’s good, solid jack-o-lantern history alongside descriptions and photos of the gazillion ways we celebrate, decorate, grow, eat, idolize, and display pumpkins. Emerging as a symbol of lust in medieval Europe, the pumpkin became synonymous with the American wilderness, then came to stand for rustic life, and now Halloween. If you like history and Americana as well as Halloween, you’ll like this one. And if you’re a Halloween nerd like I am, you’ll love the 100 pages of footnotes.

By Cindy Ott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Why do so many Americans drive for miles each autumn to buy a vegetable that they are unlikely to eat? While most people around the world eat pumpkin throughout the year, North Americans reserve it for holiday pies and other desserts that celebrate the harvest season and the rural past. They decorate their houses with pumpkins every autumn and welcome Halloween trick-or-treaters with elaborately carved jack-o'-lanterns. Towns hold annual pumpkin festivals featuring giant pumpkins and carving contests, even though few have any historic ties to the crop.

In this fascinating cultural and natural history, Cindy Ott tells the story of…

Haunted Air

By Ossian Brown,

Book cover of Haunted Air

Why did I love this book?

Haunted Air is a book of undated photos of adults and children in costume. Not all of them may be Halloween photographs (we dressed up on so many occasions back then!), but most of them are. I love the handmade costumes and makeup, the creepy masks, the way the costumes tie into popular culture and the sheer joy of imagination they exude. It’s a creepy book, in a good way. David Lynch wrote the forward.

By Ossian Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The roots of Hallowe'en lie in the ancient pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, a feast to mark the death of the old year and the birth of the new. It was believed that on this night the veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead grew thin and ruptured, allowing spirits to pass through and walk unseen but not unheard amongst men. The advent of Christianity saw the pagan festival subsumed in All Souls' Day, when across Europe the dead were mourned and venerated. Children and the poor, often masked or in outlandish costume, wandered the night begging…

Book cover of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween

Why did I love this book?

Trick or Treat takes the history of Halloween and brings it into the 21st century. The book chronicles the holiday’s long history—distant and more recent, misconceptions and globalization—and offers up similar holiday stories as well, such as chapters on Dias de Los Muertos and All Saints Day celebrations. Looking for something to read or watch or listen to? Here you’ll find a chronicle of Halloween’s literature through 2012, as well as recent movies and music that capture the holiday’s culture in our world today.

By Lisa Morton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Trick or Treat is the first book to both examine the origins and history of Halloween and explore in depth 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 in America - but there are also related but independent holidays, especially Mexico's Day of the Dead. Lisa Morton explores the explosion in popularity of haunted attractions and the impact of events such as the global economic recession, as well as the effect Halloween has had on popular culture through literary works, films and television…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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