Sunday, January 30, 2011

Death Makes a Holiday, by David J. Skal

Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of HalloweenHave you ever wondered about the origins of Halloween traditions?  Why do we go trick or treating, or dress in costume?  Who brought the traditions to the New World?  How much of the mythology is real, and how much is poppycock?  This book answers these questions and more, with a brief overview of history, traditions, folklore, and the lure the holiday has for so many.

I am one of those people who loves to be scared, and is absolutely fascinated by the psychology of fear.  As a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday, and even now, I prefer horror to romance, in terms of books and movies.  So, it is natural for me to be drawn to a book like this, and I think it provides a good starting place for those looking to learn more about Halloween.

The book gives an overview of several areas, like history and folklore, but is unable to go very much in depth in any area.  I think, however, for the purposes of the book, Skal does a good job with these overviews.  There is a huge subculture around Halloween, with it no longer being a holiday just for children.  In fact, increasingly, children are being left out of Halloween, in that trick or treat nights get cancelled, and school ban costumes.

Everyone likes to forget who they are now and then, or pretend they are someone else, and I think this is part of the Halloween appeal.  Also, when we allow ourselves to take charge of the things that scare us, they no longer have the power to cause that fear.  I think the book does an adequate job of covering the holiday, and is a good starting place for those interested in learning more about Halloween.