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Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  280 ratings  ·  34 reviews
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 fa
Paperback, 198 pages
Published October 31st 2003 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jul 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: coffee-table
This has a slow start and a slow end. However, the middle section describing the evolution of Halloween customs such as souling, candy, costumes, and mischief is very interesting.
Nov 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
A really good intro to the history of Halloween, this book presented the rather surprising background of the holiday, that it was celebrated for at least two centuries along gender lines (girls spent their Halloweens playing with marriage divination tricks, boys trashing the neighbourhood). I also commend it for its Canadian content.

Some other readers found it academic and slow, which puzzles me. It is a short, easy read.
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Rogers covers a wide range of ideas related to the dark holiday, particularly given the book's length. It also helps that he writes well, so you breeze easily through even some of the more fact-and-figure intensive sections. Interesting, informative, and a great October read.

The book addresses the origins of Halloween, its history in Britain and North America, its similarities to Mexico's "Day of the Dead," urban legends and popular reactions to the holiday, its representation in Hollywood, curr
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Read more like a thesis paper than a book purporting to be about the history of Halloween.
Jessica Ranard
Oct 14, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was between fine & kind of good. A little simple? I think I mostly only liked it because I love Halloween so much, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to friends. ...more
Friedrich Mencken
Oct 31, 2015 rated it did not like it
Predictable and boring would be my characterization of this all too familiar Orwellian re-writing of events. For starters the title is somewhat misleading as the book barely touches on the pagan roots of Halloween, a better title would be something more along the lines of, The social justice warriors guide to Halloween. Most of the book are commentary on old newspaper clippings with the intent of showing that the objection to the violence and mayhem of youths during Halloween are just a fantasy ...more
Steve Wiggins
Rogers offers a book on the history of Halloween that covers the basic territory of the early material that can be known. The problem is that early records of the festival are rare and there is only so much that might be implied. He does a good job covering it. Then, like most books on Halloween, much of the rest of the material is the description of celebrations of the holiday in various cities, with a noticeable emphasis on Canada.

There's nothing wrong, of course, with describing how people ce
Julie G
Sep 23, 2008 rated it liked it
This book was interesting and informative, but I hate reading books that are supposed to be factual, scholarly-type works that contain obvious biases. If I'm looking for facts, I don't want to hear the author's opinion on various religions or political beliefs. In this case, the author frequently referred to the Evangelical Right or the Religious Right as ridiculous or ignorant, without backing up the claims. I was looking for more history and less editorializing.

The information that the book c
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this book to be a little dry for a book about Halloween. It was fun for me to read about the traditions that trick or treating evolved from, and I finally understand the Peter Paul and Mary song "A Soulin" that my parents used to sing. If you decide to read this book, I would highly recommend giving yourself permission to skim it. I think you'll enjoy it much more. ...more
Charlie Cray
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Stupid me, I always thought Halloween came out of early New England harvest celebrations, what with pumpkins and apple brew and Ichabod Crain. Sure, witches go back further, but didn't the Salem witch trials happen around that time of year? And aren't mushrooms and other drugs so common on the holiday a dangerous ritualistic vestige of that hallucinatory fungus that accidentally contaminated the stored grain after an unusually humid and rainy fall...or so the eclectically entertaining raconteur ...more
David Stephens
Jun 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Chalk it up to me reading too much Shirley Jackson or Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I can't help but question traditions. It's often not enough for me to know the trappings of any given holiday. I also want to know why those trappings exist. And since Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, this book would seem to be perfect.

And it does deliver to an extent, providing some insight into what has historically been the wildest and most rebellious holiday of them all, continually walking the line be
Rachel Kolar
Oct 06, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting, engagingly-written overview of Halloween (I'm not sure why people found it dry and dull--I've read MUCH drier works on the topic). I particularly liked how even-handed it was in describing exactly how little we know about the pagan roots of the holiday. I wish it were longer, because it seems that right as Rogers starts gathering steam on a particular topic, he jumps to the next chapter (172 pages really aren't enough to get into a topic this meaty). I'm also knocking off a star ...more
Amy Dale
Oct 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: halloween-spooky
This is a good book on Halloween history,but certainly not the best I've read. It's fantastic for the first few chapters and then the author begins to go off topic quite a lot. We wind up with university history,the history of Detroit as a city,gay pride, infant mortality rates and many other Not Halloween topics, causing one to skim in bored desperation for him to get back to the proper topic. I did learn some new stuff. The beginning and ending are very good. His writing style isn't boring but ...more
Dec 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Slows down a bit here and there, and interestingly also spends a fair bit of time looking at Halloween 2001 in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks -- Rogers I think does a much better job of reflecting on the changes in celebration that year than did Skal in Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, where the same type of chapter felt niche and obsolete, relevant to the early 2000s but not today. (And why is that the early 2000s was apparently time for peak Halloween histori ...more
James Slaven
Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Decent book, but the flow is very choppy and topics bounce around a fair bit, within and between chapters. Little is in here that can't be found elsewhere, where it is written more smoothly. The one exception is the emphasis on Halloween's intersection with gay culture, which would be an interesting book on its own for those more interested in that topic. ...more
Jamie Zaccaria
Oct 30, 2017 rated it liked it
A clever timeline of the history of Halloween.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, halloween
Wonderful, concise read with very interesting historical facts about one of my favourite holidays.
Nov 25, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars, I find the history fascinating, even if the book itself is a little dry.
I certainly learned a lot about the holiday from this book.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really great book! I learned some new things about Halloween! I'm really glad that the way people celebrated in later centuries (with extreme and harmful pranks) went away. I enjoyed the first half of the book more as it was lighter in tone, and I felt very excited about the holiday while reading it; however, as the book progressed, it became much darker, and was more about the politics and religious fanatics. It was especially upsetting to read about the rampant crime in Detroit, and how people ...more
Daniel Fitzgerald
May 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
A bit more academic than the similar Death Makes a Holiday which I recently read. This book focuses less on haunted houses and yard hauntings and the particulars of Halloween in Hollywood, instead considering Halloween's function as a convention-upending liminal festival of pranking and social re-organization. Provides some interesting insights into early Halloween traditions in the British Isles -- also some good info about Halloween practices amongst Scottish and Irish immigrant communities in ...more
Oct 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked up this book to learn a little about the pre-Christian origins of Halloween, but wound up reading all the way to the end because it's interesting, informative, and well-written. A slim little book, it doesn't take very long to read; Rogers avoids unnecessary verbosity in favor of concise (but not terse) language. The only time I found myself skimming was the section on horror movies, which Rogers analyzes in far greater depth than I think necessary. This is really the perfect book for a ...more
Crazy Uncle Ryan
I found this book to be well researched and very informative. It really is mind-boggling to contemplate the amount of time and the number of influences that were involved in bringing about this very unique holiday.
Oct 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Not quite as good/informative as I'd hoped it would be, but there is some interesting info about the history of Halloween contained therein. That being said, I think there are better books out there on the subject. ...more
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
Academic examination of the origins and traditions of Halloween. I found the sections on the paganistic roots of the holiday to be incredibly slow-going.
Oct 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Halloween is the definitive history of the most bewitching day of the year, illuminating the intricate history and shifting cultural forces behind this enduring holiday.
Bryan Davis
Sep 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
Wow... This book took my favorite holiday and made it incredibly boring. While parts were interesting, I felt like I was reading my grad. school homework again instead of a pleasure read.
Nov 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Disorganized but FULL of crazy info and super interesting.
Madeleine McLaughlin
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating look at Halloween through the ages in the Western world. Full of interesting facts.
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Slightly more scholarly and dry, this covers much of the same ground as Death Takes a Holiday, but is less idiosyncratic. Still, worth a read if you like Halloween history.
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For the archivist and medieval historian, see Nicholas J. Rogers

Nicholas Rogers is Professor of History at York University, Toronto, Canada. He is the co-author of Eighteenth-Century English Society: Shuttles and Swords (OUP) and the author of Crowds, Culture, and Politics in Georgian Britain (OUP), for which he received the 1999 Wallace K. Ferguson Prize of the Canadian Historical Association for

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