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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


Death Makes a Holiday
A Cultural History of Halloween

By David J. Skal
Bloomsbury, 224 pp, 2002

I really enjoyed reading this book, mainly because it's about my second-favorite holiday, Halloween. Halloween just rocks. It's easily the most fun holiday. More fun than Christmas? Of course. To many, Christmas is more of a chore than anything else. Not so Halloween. We can celebrate his holiday however we wish, or even ignore it. No chores involved.

But back to the book. It's an informative and fun look at Halloween, both its history and how it's celebrated today.

Skal, author of other books like Hollywood Gothic, Monster Show, V is for Vampire, and Screams of Reason, has obviously done his homework. He shows how the American celebration of Halloween stems from a smorgasbord of ancient and newer traditions imported from European countries like England, Ireland, and France. Sure, some Celts celebrated the harvest eons ago, but Christianity incorporated that into its own holiday celebrations.

Skal then travels to Salem to explain how that town does Halloween. Needles to say, it hams it up, with tons of witch stuff and wax museums. Halloween is an industry there and easily the town's sole claim to fame. If it weren't for the witch hunts and trials three hundred years ago, Salem would be just another small town.

Skal then turns his attention to those wonderfully creative folks who operate their own homemade haunted houses. I envy those people. I'd love to do the same. I used to help a friend set up a haunted house in his garage and backyard. It was a lot of work and money but an absolute blast. I suppose I'll have to compensate with my front yard displays, which are growing more elaborate every year. Maybe I'll take pictures and post them this year.

He then moves on to Halloween on Castro Street and elsewhere in the country where celebrating Halloween is a bit more controversial. Some folks just don't like Halloween. They don't get it, I think. They have this crazy idea in their heads that it's a satanic holiday filled with wackos who stick razor blades in apples. For practically everyone who celebrates Halloween, it ain't like that. Never been and never will be.

So if you like Halloween, or just mildly interested in why we celebrate this great holiday, read this book. You won't be sorry.

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