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Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night

by Nicholas Rogers

This brief look at the history and meaning of Halloween is an uneasy blend of academic treatise, personal observation, and pop-culture rant. York University professor Nicholas Rogers tries to cover too much material in too few pages, resulting in a pastiche of quotes pasted together with dry observations of contemporary culture.

The introduction treats the reader to a chatty, entertaining description of drag queens celebrating on Toronto’s Church Street in 1998. In ensuing chapters Rogers drops the chatty tone and discusses the history of Halloween – the festival Samhein, the Christian origins of All Saints Day, and how Halloween came into existence in North America. Rogers relies heavily on quotes and other sources in the history sections, and the result lacks the charm and inquisitiveness of the introduction.

The sections on the sociological import of Halloween do not fare much better. Here Rogers sacrifices style to state the obvious: Halloween is an occasion for permissive behaviour, and this behaviour is often frowned upon by more conservative elements in society.

However, he provides an excellent summary of the little known history of Halloween beatings, police harrassment, and arrests across Canada over the past 100 years. His examination of the 1980s phenomenon “Halloween Sadism,” where trick-or-treaters were subjected to such cruel jokes as razor blades hidden in apples, is also quite interesting. (Rogers argues that the phenomenon was largely a creation of the media.)

Those searching for a definitive history about the celebration or information about its rites or rituals are better off looking in the social anthropology section of their library.