Lisa Morton wrote the book on Halloween. Literally.
Actually, she wrote the books on Halloween. Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Non-fiction, Morton is the author of "The Halloween Encyclopedia," "Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween" and "A Hallowe’en Anthology: Literary and Historical Writings Over the Centuries," in addition to a whole bunch of Halloween-inspired novels and short stories.
It was never her plan to become one of the foremost experts on the holiday. A dozen years ago, she was finishing a book about a Chinese filmmaker when the publisher asked her if she wanted to write another.
"I had no idea what to do," Morton said. "I looked at their current catalogue and they were bringing out something called ‘The Christmas Encyclopedia,’ and I said, ‘Hey, how about a Halloween encyclopedia? Nobody’s ever done that.
"For some ridiculous reason, I thought it was going to be easy. And three years later … " she said with a laugh.
Morton wasn’t obsessed with Halloween when she began the project, "But it has become an obsession at this point, I think. It has become a huge interest for me, thanks to that first book."
And thanks to the fact that she discovered so much about it that most people don’t know.
"I think of it as the most misunderstood holiday," Morton said. "There are a lot of misconceptions about Halloween."
Here are five things about the holiday that might surprise you:
Halloween is not derived from anything diabolical
The idea that Halloween "somehow derives from a Celtic worship of Samhain, Lord of Death" is pure baloney.
Samhain is a Gaelic festival that dates back more than a thousand years, but the Satanic interpretation "came from one man in the 18th century who was a not-very-good historian who became obsessed with Celtic culture and just arbitrarily decided everyone else was wrong," Morton said. "At that point, historians had already established that this name, Samhain, meant summer’s end. And this guy, Charles Valance, just looks at that and says, ‘Nah, that’s not what it means. It means ‘lord of death’ — with no apparent rationale or anything.
"And even though he was dismissed by his own peers at the time, he published this series of books on Celtic lore and they found their way into libraries all over the world."
It was the 18th-century version of the Internet — wrong information repeated so often it’s believed to be right.
"And that started what I think of as the strange, alternate history of Halloween — that it’s somehow diabolical and full of Satanic worship," Morton said.
Our Halloween traditions aren’t all that traditional
"One of the other things that surprised most people about Halloween is how recent things that we love about the holiday are," Morton said. " People think that trick-or-treat, for example, goes back centuries. It doesn’t. It goes back about 80 years."
Although if you take your kids trick-or-treating, it can seem like centuries.
"Even things like the colors black and orange are only about a century old," Morton said. "If you look at a decorating pamphlet from around 1910, it will say, ‘The classic colors of Halloween are yellow and brown.’"Next Page >
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