Books for the spooky season

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 9:52 AM

It’s the last day of October, which means that here in America, it’s time to celebrate Halloween (although we’re not the only country joining the fun!). I have fond childhood memories of dressing up as a chef, an Anchisaurus, and Andrés Galarraga, and making it my personal mission to grab as much candy as I could fit in a large grocery bag. That's a very modern way to celebrate Halloween, though, and not many people think about exactly how this spookiest of holidays came to be.

So I did a little digging in Book Search and discovered Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. It's full of lively anecdotes illustrating how Halloween has changed over the years, from its beginnings as the Celtic feast of Samhain to its eventual popularization on distant shores. Evidently, the turn of the century was a heyday for elaborate Halloween hijinks -- at Northwestern University students "went on painting sprees of campus property and downtown stores," and in 1907, 31 of them were arrested for "hosing down divinity students in their dormitory."

You can find plenty of other good reads, too. If you're looking for books for younger readers, you might want to check out Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols. And little ones might enjoy this beautifully illustrated children’s book on the history of Halloween.

The fun doesn't stop there. November 1st marks the beginning of the Day of the Dead, or Día de los muertos, a Mexican celebration of life and death. For many of us, Halloween celebrations don’t go much beyond costumes and candy, but Día de los muertos is a time to reflect on those who are no longer with us. Yet the holiday is far from gloomy – it’s marked by brightly colored ofrendas, or offerings to the dead, lots of candles, pictures, and special food and drink. The most common flavor isn’t bitter but sweet -- people enjoy eveything from skulls made of sugar to the famous pan de muerto (loosely, “bread of the dead”), a twisted bread made from sugary dough.

If you'd like to learn more about Día de los muertos, I recommend checking out Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead (or for beginning readers, the colorful Day of the Dead).

Of course, the best way to experience Día de los muertos is to join a public celebration -- just by walking around, you can really get into the spirit of it (so to speak). Just be sure to take good care of your teeth; after two holidays filled with countless opportunities to indulge in sugary treats, they're going to need it!


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