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The history of Halloween

It’s that time of year again: Halloween, when we eat marinated carp, celebrate Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and put out bowls of butter to salve the wounds of the dead. Who doesn’t love Halloween, when we throw nuts into the fire to predict whom we’ll marry, and enter a house only after firing a shot over the roof and having the owner fire back? Forget Tootsie Rolls. Forget UNICEF boxes. Forget kids in ninja costumes. This bizarrely enigmatic, riotously evolving pagan-Christian-Celtic-American-Hollywood-hyper-retail-creepingly-global holiday is “undoubtedly the most misunderstood of festivals.”

Or so I learned in “Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween” (Reaktion, 2012) by Lisa Morton, a leading authority on the holiday. Her book is my lively source for the guns (a Shetland Islands tradition) and butter (a German practice). But those are just two oddities out of many.

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