Lisa Morton knows Halloween.
She’s a renowned go-to Halloween historian and expert. Lisa is the author of numerous books on Halloween, including this narrative history she recommends to our readers: “Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween.”
Her work has been described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.” How is that for a compliment and ringing endorsement? But we can go on, and will.
Lisa is a six-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award®, a recipient of the Black Quill Award, and winner of the 2012 Grand Prize from the Halloween Book Festival.
Spooky Things has referenced Lisa Morton before, in our very popular and educational post titled Old World origins of The Spooky Holiday Trifecta, Oct. 31 – Nov. 2
In that post we quoted her from the excellent History Channel documentary “The Real Story of Halloween.”
Now having the privilege of interviewing Lisa Morton. Here’s Lisa:
SPOOKY THINGS ONLINE (which is really just me): WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST INTERESTING HALLOWEEN FACTS TO YOU, THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH READERS?
Lisa Morton: “I often think of Halloween as the most misunderstood of holidays, so let me correct three commonly-held “facts” which are really misconceptions:
1) “Trick or treat is not a custom that dates back hundreds of years; it’s actually quite recent, having been instituted in the 1930s to buy off malicious pranksters. Prior to that,
Halloween was mainly a day for teenage boys to play pranks.
2) “Costuming doesn’t date back to the Druids dressing in animal skins and so forth; the truth is, while we know very little about the Celts. They didn’t keep written accounts of their history, we have no evidence to suggest that they celebrated Samhain, their version of Halloween, with any form of costuming.
3) “Samhain is not a “Celtic Lord of Death,” but rather means “summer’s end” and was celebrated by the Celts as their new year festival.”
Now, regarding costuming, I had always heard and believed that because Halloween is considered the day and night when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, the origin of costuming had a couple of purposes.
First, you did it to blend in with the spirits crossing over so they wouldn’t waste their precious time on Halloween night scaring us. Or two, we dressed up to scare them; sort of a best offense is a good defense kind of strategy.
Well it turns out, according to Lisa, those stories were told to her too by her mother. But alas, Lisa says costuming has no historical roots. In fact, we the collective, and the retailers, might be the origin that future Halloween enthusiasts will look back in a millennium and say, “it started there.”
Certainly though, we can all agree that is a great mythology for costuming that we should embrace. That said, I fail to see how dressing up only like a nurse or fireman is actually going to scare the spirits crossing over. So if you embrace that idea, dress up a little scarier and old-school Halloween. And as we’ve written before, I’m not sure how chain-saws fit into Halloween. Your average ghost is already dead and likely has no fear of the saws. But here we are.
Now as many of you may know, Halloween has grown into the second most popular holiday in the United States retail-wise and in other ways. So for those of us who are old enough to remember, how did we get here? From cheap plastic masks for kids to this elaborate celebration? We posed that question to Lisa, who answered:
Lisa Morton: “Halloween seems to be a holiday that kind of changes its identity, I actually chartered it, in about 40 years cycles. Forty years before the 1960’s for example, it was all about pranking. Then the pranking became so destructive that a lot of cities were gonna ban Halloween. Then some of them got smart and created the whole trick or treat notion. And then you get up to the golden age of trick of treat in the 1960s, and then by about the late 1990’s and 2000’s, you get the haunted attractions coming in and taking it over.”
Lisa goes on to say that momentum built and now Halloween is “kind of being reclaimed by adults.”
Lisa also added this perspective:
Lisa Morton: “You now get things like the rise of the sexy costume in retailing, which is gigantic now, and the haunted attractions industry. One of the reasons that that industry has boomed is that a lot of the people who used to do makeup effects in Hollywood were being displaced by computers and going out to find other ways to do the same thing and the haunted attractions industry got a lot of those people. Then you start to get the rise of the big trade shows. And now of course, it’s reached the point where for 150 bucks, any home haunter can have an incredible animatronic figure in their front yard.
(Lisa shared she’s one of those haunters)
Lisa further tells us that 20 years ago “nobody except us in the United States and some of the United Kingdom and Canada were celebrating Halloween. But now it’s huge, almost all over the world. It has yet to really catch on in the Southern hemisphere where they don’t have the seasonal associations with it. But in places like mainland China, I would never have guessed Halloween catching on there. It’s catching on Russia. It’s caught on. I mean it really is becomes huge all over the world. And retailing is a big part of that retailing and the syndication of American sitcoms. Every, every American sitcom has done, Halloween and people see those in (for example) Denmark or South Africa or wherever, and think it looks fun and it starts to catch on there.”
About Lisa Morton
And so ends our time with Lisa Morton. Lisa is also a screenwriter in addition to being an author. A special Spooky Things Online thank you to her for her time! Here’s a couple of websites that will tell you a lot about Lisa and her amazing work:
Ok, that’s a wrap on this post. We’re all a little smarter and a little more educated on Halloween thanks to Lisa.
I’ve done my job, now please do yours (let people know about his post, the Blog, contribute content through our Spooky Call To Action, etc., anything to make my job easier).
Until our next Spooky Encounter,