Halloween is a good time for horror writers. Tales involving ghosts, graveyards and strangers offering candy to children have inspired us for generations and hopefully terrified readers. Over the years traditions from different cultures have merged into the customs we know today.
This year I’m pleased to be one of the contributors to Halloween Horror Vol. 1, an anthology from DBND. My 60th published story, “The Dancing Skeletons” derives from the belief that the dead used to return for one night each year. In parts of Europe they were said to dance. People started recreating this spectacle, dressed as the dead, and now we have costume parties at Halloween.
In Britain and Ireland some children went from house to house in costume asking for food. In medieval times people delivered soul cakes, accompanied by singing and prayers for the dead. They sometimes carried lanterns. In an Irish folktale Jack tricked the Devil into promising him immunity from hell. After a bad life Jack died and was refused access to heaven. He now wanders around with a light in a turnip. This became a pumpkin, like the shattered one found by the hat of Ichabod Crane.
Some people feel intimidated by the practice of trick or treat. It was refreshing to read of a variant where kids gather in a car park and wander around collecting goodies from car boots. Safer for them, whilst allowing householders time to read a good book.