Every single year, kids and adults alike take to the streets dressed up in scary Halloween costumes simply to knock on peoples doors and ask for candy or to have a Halloween party. Some costumes are made at home, DIY style, while others are store-bought horror movie Halloween costumes. Everyone has come to accept this tradition as a bit of harmless fun, but where does Halloween originate from, and why do we dress up in Halloween costumes and masks every year?
The traditions of Halloween are actually a hybrid of ancient Roman, Celtic, Pagan, and Catholic traditions, all stirred up together with more than a little bit of input from the manufacturers of Halloween costumes and masks.
The Halloween tradition is thought to have originated as far back as the Iron Age. The 31st of October, or there about, marked the end of the Celtic year and it was a time to celebrate the coming of winter and the bringing in of the Harvest. On what was essentially the Celtic New Year’s Eve, the Celts also made this holiday, which they called Samhain, a time to honour the dead.
When the Romans invaded Great Britain and Ireland, Samhain became integrated into a Roman festival called Pomona, which was a celebration of the Roman goddess of fruits and gardens, which was traditionally held on the 1st of November. It is thought that the Roman festivals of Parentalia and Feralia, which were both festivals relating to honouring and appeasing the dead, were also incorporated at some point into the Roman version of the annual Halloween festival.
Then we have the Roman Catholic All Saints' Day, which is also known as All Hallows Day, which occurs on the 1st of November and this was a day to honour the saints and the dead. Rather than replacing the old festivals with the new, though, the Catholic Church opted for the easier option of incorporating the Christian All Hallows Day with the existing Roman and Pagan festivals that already occurred at that time of year. The night before All Hallows Day was All Hallows Eve, which later became shortened Halloween.
Across all those different festivals there was the common theme of the dead and Halloween became known as the night that those in the spirit world could walk the earth. To protect themselves from the dead, the living would wear masks to trick the spirits into thinking that they too were ghosts. The modern day horror movie Halloween costumes have simply evolved from that tradition of wearing masks.
Early European settlers in America brought the various Halloween traditions with them and Halloween became a communal celebration of the harvest and a party where ghost stories would be shared and tricks would be played on one another.
The trick or treat tradition was another European import to America, based on a European tradition of the poor knocking on the doors of the wealthy on All Hallows Eve asking for food in return for praying for the dead of that house.
Today, Halloween has become the second most celebrated festival in the United States, second only to Christmas. Americans spend in the region of 3 billion dollars every year on Halloween costumes and masks, and 2 billion dollars just on candy.
So, when you dress up this year in your horror movie Halloween costume to go with the kids trick or treating or to go to a Halloween party, you are celebrating a Celtic-Pagan-Roman-Christian festival and you are wearing a mask and costume to protect you from the spirits that roam the earth on All Hallows Eve.