The history of Halloween costumes ~On November 1st over 2000 years ago, in what is now known as the United Kingdom, Ireland and northern France, the Celts celebrated their new year. This date marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the cold, dark winter season, often associated with death. It was Celtic belief the on the night before the New Year the veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead because blurred. This night they celebrated Samhain. Celts believed ghosts haunted the land and damaged crops. This night was also thought to allow the Druids and Priests to possess a heightened ability to predict the future. For the commoner, these predictions would be a comfort and an insight into the coming dark winter that lie ahead. Druids built large bonfires where the people would gather to sacrifice crops and their animals to ancient deities.
The Druids also wore costumes consisting of animal skins and animal heads to mark the celebration and to spread their prophecies. When the celebration subsided the Celts would re-lite their home fires from the celebration bonfire to protect their home with the worshipped god help during the coming dark winter. After the Romans had invaded and conquered most of Celtic land by 43 A.D. two traditional festivals, the Celtic Samhain and the Roman, were combined.
Feralia, the first day of the Roman festival traditionally occurred in late October and we celebrated to remember the passing of the dead. The second day, Pomona, was to honor the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. This may be an explanation of the traditional Halloween practice of today called "bobbing for apples". Christianity had become a part of the Celtic lands and in the 7th century, Pope Bonfire IV designated Nov 1st as a day to honor Martyrs and Saints, All Saints Day. This celebration was also known as All-Hallowmas or All-Hallows and was widely believed to be the popes attempt to make the dead related Celtic festival a church-sanctioned holiday. The night of Samhain, the night before it, started to be called All-hallows Eve, which soon was named Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, November 2 was named by the church as All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. Like Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. The combined three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were then called Hallowmas.
Halloween Traditions of Trick or Treat and Halloween Costumes
"Trick-or-treating", the American tradition of celebrating Halloween is very similar to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. Poor citizens would beg for food and be given pastries called "soul cakes" by families and in return they promised to pray for their dead relatives. The ancient practice of leaving wine and food for spirits was replaced by the soul cakes with blessing of the church. Soon children adopted the practice of "going a-souling"; visiting the houses in their neighborhoods to collect money ale and food.
The modern tradition of dressing up in adult Halloween costumes and kids Halloween costumes has both Celtic and European roots. Many hundreds of years ago the winter was an uncertain time. With people being scared of the dark and low on food the constant uncertainty of the short winter days would set in. On Halloween it was believed that ghosts would come back to the earth plane and would be encountered if anyone left their home. To avoid being recognized by these unearthly spirits, people would adorn masks and Halloween costumes when they ventured out after dark in the hopes these ghosts would mistake them for one of their own. To appease these ghosts, people would also leave food and drink outside their homes to prevent them from entering.
Evolution of Halloween
New European immigrants brought their Halloween costumes and their customs with them to America. Because early New England contained a strict Protestant belief system, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited. A distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge as the beliefs and customs from the different European and American Indians melded. In Maryland and the southern colonies this holiday was much more common. During "play parties", citizens took part in the public celebrations of the harvest by telling stories of the dead, dancing, singing and telling each other's fortunes. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and jokes. Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the middle of the nineteenth century, but yearly fall festivities were common.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the full celebration of Halloween began. With the new rush of English and millions of Irish immigrants escaping Ireland's potato famine of 1846 Halloween was celebrated nationally. Along the same lines of Irish and English traditions, Americans began to wear Halloween costumes and go house to house begging for food or money, a practice that is now today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Youthful women believed they could predict the appearance and the name of their future husbands by doing tricks with apples parings, string or mirrors.
In the late 1800s, the tradition gravitated away from pranks, spirits, divination and witchcraft to a more neighborly holiday. At the turn of the century, Halloween costume parties for families became the most common way to celebrate the holiday. These parties focused on Halloween costumes seasonal foods and fun Halloween games. Now parents were encouraged through local media to remove the grotesque and superstitious overtones that Halloween was typically associated with. By the beginning of the twentieth century these efforts came to fruition and once again the Halloween traditions were altered. By the 1920s and 1930s, the October 31st Halloween holiday had become a celebration with Halloween costume parties, Halloween parades as the national Halloween entertainment. All that attended wore Halloween costumes of ghosts, ghouls and goblins. Despite the best efforts of communities, vandalism began to ravage the Halloween celebrations during this time. By the 1950s, community leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween mainly evolved into a holiday for the young. Because of the baby boom of that era, parties were moved from the local centers into the family home and the local schools to accommodate the numbers. Also from 1920 to 1950, the ancient practice of trick-or-treating was also rekindled. Door to door "trick-or-treating" was a great inexpensive way to bring about the community to share in the Halloween spirit.
Today Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion every year on the Halloween tradition, making it the second largest commercial holiday.