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Halloween costumes: The disturbing origins of the popular tradition

Halloween costumes are a tradition that dates back to the Celtic folk who used them on Samhain to scare away evil spirits.

Halloween: an ancestral celebration with Celtic roots that arrived in America with the first settlers, and evolved into a pagan celebration with Christian elements. Halloween today is the opportunity to celebrate the dark side of life: horror fans watch marathons of films, friends get together to tell supernatural stories, families carve Jack-O’-lanterns to decorate, and those who want music and fun organize costume parties.

That makes us wonder where the origin of Halloween costumes comes from. Recall that on Samhain, it was believed that spirits came back to life to visit their relatives. Therefore, some of the living feared that those who had passed in horrible scenarios would want to take revenge on them. So, people would put on masks and disguises to confuse the spirits.

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Generally, the costumes imitated the appearance of monsters or some supernatural beings so that the spirits would believe that the living person was with another spirit that also came from beyond life. According to the American Folklife Center, some people also did it as a trick to scare away these spirits to avoid being possessed by them. It is also said, that some inhabitants of Celtic villages, as a tribute to their deceased, used to get dressed or characterized themselves as them.

During these celebrations, some people wore black makeup on their faces or even attended the rites characterized as spirits, while others chose to wear masks. One of the strangest customs was that of exchanging gender roles: men dressed as women and vice versa.

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Undoubtedly, Samhain was a colorful, strange, and disturbing holiday in many ways. It was surrounded by mystery, darkness, and a sinister presence. Undoubtedly, the costumes and the appearance of its participants contributed greatly to the celebration being seen as the union between something sacred and terrifying. Today, all those ingredients have been retaken for people to transform their daily appearance into a much darker one. Sometimes twisted.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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