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It’s back. That time of year when Sainsbury’s stocks fake blood by the gallon and no less than six horror films are released all at once. It’s Halloween – the perfect excuse to dress up, with costumes ranging from the Grim Reaper to the Spice Girls, but how did it all begin?
It all started 2000 years ago with the Celts and their celebration of Samhain. Samhain is the Celtic harvest festival celebrated on the 31st of October – the end of their calendar year. The Celts believed that on Samhain the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead can be broken and spirits of the recently deceased can enter the bodies of the living. To prevent the sprits from occupying their body, the Celts disguised themselves by making masks and costumes from animal skins and heads (and you thought dressing up as a zombie was gruesome). In Scotland, young men would wear white clothes and hide their faces with a veil or mask. These traditions carried on throughout the centuries with Roman and, later, Christian influences.
Dressing up at the end of October carried on throughout the centuries and other traditions closely linked to Halloween also developed (trick-or-treating can be linked back to the Samhain traditions of “guising”, along with the Christian customs of “souling” around All Saints Day). During this period these customs began to spread throughout Europe before making their way to the United States in the 1840s when many of the Irish fled to America in the wake of The Potato Famine.
It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the Halloween we know and recognise began. It started off as a practice for children as opposed to adults, with trick-or-treating and pranking taking the spotlight. Popular costumes for children included more sinister and supernatural themes, including witches, devils, skeletons and the like.
It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that Halloween became more commercialised and adults started to take on the custom of fancy dress for themselves. Although the traditional scary costumes were still popular at this time, the mass manufacturing that went hand-in-hand with the commercialisation of Halloween saw the rise of more pop culture centred costumes. It was around this time that the cocktail of princess, vampire, angel and ghoul costumes first began to mix.
With the 1950s and the baby boom, Halloween became more of a community event. The costume code set up in the 1930s continued under the influence of existing fashion and pop culture. The predominance of spandex in the 1980s influenced some more risqué Halloween outfits and the grunge fashion of the 1990s led to an uprising of black lipstick wearing witches. Horror movies also played a role in the influence of Halloween costumes, with the popular movie “Dawn of the Dead” inspiring a plethora of zombie costumes and the “Scream” movies creating the classic “Ghostface” mask. Catsuits were popularised in the 1990s after Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance of Catwoman in the film Batman Returns (1992).
Whatever you choose this Halloween, be it a pop culture figure, a supernatural character or an animal onesie, just be grateful you aren’t beheading a fox to use as a mask this Halloween.