The History of Halloween and Costumes


Hannah Coleman

As a child, Halloween means dressing up as your favorite character and bringing home buckets of candy. When you’re in college, it’s party time.  It means dressing up in provocative costumes, drinking alcohol, and forgetting everything the next morning. What does Halloween actually mean though? Better yet, where did the tradition of dressing up come from? Have we been doing it completely wrong all these years?

According to Blair Donovan and Marissa Gold, Halloween originated thousands of years ago with the ancient Gaelic Festival of Samhain, which was held on October 31. This date was important as this was when seasons began to change, which led many to believe that the boundary between “this world and the next was especially thin, enabling them to contact the dead.” For many, Halloween meant a chance to contact dead ancestors. Today, the meaning of Halloween depends on each person. Some believe that Halloween is just a silly holiday, whereas others believe that the day is evil.

The common practice of dressing up and going “Trick-or-Treating” also had a specific purpose that originated many years ago. It was typical to dress up as saints to honor the Gaelic festival. To celebrate, families would go door to door reciting songs and asking for “soul cakes,” which were similar to biscuits. These traditions led to today’s practice of “Trick-or-Treating”. People now dress up for fun as whoever they want, and children collect candy rather than biscuits. Donovan and Gold stated, “The candy-grabbing concept became mainstream in the U.S. in the early to mid-1900s, during which families would provide treats to children in hopes they would be immune to any holiday pranks.”

Dressing as saints had another, even spookier purpose. Elizabeth Enochs says that people used to dress up as saints to hide themselves from certain evil spirits. It was common to dress completely in white and have a painted face. Food and beverages were also left out as peace offerings. This all changed in the 11th century as Halloween was Christianized by the church.

Halloween became more about dressing up rather than hiding from spirits. Enochs said that Christians did not want to hide from the evil spirits, but rather pray for them. These costumes were always homemade, as they were not manufactured until the 1920s. Costumes were always known to be modest until the 1970s when the goal became to be “sexy”. Thus, costumes became more provocative.

This costume trend has stayed the same, at least for many college students. Eventually, Halloween became more about dressing sexy and spending the night partying. Arizona State University students even dedicate a whole week to this, where each night they dress up as something new and throw huge parties. I’m sure this article has got you thinking, “Speaking of Halloween, what am I going to be?” and personally it’s done the same thing to me, so we’d better start planning.

Halloween is all fun and games, but at the end of the day it’s important to stay safe. All students who participate in Halloween festivities should remember to never drink and drive.