Halloween Costumes

From the Past to the Present

Halloween Costumes

It’s Halloween…. The concept of Halloween has been around for some time and is gaining popularity in the UK with each year that passes. The tradition of Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. During this festival people would ward off spirts by lighting bonfires and wearing costumes. By the 8th century Pope Gregory III held one day dedicated to honour all saints. This day was on the 1st of November. In time All Saints Day had integrated some of the activities that took place at the festival of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time this day evolved into the Halloween we know today, filled with activities like trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, making costumes as well as adorning your home with spooky decorations.

Where does this Halloween Tradition come from?

The ancient roots of this tradition seem to be understood in all walks of life and have been around for over two thousand years. Historians believe that costumes were originally influenced by Samhain, that celebrated the ‘end’ of summer and the beginning of the darkest time of the year. From this time onwards the use of costumes has been recorded. From at least the 16th century, the festival of mumming and guising, involved people going house-to-house in costume, usually reciting songs, in exchange for food. Others would interpret this for people impersonating the souls of the dead in order to receive offerings on their behalf.

In the 19th century Scottish youths would go house-to-house with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. In parts of Wales, men went about dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachodElsewhere in the Celtic-speaking regions of Europe, people dressed in costumes to a night where ‘supernatural beings’ were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers. Around the 15 century in Western Europe, Christians would use costumes to represent the dead and go door to door, collecting soul cakes and in return would give prayers.

In the Middle Ages, statues and relics of martyred saints were paraded through the streets at Allhallowtide. Some churches who could not afford these things so would dress people as saints instead. Many Christians in Europe, especially in France, believed that on Halloween the dead in the churchyards rose for one wild, hideous carnival, known as the “danse macabre”. It is claimed the macabre dance was enacted at village pageants and people dressed up as corpses from various strata of society.

In America in the 19th century Halloween was celebrated with costume parades and “licentious revelries”.  This festival nevertheless was domesticated to confirm with the Victorian Era, so it was made into a Private Holiday, not a public one. Victorian halloween costumes emphasised the gothic nature of this holiday, and were aimed primarily at children. Costumes were also made at home with any material and garments that could be gathered. But in the 1930s, companies began mass-producing halloween costumes for sale in stores as trick-or-treating became popular in North America.


The Present Halloween

As we’ve mentioned the concept of halloween costumes has shifted ever so slightly over the years, however the focus still remains on the old traditional of representing the supernatural and scary beings of the ‘underworld’. Around the 80s, pop culture in Britain became popular, so costumes were based on some of these characters. Science fiction movies also played a huge part in changing what people wanted to dress up as at this time of year. Inevitably, those were the days were costumes of C-3PO, E.T. and Princess Leia were seen on most streets. The mass production of costumes at this time also made them easy to acquire. Besides the costumes, halloween became the holiday full of candy, house decorations and parties which made this day become one of the most expensive holidays, right behind Christmas.

Around Cambridge, you can see lots of children striding around the town with their parents (some dressed up as well), holding pumpkin shaped baskets to collect theirs sweets from trick-or-treating. This year, door to door trick or treat might be slightly difficult so please bare this in mind if you are out to keep this halloween tradition alive. Some areas of England have put restrictions on trick or treating but those living in tier one or two areas are still allowed to unless local bans are implemented. On another note, remember to incorporate your face mask when choosing a costume this year, as well as enjoying some sweet treats and scary movies with your family (household). Or you could do something different this year and take a chauffeured punt tour at dusk for that spooky experience, whilst you sit back and relax through one of the oldest parts of Cambridge, the Cambridge Backs, with its iconic gothic architecture.

Spooky Halloween everybody!

Posted on October 30th, 2020, by the Traditional Punting Company