Brief History Of Halloween Masks, Traditions, and Costumes

Halloween hasn’t always been the lighthearted, child-centric holiday that it is today.  Some 2,000 odd years ago, the Celts inhabiting modern day Ireland celebrated Samhain, which not only marked the end of the Harvest season and marked the new year, but also was the day on which they believed that the souls of the dead freely roamed the earth. It was thought by the ancient Celts, as well as many people alive today that the veil between the worlds of the living and deceased was at its thinnest.

The Celts, markedly the Druids both revered October 31st because it was felt that the priests were able to more easily foretell the future thanks to the roaming spirits, and feared it because the spirits were also believed to cause trouble for the living by damaging crops and just wreaking havoc in general. So, the Celts had several traditions which they put into place in order to both work with the spirits and to keep the troublesome ones at bay. Bonfires and sacrifices were made annually in order to try to appease the spirits, making them amenable to working with the priests, not to mention keeping them from ruining the crops.

In modern times, kids and some grown-ups alike like to dress in masks and costumes for fun, but in ancient times, the idea of “dressing up” for the holiday had a much more serious twist. Back then, they wore masks and costumes to both scare away evil spirits and to disguise themselves so that the spirits would have a hard time figuring out who was who. The traditions of the Celts were long-standing. By the time the Romans conquered a great portion of Celtic territory in 43 A.D., they had been following their Samhain practices for a few millennia. In just a few hundred years of Roman rule, the Romans merged several of their own traditions with those of the Celts, changing an entire way of life. There were some people who held onto the ancient belief systems, but much of it had to be performed in secret as the Romans were sticklers for conformity. Below are a few photos and a video showing some of the older styles of masks and costumes. While these are new in the grand scheme of things, they show some of the remnants of the way that costumes used to be designed compared to the more whimsical ones of today.

Trick or shriek
If I were a ghost, these just might keep me at bay!
All I can say here is, damn! 🙂