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First Halloween Costumes: Skins, Skulls, and Skirts

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Lydia King
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« on: October 31, 2009, 04:10:35 am »

Ancient Halloween Costumes Celebrated the Dead

Samhain night was also a celebration of the dead—the one time the spirits were believed to walk among the living.

Again, the earliest rituals aren't known in detail, but in recent centuries families put out food and even set extra table places for their ancestors at Samhain.

It was also a night when people dressed in costumes to create mischief and confusion, according to Bettina Arnold of the Center for Celtic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"The spirits of the dead were impersonated by young men dressed with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white or disguises of straw," Arnold wrote in an essay titled "Halloween Customs in the Celtic World."

These costumes were intended both to protect revelers from any malevolent spirits and to fool households they visited.

In Scotland and elsewhere, revelers masquerading as the dead would go around demanding food offerings—a forerunner to today's trick-or-treating.

Nilsen of St. Francis Xavier University added: "People put on costumes which frequently included blackened faces and so on, representing spooks, demons, or whatever."
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