Halloween: A Brief History and Origin
Halloween, otherwise known as All Hallows Eve , originated as a Pagan festival in Celtic Britain, and did not arrive in North America until the 19th Century after the influx of millions of Irish refugees fleeing the potato famine. All Hallows Eve (shortened to Hallow’een) is so called because it falls on the eve before All Hallows Day. Halloween was formerly a religious festival, where the spirits of the dead were believed to visit the mortal world and bonfires were lit to ward off evil. However, by the 20thCentury, Halloween started to become commercial, and by the 1930’s you could buy ready-made Halloween costumes and party decorations in retail stores.
Halloween and Guy Fawkes
I grew up in England, and when I was a child in the 1950’s we did not really celebrate Halloween, but placed more importance on Guy Fawkes Night, sometimes called Bonfire Night. Halloween became more popular and commercial in Britain in the 1980’s due to influence from America. On Guy Fawkes night, we set off fireworks, built big bonfires and burned scarecrow-like effigies of Guy Fawkes. Fawkes was among a number of Catholic conspirators who plotted to kill the Protestant King, James VI of Scotland, by blowing up the House of Lords during the opening of Parliament on the evening of 5th of November 1605. Typically, we made these effigies, called “Guys” and carried them around to the neighbors houses asking for “A Penny for the Guy” but I do not remember wearing any costumes. We would collect a reward of pennies and sometimes sweets (candies) if our Guy was really well made. Then we would place the Guy on top of the bonfire to burn, and sing:
“Remember, remember the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason, why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot”
There are more verses to this song, but that verse was about all we could remember. Then we wrapped potatoes up in foil and baked them in the embers of the fire. We also made toffee apples or candy apples as well as “bobbing” for apples, which is where we would try to grab apples floating in a barrel of water with only our teeth. Apple bobbing was hilarious and everyone got wet. We also set off fireworks to symbolize the spectacle people might have seen if Fawkes and his fellow conspirators had been successful and the Palace of Westminster had actually been blown up. It strikes me as strange that we choose to burn the Guy like a witch, when in actual fact, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, after being tortured, were then hung, drawn, and quartered alive, in January 1606. The latter was a particularly ghoulish and bloody practice, which, in all probability, still exists somewhere in the world today. I find it interesting to see how many similarities there are here between Bonfire or Guy Fawkes Night in the UK and in other British influenced territories, and Halloween as we know it today in America. Guy Fawkes night is still popular in the UK and celebrated every year, and many Halloween practices, especially the bonfires, have been moved to November 5th. For a more detailed history of Halloween, Wikipedia is an excellent source.
According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, the most popular Halloween costumes today are: witches, pirates, vampires, cats and clowns – in that order. In my humble opinion, even though people may execute these costumes in a creative fashion, they are all kind of old hat, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Halloween costumes are a wonderful excuse to create a unique costume, dress up, and be something or someone else for an evening. We get to let our hair down (or put some on) and have a lot of fun with family and friends.
Some of the best Halloween costumes I have seen were made by gay men participating in the West Hollywood Halloween Parade. Outrageous, original, creative, funny and beautiful. I have listed here descriptions of some of the most original costumes I have seen:
Two people dressed as a table and chair with a full formal dinner place setting
Fairytale characters (mostly hairy males in drag)
Men dressed as brides
Saran-wrapped Mummies (no other clothing involved!)
A piano player “sitting” and playing a cardboard piano, which was part of the costume
Tribal Shaman with lots of feathers
A lady on stilts with her boyfriend as a live marionette puppet on strings
A pregnant lady in a skeleton costume with a baby skeleton painted on her stomach (in the style of Dia de Muertos – Mexican Day of the Dead)
A giant butterfly with amazing wings, and all manner of body painting, masks, costumes made with black mesh and fur, costumes that light up (i.e. El wire) and anything black light sensitive.(You can bring your own portable battery operated black light to highlight the costume and paint)
I am including photos I took of some of my favorite Halloween costumes.
Sources for Halloween costume ideas
A great source for ideas for making creative original Halloween costumes, apart from the online stores and party stores, is the Burning Man website. If you do not have the time or the inclination to create your own costumes, there are any number of online stores than you can find using Google, or the Yellow Pages to find your local party store. I found several promising online party stores, with Halloween boo-tiques where you can order everything from costumes to tombstones and skeletons for the party. Some of these stores are having special discount sales, and some even offer same day shipping in case you have left it all to the last minute. Under “Resources”I have listed the addresses of some of the websites to check out.
Have fun, take lots of pictures, and be safe!