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Ancient Origin Of Halloween Masks

The ancient custom of wearing Halloween masks, just like Halloween itself, goes back to the ancient ritual called Samhain, the origins of modern Halloween. Unlike Halloween masks today, which are worn for fun and trick-or-treating, Halloween masks during Samhain were used for religious purposes, believed to protect them from evil spirits and ghosts. Halloween masks have evolved since those first ceremonies 2,000 years ago into a festive way to celebrate Halloween, with young children parading around in masks during trick-or-treat. Here are the true origins of Halloween masks and how they've evolved over the centuries.

Origins Trace Back to a Dark Celtic Festival

Halloween masks were first used in an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, pronounced sow-in. Traditionally celebrated at the end of October, it signified the last harvest. Celts believed on October 31st, the realm between the dead and the living merged, which caused problems for the living. To combat that (and calm angry spirits) they built big bonfires, overseen by druids, and sacrificed animals, hoping to appease the dead. They also wore masks made from animal heads. They would don these crudely fashioned animal heads to mimic dead spirits. It was also used to appease angry spirits.

As Samhain developed into the Celts' common holiday, Celts wore masks outside bonfire ceremonies. Celts even wore it before leaving the house, fearing for their own lives. This belief -- that masks protected you from dead spirits -- carried on for hundreds of years, even after Pope Boniface IV turned it into a Christian holiday called All Saints Day. Christians and pagans alike believed that evil sprits lurked in the night, ready to snatch innocent people if they weren't disguised. These were the first origins of Halloween masks.

The Origins of Halloween Masks in Nineteenth Century Europe

By the 1800s Halloween morphed into a church-sanctioned holiday, centered on celebrating Christianic saints. People still feared ghosts and other spirits on October 31st, despite what the church said. This practice of wearing masks after nightfall was a tradition far rooted into human culture, dating back further than Samhain. Thousands of years ago humans wore masks after big disasters or droughts to scare off lingering demons. They believed that demons caused all major catastrophes, and that belief even existed in the 1800s. Merged with the practice of Samhain and All Saints Day, Europeans religiously wore masks during Halloween to protect themselves from evil spirits.

When the immigration boom hit America in the mid-1800s, European immigrants flooded American soil, bringing the tradition of Halloween masks with them. Their origins melded with the Native American-European origins, developing into modern America's version of Halloween.

Origins of Modern Halloween Masks in America

Halloween was very taboo up to the twentieth century -- most believed it was an evil holiday and refused to celebrate it. Most celebrations were very small, consisting of small parades and celebrations.

Problems developed during this time. Vandalism was rampant across America, mostly the work of mischievous, curious children. Eventually parents got tired of the vandalism, so they dug back to their Samhain origins and revived the use of costumes and masks. In 1920, Anoka, Minnesota was the first town to hold citywide celebrations with people in full-masked attire. Trick-or-treating grew out of this lone celebration in Anoka. Anokans believe the origins of modern Halloween came from their city, although that's debatable.

From that point on, it developed into our modern version of masks, worn for fun during trick-or-treat. It wasn't so fun in the days of the Celts, who feared for their lives, but over the centuries, these ancient origins developed into modern, fun versions. Now all Halloween is to us is fun and joy on the 31st of October.

Submitted by:

Paul Hulse

Paul Hulse writes for the Halloween Costume online retailer www.incostume.com. Please visit their site for more information on Halloween Costumes




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