The history of your favorite dress up day

By Cameron Rasmusson and Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Halloween, like many holidays we celebrate today, has evolved into an orgy of consumerism (see Easter Bunny, see Santa Claus, et. al).

Halloween first evolved from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain. The Celts used the day to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and also believed that this transition between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead. Over the millennia, the holiday transferred from a somber pagan ritual to a day of merriment, costumes, parades and sweet treats for children and adults.

Many modern holidays are influenced by Christian traditions, and Halloween is no exception. As the day before the Christian holy day of All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day and two days before All Souls Day, All Hallows’ Eve became associated with those observances. These included prayers and bell-ringing for souls in purgatory, and as “The World Review” from the University of Minnesota notes,  “It was customary for criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls.” By the 15th century, the tradition of “souling,” or baking soul cakes for christened souls, came into vogue. Some scholars point to this practice as a potential origin for trick-or-treating.

By the early 20th century, recognizable Halloween traditions began forming in the U.S. Costuming became a popular activity, with the first mass-produced outfits appearing in stores as early as the 1930s. Parades and other common holiday celebrations followed by the middle of the century. Thanks to the innate fun of dressing up in costume combined with the surgary allure of candy (not to mention the stronger Halloween treats enjoyed at adult parties), the favorite fall holiday won’t be going away any time soon.

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