Friday, October 25, 2013

Why Do We Dress Up for Halloween?

Is Halloween the same as Day of the Dead?  And why do I dwell on such questions?  Maybe it's because I am trying to avoid figuring out what I'm going to be for my office Halloween party.  Every year the benchmark is set higher and higher.  No pressure.  What else would you expect from people who work in the entertainment industry?

Since I don't have any brilliant costume ideas (yet), I'll instead tackle these other pressing questions.  Of course, food is common between the two celebrated holidays.  What differentiates the two is the goal of attracting good souls and avoiding the not so-good-souls.

Day of the Dead or Dia de Muertos occurs over a three day period, October 31-November 2 around All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.  It's a time where families build private altars honoring the souls of their dead ancestors.  The altars are decorated with sugar skulls, brilliant orange marigolds and favorite food/drink as on offering for their dearly departed.  On those 3 days, families will clean, decorate and set up the altars at the cemetery with the intent of encouraging visits with the souls of their loved ones.  We'll call them the good souls.

Halloween on the other end of the soul spectrum, also known as "All Hallow's Eve," began as a Christian feast influenced by Celtic harvest festivals.  Harvest festivals falling at the end of summer's bounty and going into the darker half of the year was seen as a time when the spirits could more easily pay a visit to the world of the living.  If one didn't want to encounter the evil souls, they would costume themselves as a way to disguise their identity.  The costumed came to be known as guisers.  If guisers wanted to frighten the evil spirits away, then jack-o'lanterns were carried to deny those spirits entry into heaven or hell.  Turnips, yes turnips were the original jack-o'lanterns.  By the time the North Americans got a hold of the tradition, they used the much softer pumpkin to make their point. So, the trick or treaters coming to your door today are carrying on the very old tradition of guising.

Turnip Jack-O'Lantern, courtesy Wikipedia
Now that I know guising was supposed to scare the evil spirits away, I'm not so sure of my past costume choices.  But the one I've been most proud of was the year I went as Jack I. Box or simply  Jack. I'm not sure I'll ever top it and I'm pretty sure I didn't frighten any souls except for maybe myself when I looked in the mirror.  This year, I now know what I need to focus on when I create my next great costume....the fear factor!



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