Halloween 101: How We Got Here

Halloween is meant to be a time of make believe, magic, zombies, and everything in between. But how did we get to a place of degrading and down right culturally insensitive costumes? Here is a quick history lesson and guide to Halloween so you can enjoy this holiday without seeming like complete societal trash.

Halloween Origin Story:

Back in the day (roughly 2,000 years ago), people celebrated what was an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The point of this celebration was to celebrate the end of the harvest season with huge bonfires and sweet treats to help usher in the dark part of the year. This is roughly where the origins of Halloween stem from, although several countries celebrate it very differently; if at all.

In the 1800’s Americans would celebrate the closing of the harvest season, as they did for centuries before; during this time communities would come together and share stories of ghosts and witches. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1800’s that people had decided to make Halloween more of a holiday, about the community, and children in general. Communities sought to the history of Halloween to determine how they wanted to go about turning a demon holiday into something appropriate for children.

When Halloween was first created, it was believed that on this specific night demons would roam freely. In order to not be recognized by such things, people would enter the streets wearing masks. They would also leave bowls of food on their doorstep to try and keep these nasty demons happy. Enter: costumes and trick-or-treating.

By the 1920’s this idea had finally caught on, and by the 1950’s with the baby boomers, booming – communities were encouraged to tone down the horror a bit and instead celebrate through trick-or-treating whilst wearing costumes. Fast forward to today, and Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday with folks spending around $6 billion annually. You can find more information here and here.

Costume Evolution:

Over the last 2,000 or so years Halloween costumes have changed quite a bit. From a mask, to a culturally insensitive getup, and every where in between. They were actually extremely creepy in the 20’s – look it up, I dare you.

Regardless, we have come to a place where more and more people are understanding the importance of carefully choosing an appropriate Halloween costume. However, not everyone is quite there yet – so here are a few things to keep in mind this holiday season.

General Costume Guidelines:

Problem: Cultural Appropriation

Now that we have learned about some history of Halloween, we understand that it is meant to be about the overall community. With that in mind, it offensive when one community takes pieces of another community’s culture and dresses up as if it is a joke for the day i.e. Native Americans, Mexicans, etc.

It is important to understand how terribly offensive it is to ‘dress up’ as these cultures for a day, (especially as a person who is not a part of these communities) and then go on your marry way the next day. If you are not a member of these minority communities there is inherently more privileged that you were born with because you are potentially not within a specific minority community. Therefore, to take their culture, use it for fun (OR claim it as your own!) and throw it away the next day is absolutely disgusting and wrong.

Solution: Cultural Appropriation

Stop stealing other cultures and playing dress up. It is NOT okay. If you are interested in another culture then look it up and educate yourself, so you can LEARN. Do not just buy a “cute” outfit on Amazon or your local Halloween store and call it a day.

Problem: Costume Sexualization

Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate an attractive person when I see one. However, Halloween has become more and more sexualized over the years…which is…fine. However, what is not fine is the overwhelming pressure on women to succumb to such pressures. Halloween for women, is pretty much lingerie and the animal ears of your choosing – you are either a Cady Heron or a Regina George…and it’s a lot to be honest.

The issue is not only what this is stating to adult women about the standards we set as a society, but it is also sending an impactful message to children (which if we all remember, is who Halloween was suppose to be for).

If my husband and I wanted to dress up as firefighters, for example, his costume would be pretty close to the real thing. Maybe some kind of yellow overalls, a white t-shirt underneath so he doesn’t completely freeze, some heavy duty boots, a fireman hat (obviously), and an ax of some sort. However, for me to pull off the same costume would be looked down upon because it isn’t “sexy” enough. Where are my high heels and short skirt? The message that this sends to children is that women are sexual objects, where men are the real deal, and are to be taken seriously.

Solution: Costume Sexualization

Honestly, at the end of the day: do you boo, boo. Some women find it empowering to strut their stuff in a skimpy cat ensemble; more power to them. The point is that women should have the right to choose what type of costume they want, where on the scale of Cady or Regina do they want to fall.

With that being said, ladies, do not feel the pressures of society, you need to do what makes you comfortable, what makes you feel good, and what you will have fun wearing, period.

An Extensive List of Appropriate Halloween Costumes:

Halloween is about make believe and magic, and zombies. It is the one day you get to be whatever you want and for the most part, people can’t say much (…unless you are culture appropriating or being a sexist pig) SO, here is a list of costumes that are totally OK and even encouraged; enjoy!

  • Zombie
  • Avocado
  • Unicorn
  • Shellfish
  • Lamp
  • Cartoon/TV Character (don’t even think about doing blackface, you fool)
  • Superhero
  • Villan
  • Pun/Play on Words
  • Cactus
  • Shower Loofa
  • Influential Figure (i.e.Rosie the Riveter)
  • A Spice
  • A Book
  • A Game (board or digital)
  • Waldo
  • BINGO
  • Pineapple
  • Taco
  • Cow
  • Bacon & Eggs
  • Scarecrow
  • Deer
  • Mime
  • Highliter
  • Sushi
  • Cupcake
  • Snapchat Filter
  • Comic-book Look
  • Black & White Photo Look
  • Rainbow
  • Mermaid
  • Taco-bell Sauce

Hopefully you get the idea, if not – maybe you should not participate this year! Take the year to learn why you don’t understand your offensive and potential damaging ways.

For more fun costume ideas check out these articles: here and here!

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