Many people don’t realize it, but Halloween was not originally an American holiday. It was a British holiday. The English, Irish, and Scottish celebrated it. One of the things they did when they celebrated was to put on costumes and go from house to house putting on plays. This is a custom that was often practiced in old England, Ireland, and Scotland, and today, some of them still do it. The name of the practice is called Mummers Theater. There were two parts to the Mummers Theater. One, they put on plays from house to house or in the village squares, and the other, they had a parade from house to house. They wore costumes and masks. In English, if you are staying “mum,” it means you are staying quiet. Masks don’t talk, but the people behind this masks do talk during the plays. The plays were originally passed down by mouth, from what I understand, many were written down in the 1800’s. In some places, they still do these Mummer’s plays on the British Isles.
When the children are going from house to house dressed in costumes on Halloween, they are simply practicing an age old tradition begun in England, Scotland, and Ireland called Mummer’s Theater. The English no longer celebrate Halloween, but they still do Mummer’s Theater for other holidays, especially at Christmas. When we lived in England, we happened not to stay home on Halloween. The British knew we were Americans, and so, would normally celebrate Halloween, so they tricked us because we didn’t stay home to give out candy. They took soap and soaped a big picture window in the front of our house.
That soaped window is actually my first memory of Halloween because I had never been Trick or Treating. When I was growing up, my early years were spent in England and Morocco, so I only began Trick or Treating after we returned to America. I wore a Halloween costume when we lived in Morocco because we went to a Halloween party at another American’s house. As children, we didn’t understand so many things. One of our friends didn’t show up for the party, so one of the little boys and I decided to leave the party and walk down the road to the girl’s house and find out why she didn’t come. We both had costumes on. If I remember correctly, the little boy was wearing a devil costume, and I was wearing a gypsy costume. As we were walking along the street, the Arabs that passed us were noticeably alarmed! We were just children in costumes, but they were scared and passed to the other side of the street keeping a close eye on us. Many other countries don’t understand the American Halloween costumes.
As for Americans, we just wear the costumes regardless of the meaning and play. We know we aren’t really the thing that we are dressed up to be, and we think it is a big joke. Many people like to dress as Dracula and walk around talking about “drinking blood” and laugh or dress as Frankenstein or a Zombie and go around scaring everyone. It is all fun and games.
When the English came to America in the 1700’s, they were no longer wearing the costumes, but they were still lighting the big bonfires that were lit on holidays in England. However, the Irish were still wearing the costumes. Eventually, many Irish came to America with two big potato famines in Ireland. The Irish brought the costumes with them. By that time, the Americans had stopped the bonfires, but when the Irish brought the costumes, the Americans loved them! They took them on in complete enthusiasm and have never gone back. Americans like dressing in costumes and going from house to house on October 31st and saying,”Trick or Treat” and receiving candy. We all know we are just having a good time. We don’t worry about the meaning because the important part is that we are having fun.
As far as the scary things the costumes portray, that also comes from the British Isles. In ancient times, before Christianity, there was a religion in the British Isles called Druid. The Druid priests made up stories of things that go bump in the night trying to scare the people so they could control them. They made up stories of devils, witches, goblins, ghosts, fairies, trolls, etc. The people were superstitious, and the Druid priests used these stories to get the people to do what they wanted. However, when Christianity came into England, the people learned these things weren’t true, and they began to like celebrating by dressing up as something scary because they knew they were only costumes and those things weren’t real. In a way, the costumes are a way of showing how they had conquered their fears the old religion caused, and they were celebrating that these things were not real. However, today, in America, the people have no idea why they do what they do, and some foolish people have been actually trying to say they are celebrating devils, but they are actually celebrating just the opposite, the fact that these scary things are not true.