Why Do We Wear Costumes on Halloween?

Girl in Costume
Girl in Costume, Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Halloween has its roots in the old Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts believed that the dead journeyed the earth on this day as they traveled to the otherworld, mingling with live humans and supernatural creatures along the way. To assist, appease, and protect themselves against the dead, the Celts lit bonfires and offered sacrifices of food and drink.

The wearing of costumes can be traced to the practice of “mumming.” Mummers donned costumes and went from door to door, providing entertainment in exchange for food and drink. However, wearing costumes may have started as a way of mimicking the dead so that supernatural beings would leave the living alone.

Centuries later, children in parts of Scotland, Ireland, and England were still engaging in a form of mumming, which became known as “guising.” Costumed kids when from door to door begging for food or money, and sometimes playing tricks on homeowners who failed to provide anything.

Although people may hold other types of costume events throughout the year, Halloween costumes are differentiated by their focus on scary, supernatural beings that evoke the symbolism of magic and the undead. Witches, ghosts, vampires, skeletons, and devils have always been favourites, though in more recent years, pop cultural icons such as movie and TV stars, cartoon characters, and top political figures have also been popular.

For more on Halloween, see:


    • Eveleth, R. (18 October 2012). The History of Trick Or Treating is Weirder Than You Thought. SmithsonianMag.com.
    • HalloweenHistory.org. (2015).
    • HalloweenMagazine.com. (2009). FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions.
    • Santino, J. (2009). Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows. The American Folklife Center.