Monday, October 3, 2011

On Costumes

One of the best things about Halloween is the costumes. I personally have always been a huge fan of dressing up. One of the things I loved about my college were all the themed parties- 80’s dress parties, opposite sex parties (i.e. if you’re a chick you dress up like a dude and vice versa), dress up as your favorite anime character parties, Hawaiian shirt parties, prom… pretty much any excuse to dress up was a party worth going to. (And in fact- the selection of and getting into the costume was often far more exciting than the party itself.)

In short, costumes are great. It’s not only an opportunity to dress up but, to those who are really into it, it’s an opportunity to play a role. If you’re really devoted, finding the right costume isn’t just about what fits or what will look good on you, it’s about what role you want to play for that evening. The costume is a whole set of characteristics- speech, mannerisms, behavior- all of that changes when you put on the costume. A friend of mine in college dressed up as Silent Bob one Halloween. He said nothing all evening other than Silent Bob monologues collected from the movies. He would wait for the perfect opportunity and then bust out with one of his curse-laden mini-rants, returning to silence as soon as he’d finished. He spent most of the night staring intently at a cigarette he held in his open palm, attempting to force the thing to levitate. (Re-watch Mallrats if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) I had so much respect for the man I couldn’t even put it into words.

We all need a little pretend in our lives from time to time and we don’t get many opportunities to be people other than ourselves. If I can put on a costume and be more confident, aggressive, outgoing, gregarious, mysterious or just not myself for an evening than the whole night becomes that much more exciting. It’s an escape from the ordinary we don’t usually get in everyday life.

Plus, the history of the whole thing is just fascinating. The tradition, like most Halloween traditions, comes to us from the Celts. On Samhain, the Celtic new year, it was believed that the veil between this world and the land of the dead (called Tir nan Og) was at its thinnest. Spirits therefore could return from the land of the dead to visit with the living. For the most part this was a good thing and families would invite their deceased family members to the festivities by digging up their skulls, painting them festively, and seating them at the feasting table so as to be part of the celebrations. However, just as good spirits could return, so could evil ones. So, in order to protect their homes, some Celts would dress up in fearful costumes, make a menacing show of it, and parade away from the homes they hoped to protect by frightening away the evil spirits. (Like a big scary, dog might frighten away another dog by growling loudest.)

So costumes, and the role playing that comes with them, started as a necessity to protect oneself, loved ones, and home from evil spirits. Over the years and changes that have come from transferring to different cultures and continents it has eventually turned into the tradition we know today. But that idea of the power behind a costume to completely hide oneself is still there. And I can’t help but feel like some of that still translates in what we do today.

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