This Is Why We Wear Costumes at Halloween

The tradition dates back thousands of years to an ancient celebration in the United Kingdom and northern France.

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People have been dressing up in costumes on October 31 for more than 2,000 years, but the practice wasn't always associated with jack-o'-lanterns and trick-or-treating. In fact, dressing up in costume is likely the very first (and oldest) Halloween tradition.

Halloween, and its associated costume tradition, originates from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, an annual New Year's Eve party of sorts, celebrated in what is now the United Kingdom and northern France. The Celts celebrated the new year on November 1 and believed that the holiday was the one night of the year that the spirits of deceased loved ones would return (much like the holiday now known as All Saints Day).

group of kids in Halloween costumes walking outside
Spike Mafford/Getty Images

The Celts believed deities would play tricks on humans the night of the festival. So at sunset on October 31, the night before the new year, they celebrated by lighting bonfires and dressing up as animals to ward off evil spirits. This might be the original reason why trick-or-treaters march around neighborhoods in furry cat ears and DIY ladybug costumes asking for candy.

While Samhain is still celebrated in some areas of Ireland and Scotland, much of the world has split this ancient celebration into two separate holidays: A day set aside to honor loved ones who have passed on (All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1) and a holiday celebrated with costumes, candy, and carved pumpkins (Halloween, celebrated on October 31). So whether you're putting together a DIY elephant costume or purchasing a costume from Target this year, you'll be participating in a centuries-old Halloween tradition.

Halloween Costumes to Make This Year

Twinkling Star Costume

Halloween star costume, Halloween

This DIY star costume couldn't be easier to make! Cut a star shape out of cardboard and cover it with gold spray paint ($7, Target) and glitter. And since you only need to make one piece, it can be worn with any outfit you already have!

Easy Witch Costume

little girl dressed in a homemade halloween costume of a gray dress and black witch hat and witch broom
This witch Halloween costume is a time-honored favorite.

This DIY witch costume is perfect for any kind of Halloween party! This one does require a few sewing skills, but the homemade broomstick is easy enough for anyone to make if you'd rather pair it with a simple black dress and store-bought hat ($5, Party City).

Cactus Costume

little boy with diy cactus costume and props
Andrea Hanki

This adorable cactus costume is so easy to make, and it works for kids and adults alike! Start with a simple green hoodie, then use a thick white yarn ($8, Michaels) and a needle to create the 'thorns.' Do the same with red yarn to create a few cactus flowers and you're ready to head to the costume party!

Airplane Costume

Costume Cuties Airplane Costume

Make a homemade airplane costume for your little pilots with a few cardboard elements. We've got all the patterns you need to make the plane from recycled materials, and kids can use acrylic paint ($3, Michaels) to decorate it however they like.

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