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Costume Parties: You are Never Too Old For Some Fun
by Marjorie Dorfman

Costume parties are timeless and they are fun for everyone. Where did they come from and why are they so popular? These and other questions will be addressed below. Read on, if you dare.

With the fall season and Halloween fast approaching, it’s almost that time of year for pumpkins and costumes and that annoying maniac who lurks along Main Street, USA, shiny knife in hand, in search of unsuspecting teenagers to main and murder. Apart from such pleasantries, it is the season for masks, disguises, parties and fun of a very special sort. No matter how old or how young you are, no one wants to be excluded from the fun even if just from a vicarious position. So why not host a costume party if none is going on among your friends?

Costume parties, known formerly as masquerade balls, are a very old diversion. They originated in the elaborate pageantry surrounding the royal events of Medieval court life during 14th century Europe. In Italy, in the Ducal Court of Burgundy, these balls became public festivals during the 15th century, particularly in Venice where costumes and still waters run deep. Mainland Europe followed suit in the 17th and 18th centuries. A Swiss Count named John James Heidegger is credited with having introduced the semi-public Venetian masquerade to London in the early 18th century. The first one ever held was at the Haymarket Opera House. The dances became very popular and soon spread to Colonial America.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween stems from the fear of running into ghosts on that fateful night when spirits return to the earthly world. To avoid being recognized or mistaken for another spirit, (especially if one owed them money in a former life), people wore masks. (It is not known if this belief later influenced the Lone Ranger, the late glittering soul of Liberace or Little Richard of rock and roll royalty.) To appease the ghosts, people would place bowls of food outside their homes and pray that they wouldn’t enter.

With the advent of Irish immigration after 1848, there came a national popularization of Halloween. Irish traditions called for dressing up in costumes and going from house to house asking for food and money. This practice became today’s trick or treat tradition, and perhaps, the origins of masked muggings in depressed areas as well. Young women believed that, on Halloween, they could divine the name of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors. In the beginning of the twentieth century, a movement in America changed the character of Halloween. The holiday lost its religious and superstitious overtones and became a secular, community festival, more concerned with neighborly get-togethers than ghosts and pranks. Parties with games and festive costumes became the most common way to commemorate the day.

Americans have always been entranced with the idea of dressing up to fool the spirits on All Hallows’ Eve. It’s almost like the seductive appeal of Internet chat rooms where one can slip in and out of identities and escape creditors with no one, save the costume, being the wiser.

So instead of just dressing up your children for trick or treat, why not make your own costume party? Invite everyone who ever lived except for maybe Michael Myers of celluloid Halloween fame and "Psycho" Norman Bates. Psychopaths don’t usually have colorful costumes (they are so interesting by themselves). And besides, they would put a damper on the fun.

Enjoy this holiday. Where we are going from here, last I heard, there are no costume parties.

Happy Halloween to all!

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Copyright 2006