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Glimmers of tradition seen through Halloween costumes

A voluptuous leopard kitten and a zombie, masks mocking our presidential candidates fill up store walls in costume shops around Fresno.

Perhaps dressing up as a taco or maybe a favorite movie villain is more appealing.

But where does the tradition of dressing up in costume originate?   Superstition, death, trick-or-treats, pumpkins and costumes; they all can be traced back to ancient times.

Halloween, being the second-largest commercial holiday after Christmas, traces back to Celtic beliefs.

According to History.com, the Celts recognized Oct. 31 as Samhain as the last day of their calendar year. This time also marked the end of summer and the harvest, as the cold winters would arrive soon.

It was believed that on Oct. 31, the spirits of the deceased would awaken and return to the present.

Paul Armstrong, store manager of Spirit Halloween store in Northwest Fresno, said the holiday dates back to the early 800s.

These were dark times when sacrificing and devil worship were occurring. That is until Catholics came in and changed the holiday into a fun-filled event, he said, which eventually evolved into the holiday we celebrate today known as Halloween.

The tradition of dressing up in costume originations from pagan beliefs that was meant to ward off evil spirits. Treats and offerings were left out in front of doorsteps for ghosts, Armstrong said.

Children used to dress up in ghostly attire and masks to repel any evil spirits and protect themselves from those that roamed the nights on Samhain, Armstrong said.

The origin of Halloween is not known to some.

Claudia Martinez, a senior Fresno State liberal studies major was shopping for a Halloween costume Saturday evening. She browsed through a section at the Spirit Halloween store looking for a pirate costume to celebrate.

For Martinez growing up, Halloween meant dressing up, spending time with family and trick-or-treating. But that has changed.

“Now I think for me it’s more about hanging out with friends and just having a good time,” said Martinez.

Costume shopping didn’t only bring out those looking to celebrate in costume.

Bethany Stockton, a school photographer and member of the Revival Fellowship Church said she was taking advantage of the many costumes out for the season.

“We do a lot of dress-up stuff, so this is the perfect time to look for all the dress-up stuff,” Stockton said. “Our church has a lot of dress-up nights and things where we get together.”

Stockton said she doesn’t celebrate Halloween but knew the history behind the popular holiday.

“It was a pagan holiday to where they celebrated – well they didn’t really celebrate it— but they were giving gifts to the evil spirits and stuff and gave the candy out trying to ward away evil spirits,” Stockton said.

Traditions have changed and throughout time the actual meaning and purpose behind celebrating Halloween has evolved.

“Now a days, Halloween is still really, really popular, but our culture is kind of phasing it out – between parents not letting their kids go out at dark anymore,” said Amrstrong. “Now you’ll see kids in the middle of the day. It’s not uncommon to have kids knocking at your door at 4– 5 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Lurie Valentino, co-owner of Valentino’s costume boutique in the Tower District said Halloween is the most popular holiday and event that draw big crowds to the area.

“There’s thousands of people that love to come to the Tower District. It’s kind of a party in itself,” Valentino said.