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Ask SAM: Why do we wear Halloween masks?

Ask SAM: Why do we wear Halloween masks?

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Q: Where did the tradition of wearing masks on Halloween start?


Answer: According to an article in the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center, this, like many customs associated with Halloween, comes from ancient Celtic traditions.

According to folklore expert Jack Santino in his 1982 article “Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows,” the wearing of costumes “and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons.

“Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises.”

The website adds some additional explanation: “On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.”

You can read Santino’s original article, and hear a podcast that includes audio from a 1982 lecture by him, at

Pet Safety on Halloween

While we’re on the subject of the spooky holiday, here are some tips from the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association to keep your pets safe and happy:

  • Never feed your pets candy or chocolate. Chocolate is dangerous for pets, and certain ingredients found in candy are as well, including some artificial sweeteners often found in gum. “Digesting these treats can result in serious health complications for your pets,” according to the NCVMA.
  • Make sure your pet’s microchip and identification information is up-to-date. “In case your pet slips through the door when greeting trick-or-treaters, you’ll have a better chance of bringing them home safely if their identification is up to date,” the NCVMA says.
  • Keep pets away from loud noises and trick-or-treaters. “Costumes and noises will cause anxiety and stress among pets, so make sure they are not outside but rather in a safe place in the house where they feel comfortable.”
  • Pet costumes should be monitored. “Don’t force your pet into wearing anything uncomfortable that makes them anxious, and be sure the costume fits properly and doesn’t hinder their movement.”

Q: Should “trick or treat” have hyphens in it when spelled out?


Answer: The Journal follows the Associated Press Stylebook on this: it’s “trick or treat,” no hyphens, but the act of going out asking for candy while in costume is “trick-or-treating” and people who do it or “trick-or-treaters.” Also, the decorated pumpkin, according to AP style, is a “jack-o’-lantern.”



Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101 


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