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 HALLOWEEN IS COMING!  And oh, just think of the parade of characters that will soon be at our doors trick or treating!  Vampires and ghosts, dragons, aliens, devils, gypsies, and an endless line of living (or supposed to be dead) things in capes and nightgowns, scary outfits and just plain fun get-ups aimed mostly at scaring the dickens out of us.

Oh, yes, this is a wild and dangerous night to venture forth…but don’t we love it?  We actually love it so much that we spend enough money on the holiday to have made it the biggest celebration short of Christmas.

Halloween!  Costumes are the main focus of the big day, and with them, their most important factor:  MASKS.  Somebody puts on a mask and suddenly his or her previous identity is erased, and a new one takes its place.  The wearer literally becomes the character of the costume!

Some of those new identities are innocent, like Big Bird or Donald Duck.  Some give the wearer the feeling of power, like Zorro, or Spider Man. But some are outrageously grotesque and frightening…often making even the most conservative person believe in evil spirits walking the face of the earth again.

  –Boo!  Eeeks! Ohhh!  Even the sounds of Halloween are enough to give you goose bumps!  


                                              Collecting Masks

THE COLLECTING OF MASKS is a relatively recent phenomenon that was rarely done in early times. Back then, masks were used mainly for ritualistic purposes and then burned. Depending on the country or area you are in, masks today may be collected for a variety of purposes, often as the result of tradition within families or organizations. 









  • Ladies’ masquerade mask with lace trim

It is also only recently that masks have been appreciated as works of art and cultural artifacts.  A great deal of excitement invariably surrounds the finding of masks at archeological digs, giving us fresh insight into the personalities, religions, and even superstitions of ancient peoples.

Masks have been an integral part of so many aspects of life, from warfare to religion.  Often, they are the most obvious and delightful core of festive occasions, such as Mardi gras.  Animal and cartoon character masks are among the big hits of the huge Macy’s Day Parade each Thanksgiving. 

                                     Of Masks and Medicine Men

MASKS WERE USED extensively by American Indians for a variety of purposes, not the least of which was healing.  The famed Medicine Men of Indian history wore different masks to attract healing spirits as well as frighten off evil ones.  Masks are still used in many rural parts of Europe for a variety of folk rituals.

Masks were used for centuries in Venice, Italy, particularly during Carnival, The masks would allow the wearer to behave more freely since they hid the person’s real identity. Sometimes the masks were used to conceal the identity of someone engaged in criminal or illicit acts.  At other times they were relatively innocent, enabling secret romantic encounters.


VENETIAN MASKS ARE particularly characterized by their unique design and bright colors. They are more often than not extraordinary, exquisite works of art.  Venetian masks are often decorated lavishly with gold and silver embellishment and complex art work and decorations.  The masks are of baroque style and may be full faced, or they may just cover the eyes. Either way, they may frighten or intrigue, but never bore.

In some ancient countries, masks have been severely restricted in daily public use. In 18th Century Europe they were only allowed to be worn for about three months each year following Christmas. 

A more modern example of restricting the use of masks or facial coverings comes from France, where the orthodox Islamic custom of wearing a burka has just recently been outlawed, with modern fines for women wearing facial coverings, and stiff fines for men who force the women to wear them.  

In some places, judges wear masks to keep their identity unknown, fending off reprisals as the result of their judgments. Among Oceanic people and some tribes of Africa, masks are used at specific times of the year in rituals honoring ancestors.  The masks are believed to create a link between the past and the present, thus giving a sense of historic connection. 


                                           Theatrical Uses of Masks

MASKS ARE OFTEN USED in the theater where they are often brightly painted and embellished.  In Japan and China, the famed lion and dragon dances are keyed directly to fabulous masks. The famous happy/sad drama masks of Greece are known by everybody, even used as themes for jewelry.

So…what are you going to be this Halloween?  And what mask are you going to wear?  Whatever you choose, the mask may hide your identity, but it will still tell a lot about you, too! Even that can be scary!









  • Large green feather mask
Comments (0) Posted by Mary McGarry on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

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