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SALT LAKE CITY — Whether you love the creativity of it or hate the dark practices, Halloween does indeed have a grim past.
Historians say that the ancient Celts learned from an entity named Lugh that the barrier between earth and the "otherworld" was most passable on Samhain, Oct. 31. It was thought that on that night unhappy and dangerous spirits could walk among mortals causing grief and chaos. In order to confuse the lurking evil, people would conceal their identity and try to frighten away unwanted spiritual stalkers by wearing scary costumes and masks.
When the Catholic Church moved its celebration of Saints or Allhallow's Eve to the same day, many of the practices of both cultures hybridized. Trick-or-treating was based on a practice known as "souling" or going door-to-door to elicit treats in exchange for praying for the souls of a family's deceased. It was thought that more prayers would hasten a soul's ascent to heaven. Trick-or-treating today has a more confectionary-based philosophy, and costumes are de rigueur.
The owner of a costume shop that outfits movie studios said their hottest costumes this season were Disney characters for girls, Ninja Turtles for boys and minions for everyone. After more than a decade of "Pirates and the Caribbean," pirates are still going strong for guys, while creepy and horrific wear for ladies is popular.
Halloween is the one day when it is culturally acceptable to wear a pirate costume to work, so go to it with these tips for making your own creative costumes and hang on to some of your holiday loot.
Choosing a costume
What's on your mind? On Halloween, everything is fair game — from politicos to deranged monsters, princesses to pirates (you can show who you really are). If you want to make an elaborate costume, consider buying a pattern when your fabric store has them on sale for $1, or check thrift stores for patterns and costume components.
Costumes for children
You can wisely outfit your little ones with reusable costume parts. Long-sleeved T-shirts, tights, leggings and sweat suits can be re-purposed after Halloween for winter wardrobe essentials and sleepwear. Sweat suits are especially desirable for warmth when trick-or-treating.
Look around to see what you already have that can be used for a costume — old curtains, tablecloths, sheets and other fabric can be dyed. Felt is also a good option, as it doesn't unravel. If the costume requires a particular jewelry piece to identify the character, you can make it with bake-able clay from a craft store and a pin or ring jewelry. Weapons and shields can be crafted with cardboard, foam-core board, paint, duct tape, foil and felt. Make shoes and homemade crowns sparkle with spray adhesive and glitter.
- Homemade spider. Combine two of your child's interests to create a couture sweatshirt costume. Maybe a child is interested in spiders and baseball. Crafty parents can open a sweatshirt's side seams and attach three matching arms on each side, made of stuffed fabric tubes with glove hands. Connect the arms by fishing line, and the six arms will move with the child's two. A Detroit Spiders baseball hat would finish the ensemble.
- "Party animal." Make your child a party animal by adding a party hat and noisemaker to his or her animal sweatshirt or pajama costume.
- Superhero. Dressing like a superhero shows off your child's strength. Make a simple cape; not too long so it won't get stepped on, and use a Velcro fastener so he or she can get away if a super villain grabs it. Add a logo made of felt to a sweatshirt or long-sleeved T-shirt. Build up biceps with pillow stuffing wrapped around the arm with an elastic bandage. You never know who will save the world.
- Royalty. Princesses of all ages can be dressed in gowns using bridesmaid dresses, old formals or a long tutu and cape, tiaras and costume jewelry. An up-do and makeup complete the look.
- Ninja Turtles. Superhero turtles wear a green sweat suit, a felt eye mask and shell made of chicken wire covered with newspaper and masking tape before it's painted.
- Quick and easy black cat. Use a black top and black pants, a kitty ear headband, whiskers and a cute black tutu and tail make the purrfect costume.
- Family members. Dress up like mom with an apron, red lipstick, cool glasses, and a couple of babies (or more) in pockets and wraps. It's fun to take dollies trick-or-treating. Add a garland of leaves and become Mother Nature. For dads, clean out the closet — sports uniforms, tie and pocket protectors. Who's your daddy?
Parents get to dress up too
Yes you are busy, but that is no excuse not to join the fun. Dig out your muu muu and surfer shirt, brush on too much blush, add ugly straw hats, flower leis, sunglasses, zinc oxide and cameras, grab a couple of maps and go as tourists. Don't forget the sandals and socks.
- Pirates. Who doesn't love a crew of related swashbucklers? Put the whole family in striped shirts, raggedy pants, headscarves, hoop earrings and eye patches, red cummerbunds and matching mustaches. Real lady pirates dressed up like guys.
- Tricky treats. Dress the whole crew like their favorite snacks. Cut leg holes in large clear plastic trash bags, step in and fill with small balloons, tie at the shoulders and voila, you're a bag of jelly beans. Add a price tag and don't forget to visit the bathroom first.
- Artistic icons. Pay homage to your favorite artwork. Forget that, become your favorite piece of art. Mona Lisa, American Gothic? Dress up and add a gilded cardboard frame. Yes, you will get tired of holding up the frame, but all artists suffer for their art. How about Rosie the Riveter? Dress in vintage wear and add a cardboard word bubble that describes your handmade Halloween costume philosophy: We can do it!
Pam McMurtry is the author of "A Harvest and Halloween Handbook" on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. She is a wife, artist and parent of a large group of creative individuals.