The spooky-but-true history behind your kid’s Halloween costume

Take a look at the folklore that inspired today’s trick-or-treat getups. Plus: 5 DIY costumes.

Kids might think they know everything about vampires and witches thanks to movies and TV—but their favorite Halloween costume is likely rooted in much older global history. And learning a little more about the culture behind the character can be an added treat this Halloween.

“All of these monsters have very complicated and fascinating histories about who we are as humans,” says monster expert Emily Zarka, host of PBS’s Monstrum.

Halloween itself is rooted in the ancient pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, when folks lit bonfires and likely wore animal skins to confuse the spirits thought to be walking the Earth that night. People also were thought to have left food and drink outside as an offering to these supernatural beings. The Celts’ descendants were believed to have gone from house to house performing songs or dances in exchange for food and drink, says Natalie Underberg-Goode professor of digital media and folklore at the University of Central Florida.

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