I vividly remember the day I realized that people in costume make me uncomfortable. It was Halloween in High School and a friend of mine had dressed up so thoroughly, that he had obscured his identity. Even though I knew it was him, I couldn’t visually recognize him underneath the costume. It disturbed me, deeply.
As irony would have it, I have spent the last three summers working at a historical reenactment park, in costume. The people that work at sites like this are a strange breed, myself included. But, outside of work, I spend almost zero time in costume. Not so, with many of my coworkers.
I soon became connected with the Vikings of Utah, a group of volunteers that enjoy learning about, and sharing, the traditions, culture, and ancestry of the Viking age. Last August, I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended the Utah Renaissance Faire. I walked around the grounds, surrounded by people dressed as fairies, knights, lads, lords, and ladies. I watched competitors, dressed in full suits of armor, swinging heavy swords at their rivals. I saw jousting matches, street performers juggling fire, tennis balls launched from catapults, and medieval warfare demonstrations. There was music, and dancing, and feasting.
Into the evening, I was able to relax my discomfort about my belief that people in costume were disguising their true selves. I was making a huge assumption about one’s motivation to spend their free time dressing up and acting out the culture of a long ago community. I realized, that for this group of smiling and jovial people, this was their true selves.
I looked back at the history of entertainment that humans have always engaged in, music, dancing, dining, performing. These are all tactics humans use to connect with each other, and have used since the dawn of time. It has been the way we build community.
With the divisions that seem to be happening more and more between people in today’s political climate, maybe exactly what we need to do, is to spend more time dining and dancing at renaissance faires.