KEY WEST (CBSMiami) — Key West’s Fantasy Fest celebration begins Friday, kicking off 10 days of masking and costuming balls, lively street parties and costume contests that continues through Oct. 28.

Local and visiting party lovers are finalizing masks and costumes for more than 40 events that pack the festival schedule. Some even crafted their own elaborate masks at a workshop led by professional mask maker John McBride, whose clients include Cirque du Soleil.

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“Fantasy Fest is part of an age-old and global tradition of masks,” said McBride, who guided workshop participants in adorning their mask bases with fabric and adding feathers, sequins and other embellishments. “Masks have existed since cave-painting times, from the old medicine men who used to hunt animals and the mask was revered because it fed the tribe. So masks go back to prehistoric times.”

Revelers at Fantasy Fest are encouraged to shed their real-world cares and don masks and costumes expressing their inner fantasies.

“The mask is an inanimate object until you supply the eyes,” McBride said. “And by putting on the mask, it transforms you into something that you were not before.”

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The festival’s 2012 kick-off events include Friday and Saturday’s Goombay street party, where attendees enjoy island-style food, crafts and music in Key West’s historic Bahama Village.

The Fantasy Fest king and queen are chosen at Friday night’s Coronation Ball, capping a campaign by aspiring royals to raise money for the Keys’ AIDS Help organization.

Also on tap are a wacky costume contest for pets and their people, Headdress Ball, Pretenders in Paradise costume competition and a masquerade march starting at the Key West Cemetery.

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The festival’s traditional highlight, scheduled Saturday night, Oct. 27, is the Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade in Key West’s historic downtown. The procession typically draws more than 60,000 revelers to applaud its costumed marching groups, street dancers, bands and motorized floats.