Blair Donovan is a staff writer for CountryLiving.com, where she covers everything from the latest Joanna Gaines and “The Voice” news to home décor, gardening, DIY, and entertaining. She’s previously written for Brides and Redbook.
At long last, Halloween has finally arrived! From brainstorming spooky costumes to trying out pumpkin carving ideas with our kids, eating unfathomable amounts of Halloween treats, candy, and chocolate and indulging in everything pumpkin-spice-flavored, there’s so much to anticipate during this frightfully fun October holiday.
No matter how old you are or how many times you’ve been around the block, the holiday simply never gets old. The littlest ones get a chance to dress up and go trick-or-treating, and parents have an excuse to sip on a boo-zy Halloween cocktail.
But in the midst of the Halloween party games and sugar rushes, have you ever wondered about the origin and history of Halloween?
Here, we’re sharing Halloween’s origin and meaning in the hopes that it’ll make your celebrations even more enjoyable. After all, this old-fashioned holiday actually dates back many, many years. It’s a lot older than you might think! And as for the witches and wizards that you’ve come to associate with it? They’re part of the story, too. Here’s the true tale of how Halloween officially came to be.
You already know that Halloween takes place on the last day of October, but here’s something you might not know: The word itself literally means “hallowed evening,” and was previously known to early European celebrators as All Hallows’ Eve. All Hallows’ Eve (October 31) and All Saints’ Day (November 1) both paid homage to saints (“hallows” = saints). The name was eventually shortened to “Halloween,” which we know and love to this day.
The pagan and Christian occasions hadn’t always been back-to-back, though. Up until the 7th century CE, All Hallow’s Eve fell actually on May 13. Perhaps in an attempt to offset the occasion with a religious celebration, Pope Boniface IV ultimately made the call to change the observance to its current November 1 date.
Why Do We Celebrate Halloween on October 31?
Halloween falls on October 31 because the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, considered the earliest known root of Halloween, occurred on this day. It marked a pivotal time of year when seasons changed, but more importantly, observers also believed the boundary between this world and the next became especially thin at this time, enabling them to connect with the dead. This belief is shared by some other cultures; a similar idea is mentioned around the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which also typically occurs in October and involves saying prayers for the dead. This is also where Halloween gains its “haunted” connotations.