• Ronit Tal Shaltiel

What is Halloween?

Americans love Halloween: the candy, the costumes, and the creepy decor. But as beloved as the holiday is in the states, it didn’t originate here. In fact, the history of Halloween dates back thousands of years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, a festival that marked the end of the harvest and the start of a new year. The day was also said to be a time when the veil between the living and the dead was the thinnest, and when humans could communicate with those beyond the grave.

The pagan and Christian occasions hadn’t always been back to back, though. Until the 7th century CE, All Hallows Eve fell actually on May 13. Perhaps 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.

Scottish poet Robert Burns helped to popularize the word “Halloween” with his 1785 poem of the same name.

So where does the name itself come from? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s actually two words smashed together. “Hallow” — or holy person — refers to the saints celebrated on All Saints’ Day, which is November 1.

The “e

en” part of the word is a contraction of “eve” — or evening before. So basically, Halloween is just an old-fashioned way of saying “the night before All Saints’ Day” — also called Hallow mas or All Hallows’ Day.

Pope Gregory IV changed it to the current date in 837, His reasons were unclear, although influence from Celtic factions of the church and the fact that it makes sense to commemorate death during the fall are possibilities.

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