Halloween

or Hal·low·e'en

[ hal-uh-ween, -oh-een, hol- ]
/ ˌhæl əˈwin, -oʊˈin, ˌhɒl- /

noun

the evening of October 31; the eve of All Saints' Day; Allhallows Eve: observed especially by children in costumes who solicit treats, often by threatening minor pranks.

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See also trick or treat.

Origin of Halloween

First recorded in 1550–60; (All)hallow(s) + e(v)en2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What is Halloween?

Halloween is a holiday on October 31 that’s essentially a celebration of spooky and scary stuff, like ghosts, witches, monsters, and haunted houses.

It’s traditionally celebrated by dressing in costumes, decorating with things like jack-o’-lanterns (carved pumpkins) and fake spiderwebs, and trick or treating—going door to door to collect candy or other treats from people who are giving it out. The trick part of trick or treat is a reference to the pranks that kids sometimes play on Halloween.

Halloween is especially celebrated by children, but teens and adults commonly celebrate it, too, such as by having parties (often costume parties), watching scary movies, giving out candy to kids, eating some of that candy, and then eating some of the candy that kids bring home.

Halloween is a secular (nonreligious) holiday, but its name has roots in the Christian holiday Allhallows, better known as All Saints’ Day. Another name for Halloween is Allhallows Eve (the night before Allhallows).

Halloween is commonly used as a modifier in phrases like Halloween costume, Halloween party, Halloween candy, and Halloween night.

Example: Don’t give me this trunk or treat stuff—I want a classic Halloween, with trick or treating and haunted houses and my neighbor disguising himself as a stuffed scarecrow so he can pop up and scare kids when they try to take more than one piece of candy from the bowl.

Where does Halloween come from?

The first records of the word Halloween come from around the 1550s—right around the same time as Allhallows Eve. Halloween is sometimes spelled Hallowe’en, reflecting the fact that its name comes from a shortening of Allhallows Even, in which even means the same thing as eve—the evening or day before a holiday (as in Christmas Eve). The word hallow is used in reference to the saints honored on All Saints’ Day (hallowed means “holy”).

Many of the traditions associated with Halloween are thought to originate in Samhain, a holiday celebrated by the ancient Celtic inhabitants of the British Isles. Samhain was celebrated during harvest time, on or around November 1, which was the first day of the Celts’ year. It was a time of year when it was believed that the threshold of the spirit world was opened for spirits to pass through and haunt the living. People marked the occasion by wearing costumes and lighting bonfires for protection. Under Christianity, some of these traditions were incorporated into All Saints’ Day. Many of these customs were brought by immigrants to the U.S., where Halloween has been influenced by and has incorporated elements from several cultures to become what it is today.

Halloween is often seen as a way to have fun with the macabre—scary things or things related to death, somewhat similar to traditions observed during Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Mexico and other countries. However, most people just see it as a time to dress up, eat candy, and have fun with spooky stuff. Classic Halloween costumes include ghosts, skeletons, witches, monsters, mummies, vampires, zombies, werewolves, and other scary things, but people dress up in all kinds of costumes, especially characters from pop culture.

In many places in the U.S., the night before Halloween is unofficially known as mischief night, on which kids play pranks and cause other mischief, such as egging or toilet papering houses.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to Halloween?

  • Hallowe’en (alternate spelling)

What are some synonyms for Halloween?

What are some words that share a root or word element with Halloween

 

 

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How is Halloween used in real life?

Halloween is associated with fun stuff like wearing costumes, trick-or-treating, and eating candy.

Try using Halloween!

True or False?

The word Halloween is a shortening of Allhallows Even.

Example sentences from the Web for Halloween

British Dictionary definitions for Halloween

Halloween

Hallowe'en

/ (ˌhæləʊˈiːn) /

noun

the eve of All Saints' Day celebrated on Oct 31 by masquerading; Allhallows Eve

Word Origin for Halloween

C18: see Allhallows, even ²
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012