Halloween is primarily marked by putting on a disguise and asking for candy, but Halloween draws on two historic celebrations: the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saints’ Day.
The spooky festival’s name, however, comes from only one.
Why is it called Halloween?
Samhain is an Celtic word that some scholars think means “summer’s end,” and it marks the beginning of winter at the end of the harvest season. It was celebrated around November 1 when, it was believed, the dead arose for one night. OK, things are starting to sound familiar …
The other celebration, All Saints’ Day, honors all of the Christians saints. The Roman Catholic Church sometimes refers to it as the Solemnity of All Saints. Though this celebration does not bear a close resemblance to the festivities of Halloween (though historians say it is observed in Britain and Ireland on November 1 to replace or coincide with Samhain), it did give the holiday its name.
The word Halloween is a direct derivation of All Saints’ Day. An old name for All Saints’ Day is All Hallows (or Allhallows), with hallow meaning “holy person; saint.” And, the night before All Hallows Even (meaning Eve). The phrase became shortened and the V became elided, yielding Halloween, and which is why Hallowe’en is sometimes so spelled (to note the missing V). Halloween is recorded in the mid-1500s.