All Hallows’ Eve: History and meaning behind the holiday

By CNN Staff

Published November 1, 2020

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You might think Halloween is all about candy, costumes, ghosts and ghouls. But did you know about the holiday’s religious background?


In fact, the word Halloween is derived from "All Hallows' Eve," which falls on October 31, marking the day before All Saints' Day on November 1.


Halloween comes from an ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago called Samhain, meaning "summer's end." They believed the festival was a time when the dead could walk among the living.

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Christianity adopted October 31 as a holiday in the 11th century, in an effort to reframe pagan celebrations as its own. But many aspects of Samhain continued.

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Trick-or-treating, for example, began in areas of the United Kingdom and Ireland, where people went house to house asking for small breads in exchange of prayer.

And those traditions eventually made their way to America, thanks to the immigrants from Ireland and Scotland who brought Halloween to the United States in the 1800s.


Pope Gregory III established November 1 as All Saints' Day, also known as All Hallows' Day, a day to honor all saints of the church that have attained heaven. “The evening before All Saints’ Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween,” according to Encyclopedia Brittanica.

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To celebrate All Hallows' Eve, some people go to church, according to, and others might refrain from eating meat for the day.


All Souls' Day is the day after All Saints' Day on November 2. Together, All Hallows' Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls' Day make up Allhallowtide.


For some people around the world, Halloween -- and the days after -- mark a celebration of saints and a time to honor, pay respects and pray for the dead.

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