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How Halloween Works

        Culture | Halloween

Meaning of Halloween
People visit the tombs of their relatives during All Saints' Day celebrations.
People visit the tombs of their relatives during All Saints' Day celebrations.
Eitan Abramovich/AFP/­Getty Images

­O­ne obvious question about Halloween is, "What does the word itself mean?" The name is actually a shortened version of "All Hallows' Even," the eve of All Hallows' Day. "Hallow" is an Old English word for "holy person," and All Hallows' Day is simply another name for All Saints' Day, the day Catholics commemorate all the saints. At some point, people began referring to All Hallows' Even as "Hallowe'en" and then simply "Halloween."

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­Following t­he Jewish tradition, Christians observe many holy days from sundown on one day until sundown on the following day. This is where we get the practice of celebrating Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, etc. The direct predecessor of modern-day Halloween is the festivity that began All Saints' Day, which started at sundown on October 31.

While it takes its name from All Saints' Day, modern Halloween is actually a combination of several different traditions. In fact, a lot of the things we do on Halloween predate Christianity entirely. In the following sections, we'll look at the chief traditions that feed into today's Halloween and see how they got all tangled up together in one holiday.


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