What is Halloween?

Hundreds of years ago, people dressed up as saints and went door to door, which is the origin of Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating.

It’s here, it’s here! (No, not pumpkin spice latte season—though we’re glad about that as well.) Halloween has officially crept up on us, and there’s so much to look forward to, from brainstorming our costumes to carving jack-o’-lanterns with the kids and, of course, eating unfathomable amounts of treats, candy, and chocolate.

No matter how old you are or how many times you’ve been around the block, the holiday simply never gets old. The littlest ones get a chance to dress up and go trick-or-treating, and parents have an excuse to sip on a boo-zy Halloween cocktail.

But in the midst of the parties and games and sugar rushes, have you ever stopped to wonder what the history of Halloween even is in the first place?

Here, we’re sharing Halloween’s origin (and Halloween’s meaning too) in the hopes that it’ll make your celebrations even more, er…meaningful. After all, this old-fashioned holiday actually dates back many, many years. It’s a lot older than you might think! And as for the witches and wizards that you’ve come to associate with it? Yeah, they’re part of the story too! Here’s the true tale of how Halloween officially came to be.

You already know that Halloween takes place on the last day of October, but here’s something you might not know: The word itself literally means “hallowed evening,” and was previously known to early European celebrators as All Hallows’ Eve. All Hallows’ Eve (October 31) and All Saints’ Day (November 1) both paid homage to saints (“hallows” = saints). The name was eventually shortened to “Halloween,” which we know and love to this day.

The pagan and Christian occasions hadn’t always been back to back, though. Up until the 7th century CE, All Hallow’s Eve fell actually on May 13. Perhaps in an attempt 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.