Millions across America celebrate Halloween every year, yet very few know why they are celebrating it.
See images from Halloweens past:
Halloween Throughout the Years
Haunting history of Halloween
Three girls amuse each other with their masked costumes as they prepare for Halloween festivities in the College Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, 1929. (Photo by Felix Koch/Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images)
Two boys about to carve into a pair of large marrows, perhaps for Halloween, circa 1910. (Photo by Vintage Images/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - OCTOBER 31: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley and actress Joan Bradshaw wear costumes to celebrate Halloween on October 31, 1957 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
OCT 7 1969, OCT 10 1969, OCT 15 1969; Secrest School Plans Carnival; Trying on costumes that will be for sale at the Secrest Elementary School carnival 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, at 6875 W. 64th Ave., are Michelle Gordon, left, Jimmy Dallarosa, and Wendy Meyer. Children couldn't resist a Halloween costume preview. Carnival will feature game booths, a hat and makeup booth and country store. Refreshments will be available and an advance ticket sale is planned at school.; (Photo By Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Halloween In Suncook, United States - Young child trick or treating in Spiderman costume. (Photo by Francois LE DIASCORN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
circa 1905: View of a person, possibly a teacher, wearing a ghost costume behind a lunch table with Halloween decorations in a rural schoolhouse. The display consists of a carved pumpkin, cutouts of witches and black cats, and haystacks. (Photo by Historic Photo Archive/Getty Images)
circa 1955: A young girl wearing a halloween mask. (Photo by Jacobsen /Three Lions/Getty Images)
October 1922: An apple bobbing game at a Halloween fancy-dress party. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
A 'coven of witches' line up for a Halloween portrait dressed in festive witch's hats and improvised costumes, ca.1910, United States. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1960s: Group of Halloween masks on display. (Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images)
PORTUGAL - CIRCA 1900: Gralhas, Portugal - The day of Halloween, the output of the church procession to the cemetery on a rainy day, men hold candles and wearing an umbrella to protect themselves. (Photo by Georges DUSSAUD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
GERMANY - CIRCA 1895: RATHSEL (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Portrait of theatre perfomers dressed up, circa 1900s. (Photo by: PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images)
Portrait of a young man in fancy dress advertising Spratts dog cakes, circa 1900s. (Photo by: PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images)
A halloween scene with children bobbing for apples is printed on this Tuck postcard from early 20th century published in London, England. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
October 31st 1915: Kilted Scottish army recruits celebrating Halloween in London during World War I. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1920s: Couple kissing by pumpkin jack-o-lantern candle light. (Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images)
A woman in a Halloween witches' hat, holding a model cat on a chain, circa 1925. (Photo by Keystone View Company/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
circa 1950: A group of men in costume as witches, complete with brooms, to celebrate Halloween, line the staircase of a house. (Photo by George Pickow/Three Lions/Getty Images)
Popperfoto,The Book, Volume 1,Page: 96, Picture: 9, Halloween, boy with pumpkin and all the 'trimmings' of Halloween, circa 1950's (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
1952, AUG 26 1952; A Touch O' Halloween - Attempting to emulate the 'striking' faces of the 'Flying Heads' are (left to right) Ronald Ullman, 11, of 723 South Gaylord street; Terry Downing, 8, of 623 Birch street, and Wayne Noble, 7, of 552 South Washington street. The 'Flying Heads' are wood masks fashioned by the Iroquois Indians. The masks were on display at the fete.; (Photo By Al Moldvay/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Children in costumes arriving at a Halloween party, USA, circa 1955. A sign on the door warns 'Beware Ghosts are within!'. (Photo by Joe Clark/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JUNE 1,1955: Lori Nelson attends a Halloween party in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
OCT 31 1969, NOV 2 1969; ***** Retreat Into Night; ***** Young Halloween trick-on-treaters leave the home Mr. and Mrs. Harvey C. Jordon, 3082 W. 34th Ave., ***** night with more goodie for their sacks. They're three of the uncounted numbers who joined in the ***** Halloween. These Children are, from left, Sharon *****, 8, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Briden 3315 Grove St., Susan Kriegshauser, 10, and her ***** Gary, 5, Children of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kriegs *****, 3127 W. 35tg Ave. The Night was nippy for them.; (Photo By Steve Larson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
NOV 22 1965, DEC 1 1965; And Boo to You, Sir; A Halloween mask project which became a study in primitive cultures is illustrated by this group of students at Clayton Elementary School and their teachers. Originally, the students were going to make routine Halloween masks, the teacher, Barbara Byers said, but when they started looking through books for ideas, they went into a study of the backgrounds and reasons for the colors and designs. In the top photo, the students (left to right), Shelley Todd, Larry Brumgardt, Debra Betz, Mary Osnebough, and David Karraker, hold their masks. Miss Byers holds one made by absent Danny Shields. The bottom photo shows what group really looks like. Story on p. 35.; (Photo By Dave Mathias/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
OCT 27 1965, OCT 28 1965; March of the Hoboblins Moves Along on Ebert School Playground; Students, teachers got dressed up for Halloween parties, parade Wednesday afternoon.; (Photo By Duane Howell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Portrait of three people in Halloween costumes as they pose behind a carved pumpkin, 1965. (Photo by Camerique/Getty Images)
OCT 24 1977, OCT 29 1977; At Haunted Castle; **** they thought. The Haunted Castle, at E. Iliff Ave. and S. Clarkson St., is open from 6:30 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 6:30 to 10:30 p. m. other nights through Halloween. Other sponsors are KTLK Radio, Jack-in-the-Box, Distributive Education Clubs of America.; (Photo By Kenn Bisio/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
OCT 27 1974, OCT 31 1974; Visitors At Children; ***** Brothers and ***** of these aren Kohler, 6, 'Raggedy Ann'; Therasa Clapp, 9, 'a Coal miner,' a 'Mexican.' The Halloween; (Photo By Jodi Cobb/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
NOV 1 1973, OCT 20 1979, OCT 22 1979, OCT 22 1980; Halloween Characters On Their Rounds; Halloween always brings together strange groupings of characters who go about trick-or-treating. At the home of Mr. and Mrs. Billy Joe Griffin, 1893 S. Decatur St., were 'Miss Witch,' Michell Segura, 4; 'Mickey Mouse,' Stacy Segura, 2, both daughters of Mrs. Patty Michael, 6980 W. Cedar Ave., and in the background, 'Banana Splits,' who is really Tracy Stapleton, 5, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mike Stapleton, 751 S. Vrain St. The three were among thousands of cratures prowling the area streets Thursday night, Halloween.; (Photo By Ernie Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: Halloween In Salem, United States - Ghostly phantom spooks appearing out of the night on Halloween Eve. (Photo by Francois LE DIASCORN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: Halloween In Salem, United States - Most of the Halloween costumes are meant to be frightening apparitions-Here is a Frankenstein monster. (Photo by Francois LE DIASCORN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
CANADA - NOVEMBER 01: Goblins turned up in the oddest places yesterday - even under the dryers at the Academy School of Hairdressing in Mississauga. The hairdressers - Sheila Davis (left) is a scarecrow and Renee Busshof is a candy store - all turned up in Halloween costumes just for the fun of it. (Photo by Jim Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
CANADA - OCTOBER 27: Good spirits: Steve Pollock and Ann Biro; dressed as a prisoner and a nun - the Halloween costumes they were wearing to a radio station's party - take their problems in good spirits and still manage to laugh as they look at the burnt-out hulk of their car on Highway 427 yesterday. The car was destroyed by the time the fire department units got there. (Photo by Ken Faught/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - OCTOBER 31: Singer/Actress Cher speaks to the press at her Halloween party to promote her new fragrance 'Uninhibited' on October 31, 1988 at Century Paramount Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
OCT 31 1987, OCT 25 1988, NOV 02 1991, OCT 11 1992, OCT 18 1996; Denver Public Schools; Three costumed emelentary school students from Park Hill Elementary School participated in the Halloween Parade around the playground.; (Photo By Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Nighttime view of a participant in an elaborate costume during the annual Halloween Parade, New York, New York, late 1970s or early 1980s. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
Night-time view of a participant in an elaborate costumes during the annual Halloween Parade, New York, New York, late 1970s or early 1980s. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: Halloween In Salem, United States - A mother carrying her little handicapped daughter who is dressed as a witch-Salem, Massachusetts cemetery. (Photo by Francois LE DIASCORN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: Halloween In Suncook, United States - 'Trick or Treat'-Children going from home to home asking for candy and little treats on Halloween Day. (Photo by Francois LE DIASCORN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
CANADA - OCTOBER 31: Batcrew on patrol: Caped crusaders are everywhere as a flock of preschoolders who turned up at the Halloween party at Kew Park Montessori School in the Beaches yesterday make their annual costume parade. (Photo by Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Boy wearing a scary mask Luton UK 1992 (Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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Despite its scary or devilish appearance, many Halloween traditions originated with the Christian religion. Just look at the etymology of the name! Maybe you're familiar with All Saints' Day, November 1st.
Well, October 31st is All Saints' Eve or All Hallows Eve (the words "saint" and "hallow" are pretty much synonymous.) People in Scotland, who use the word "even" instead of "eve," contracted the word into "e'en." Over time, "Hallows' E'en" turned into "Halloween."
However, for the real history of Halloween, we have to go thousands of years before the holiday got its name.
More than 2,000 years ago the Celtic people believed summer came to an end on October 31st, so in anticipation of the end of "the season of life" and the beginning of "the season of death," Celts would celebrate Samhain (pronounced "sah-win") or "Summer's End." They thought the veil between our world and the next was thinnest during Samhain and spirits and fairies could more easily cross over.
Families would leave food and wine on their doorstep to keep the ghosts at bay, and wore costumes when leaving the house to be mistaken for ghosts themselves. This is actually where we get Halloween costumes from. The Celts believed dressing up both honored the good spirits and helped avoid the bad ones.
Sometime in the 8th century, Pope Gregory IV changed the date originally set for All Saints' Day to the same day as Samhain, essentially merging the traditions connected to those holidays. One such practice was "souling," a custom where poor children went door-to-door collecting baked cakes in exchange for praying for their family's souls in Purgatory.
A similar tradition was "guising," where masked individuals would go door-to-door dancing and singing in exchange for food and wine. Sound familiar?
Halloween wasn't present in early America, specifically because of the Puritans rigid beliefs, but in the second half of the 19th century as the United States were flooded with Irish immigrants escaping the Potato Famine, the holiday and its traditions started to become more mainstream.
By the 1920s and 30s, Halloween became a community affair with parties and parades and the coinage of "trick or treating." At first, it was much more about the tricks but in the 1950s it took on its present more family-friendly form.