All Those Hallows

A cemetery decorated for All Hallows Day which is a religious holiday, but looks Halloween creepy here.

Everyone knows Halloween the holiday, but I’m surprised how few people know the origin of the word itself (also written as Hallowe’en) which dates to about 1745. It is of an older Christian origin, though Christian churches often consider the holiday to be not holy at all and more of a pagan celebration.

The verb, to hallow is “to make holy or sacred, to sanctify or consecrate, to venerate.” The adjective form is hallowed, which appears in “The Lord’s Prayer” (“hallowed be thy name”), means holy, consecrated, sacred, or revered.

The noun form, hallow (as used in Hallowtide) is a synonym for the word saint. The noun is from the Old English adjective hālig, “holy.” The Gothic word for “holy” is either hailags or weihaba, weihs.

In modern English usage, the noun “hallow” appears mostly in the compounds Hallowtide Hallowmas and Halloween. Hallowtide and Hallowmas are not as well known as Halloween. Hallowtide is a liturgical season that includes the days of Halloween and Hallowmas, which is the feast of Allhallows or All Saints’ Day, on November 1.

And now, the many variations to further confuse us.

Halloween/Hallowe’en is a shortened form of “All Hallow Even(ing),” meaning “All Hallows’ Eve” or “All Saints’ Eve.”

Hallowmas is the day after Halloween and it is shortened from “Hallows’ Mass,” and is also known as “All Hallows’ Day” or “All Saints’ Day.”

So, the word “Hallowe’en” means “Saints’ evening” and it comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve. In Scots, the word “eve” is “even” and this is contracted to e’en or een.

Over time, (All) Hallow(s) E(v)en evolved into Hallowe’en.

Crossposted from Why Name It That?

Published by

Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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