Wednesday, October 28, 2009


A listener asked where the word Halloween came from. Originally, the word was All-hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, November 1. A hallow was a holy person, a saint; the word first appears in 885.

As with so many other celebrations, the Catholic Church turned a pagan observance into a Christian one. Gregory III (731-741) established November 1 as All Saints Day as an overlay on an ancient Celtic feast, Samhain. Gregory IV (827-844) extended the observance to the entire Church.

November 1 marked the Celts’ new year, the dividing line between harvest time and the cold, dark winter. At that time of seasonal division (Samhain, or summer’s end), the Celts believed that the dividing line between the world of the living and the world of the dead was stretched very thin, and that eerie visitations from spirits were quite probable.

A couple of centuries later, the Catholic Church established All Souls Day on November 2. Ultimately, all three celebrations – the night of October 31, November 1, and November 2 – were rolled into a celebration known as Hallowmas. As with words like Christmas, the –mas element stood for Mass, the formal Eucharistic liturgy celebrated on feast and feria days.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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