Whether you observe the day or decry it (or something in between), one can’t ignore the fascinating history of both the word itself and the traditions surrounding it. I’ve blogged about it before in a post that combines all my recollection as I looked into the holiday for my own family’s celebrating, but today I want to focus mostly on the word.
We’ve probably all heard that Halloween is a shortening of All Hallow’s Even or All Hallow’s Eve. Even or eve are of course, in turn, a shortening of evening. We most famously still use this, of course, on Christmas Eve, to denote the night or vigil of the sacred day itself.
But what about that Hallow? We know that word primarily from the Lord’s prayer–it means “holy” or, in this case, “ones who are holy”–saints. November 1 is All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, the day marked on the calendar for celebrating all the saints–a day so important that, in the Roman Catholic Church, it’s one of only six Holy Days of Obligation in the year. (Those are days when going to mass to remember the event is required.) Why is it given such honor? Because this is literally the day to remember all the Christians who have come before us, who are gathered now in heaven. This is a day to honor the Church as the Bride of Christ and remember each member, each cell throughout time.
In the post I link to above, I mentioned the very real spiritual warfare style traditions that sprang up as Christianity clashed with paganism in Celtic Ireland and Scotland, and those are a big part of the story. It’s also worth noting, however, that as Christianity took hold, this holy day was so important that children anticipated it as much as Christmas and went around their neighborhoods asking for donations of sweets so they could make “soul cakes” to remember the neighbors’ loved ones on All Saints Day…sometimes even dressed up as saints themselves.
As with many of our holidays, there’s a mix of the holy and the not-so-holy in today’s traditions…but no shortage of fascinating history to both the word and the day!