Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Word Wednesday - Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en, if you hadn't noticed, on this blog, is spelled with an apostrophe. Every time. Because Hallowe'en is spelled with an apostrophe, whether spell check believes me or not.

Hallowe'en, while it has its roots far further back, is associated with the Christian holiday of All Hallows or All Saints Day, which occurs on November 1st. The night before the celebration of All Hallows is All Hallows' Evening, which was frequently contracted to e'en. So, from there we get All Hallows' E'en or Hallowe'en. 

So, let's go back and figure all of this out.

Hallow means to make holy or sacred, to sanctify or consecrate, to venerate. So, hallow, as used in Hallowtide or Hallowmas is a synonym of the word saint.  All Hallows = All Saints.

All Hallows/Saints is the Catholic feast day celebrating all of the saints, known or unknown. According to the site Catholic Online
The origin of All Saints' Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been observed on various days in different places. However, there are some who maintain the belief that it has origins in the pagan observation of 13 May, the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. Liturgiologists base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin of that of All Saints based on their identical dates and on the similar theme of "all the dead". 
Pope Gregory III, attempting to disassociate the day from the Roman Lemuria festival moved the date of celebration to November 1st.
This usually fell within a few weeks of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which had a theme similar to the Roman festival of Lemuria, but which was also a harvest festival."
Today, the Festival of All Saints' is celebrated by both Protestant and Catholic Christians, though Protestants generally consider it a day of remembrance for all Christians or all parishioners at a particular church. While I am very familiar with churches with the name All Saints, I was not aware that there is a village in Kent called All Hallows, quite a few churches throughout the U.S. and Europe called All Hallows and even a few Catholic schools. You can even go hang out at All Hallows Beach in Kent, but it doesn't look very spooky.

So, back to Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en is the night before All Hallows/Saints. Originally, a vigil and fast was held the night before any Catholic feast day. The Synod of Seligenstadt (1022 CE) mentions vigils on the eves of Christmas, Epiphany, the feast of the Apostles, the Assumption of Mary, St. Laurence and All Saints, and the fast of two weeks before the Nativity of St. John. But as the Catholic Church commemorated more and more feasts, the conclusion of vigils became increasingly disorderly and, according to St. Jerome (347-420 CE), suffused with "improprieties". At midnight, after the fast had ended, people would pour from the churches and end their fasts with food and drink and rather noteworthy carousing.

In response, the church reduced the number of vigils and began holding them in the afternoon rather than the evening. However, it seems that the improprieties of the All Hallows evening vigil sustained for over 1600 years! Sorry St. Jerome!

Next Wednesday, the harvest festivals throughout history!

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