Halloween Etymology

Posted 30 October, 2017 by Alicia in Holiday, Language / 0 Comments  


It’s nearly Halloween! I thought it would be a fantastic time to delve into the history of the word itself, as well as the holiday.

There are so many different names used for the holiday. It has changed so much throughout history. I’ll list some of them:

  • Hallowe’en (shortened to Halloween, as we know it)
  • All Hallows’ Eve
  • All Saints’ Eve
  • Holy Eve
  • Allhallow-even
  • Old Year’s Night

It was called All Hallows’/Saints’ Eve because it preceded All Hallows’/Saints’ Day, which has its own string of names (e.g. Hallowmas, Feast of All Saints). All Hallows’ Eve began Allhallowtide, a three-day celebration including All Hallows’ Eve, All Hallows’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. These are always from the 31st October to the 2nd November. Allhallowtide is a time to remember the dead, and All Saints’ Day is specifically to remember the saints. Allhallowtide was first established around the 8th century in Rome. It is a Western Christian observance.

Hallow and saint are synonyms, so that’s why we the terms are used interchangeably in the name All Hallows’ Eve. Allhallowtide is from the Old English halig meaning “saint” and tide meaning “time” or “season,” which is also how we get Eastertide and Christmastide, although those aren’t used anymore. In the word Hallowmas, the mas part comes from the Christian Mass. This is also part of Christmas, naturally.

The word Halloween didn’t start being used until the 18th century. It means “hallowed evening,” or “holy evening.” The “evening” part was shortened to even (sometimes eve as in All Hallows’ Eve) and then to e’en, finally concluding with just een which was then tacked on to Hallow.

The last two terms are from Scottish. Allhallow-even was the last night of the year in the Celtic calendar, otherwise known as Old Years’ Night, a night for witches.

Can you imagine Halloween as a three-day celebration? That would be amazing, even (especially?) with our watered-down candy-filled Hallmark version. Think of all the mischief we could get up to, if we weren’t too sick from the candy to move. (:

Anyway, I hope you learned a little something! I know I did in researching this. Have a marvellous Halloween tomorrow! And, of course, stay safe.

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