The 31st of October is, of course, Hallowe’en (or Halloween, if you will). Seems like a bit of a made-up holiday to me. In the 1980s and 90s, it didn’t really exist in England. Of good to nobody much but retailers and robbers in the need of a cheap disguise. But thanks to capitalism, it’s beginning to take hold in England in a way it never has before. But it’s still a poor effort compared to North American and Celtic tries.
My abiding memory of Hallowe’en is going trick o’ treating for the first and only time as a twelve year old — only to be angrily reprimanded by a local sixteen year old that I was, “Taking advantage and greedy! Hallowe’en is for KIDS!” Translation: “trick”. Dried egg and flour is quite hard to clean… Aside from psychologically scarring events which are useful blog anecdotes, the only good things about Hallowe’en for me are, one, crappy horror films, and two, the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror: the only episodes of that show that are still good.
But what is Hallowe’en? It ruffles the feathers of so many Christians I know. Yet it’s surely just harmless campy fun. Isn’t it? Hallowe’en was originally a heathen night for witches. However, the festival was, at least superficially, Christianised. So, officially Christian, originally heathen. But of course, Hallowe’en isn’t the only originally heathen holiday that was Christianised — but more on that in a couple of months’ times…
But anyway, Hallowe’en. What does this weird word mean? As my Mum told me when I was a kid, it is from Allhallows’-even. That is, the evening of all-hallows. Hallow being the older, homeborn word for “saint”. Think hallowed, which means “holy” or “sanctified”, and the verb to hallow, which means “to make holy or sanctified”. Holy is also a related word.
One of the principles of my Saxon English or “Anglish” project is the concept of “buttresses“. Just as a buttress stops a building from falling down, some words act as buttresses which support words and keep them from falling out of the language. Sadly, words like hallowed and holy and hallowe’en are not doing a very good job of buttressing the noun hallow, aka, “saint”. But I live in hope that the existence of these words will make that stout Saxon word hallow live again. That’s why I’ve taken to spelling out the name of this holiday — All Hallow’s Evening — and even dropping the noun hallow into conversations after having primed my listener with the words holy and hallowed.
© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry