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My last post was “Hola! Buen Camino!” It described some of my just-finished five-week trip to Spain (I was hiking – and biking – the Camino de Santiago.) I’ll be writing more about that trip later, but now it’s time to focus on the upcoming three days of Halloween. That set of three feast days is called the Halloween “Triduum,” or in the alternative Allhallowtide.
Triduum* is a fancy Latin word for “three days.” And the word “hallow” – in both “hallowe’en” and “Allhallowtide” – comes from the Old English word for “saint,” halig. That eventually became “hallow.” (Maybe it was easier to say.) Which led to November 1 now being called All Saints’ Day.
The Old English “All Haligs’ Day” – November 1 – eventually became “All Hallows Day.” The “eve” before that Feast Day – October 31 – became “All Hallows Evening.” In time that shortened to “All Hallows E’en.” Later still it shortened to “Hallowe’en,” then just plain Halloween.
As Wikipedia noted, this three-day period is a “time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians.” The main day is November 1, now All Saints Day, but previously referred to as Hallowmas. It was established sometime between 731 and 741 – over 1,300 years ago – “perhaps by Pope Gregory III.”
All Hallows’ Eve – October 31 – was originally established around that time as a vigil. That is, it was originally designed as a “period of purposeful sleeplessness, an occasion for devotional watching, or an observance.” (From the Latin word for “wakefulness.”) In other words, Halloween was originally designed to be more like the “Easter Vigil held at night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.” That is, “a devotional exercise or ritual observance on the eve of a holy day:”
But boy has that changed. (The painting above left shows “A Knight’s Vigil.” See the notes.)
There’s more on those changes below, but first note that November 1 honors “all the saints and martyrs, both known and unknown.” On the other hand, November 2 – All Souls’ Day – honors “all faithful Christians ‘who are unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends.'” In other words, the rest of us poor schmucks…
But getting back to Halloween, a good friend recently asked how such a Holy Day “evolved into an opportunity to drink and party?” (Not to mention getting way too much candy…)
It all started with the old-time belief that evil spirits were most prevalent during the long nights of winter. Those “old-timers” also believed that the “barriers between our world and the spirit world” were at their its lowest and most permeable on the night of October 31:
So, those old-time people would wear masks or put on costumes in order to disguise their identities. The idea was to keep the afterlife “hallows” – ghosts or spirits – from recognizing the people in this, the “material world.”
Another thing they did was build bonfires, or literally bonefires. (That is, “bonfires were originally fires in which bones were burned.”) The original idea was that evil spirits had to be driven away with noise and fire. But that evolved into this: The “fires were thought to bring comfort to the souls in purgatory and people prayed for them as they held burning straw up high.”
Like I said, there’s more information in “All Hallows E’en” – 2016, and in “All Hallows E’en” – 2015. (On things like trick-or-treating, jack-o’-lanterns representing “Christian souls in purgatory,” and “foolish fire” leading travelers from their safe paths “to their doom.”) But I’ll close with this:
There was another old-time custom, that if you had to travel on All Hallows E’en – like from 11:00 p.m. until midnight – your had to be careful. If your candle kept burning, that was a good omen. (The person holding the candle would be safe in the upcoming winter “season of darkness.”) But if your candle went out, “the omen was bad indeed.”
The thought was that the candle had been blown out by witches.
Have a Happy Halloween!
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“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by reference detailed in this “notes” section. Thus as to the term Triduum, it is usually defined as a “period of three days for prayer before a feast.” A better-known example is the Paschal Triduum, from Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday.
Re: “A Knight’s Vigil.” That’s the title of the painting – by John Pettie (1839-1893) – to the left of the paragraph beginning “All Hallows’ Eve – October 31 – was originally…” The painting is courtesy of Vigil – Wikipedia, which added this note on knights’ vigils:
During the Middle Ages, a squire on the night before his knighting ceremony was expected to take a cleansing bath, fast, make confession, and then hold an all-night vigil of prayer in the chapel, preparing himself in this manner for life as a knight. For the knighting ceremony, he dressed in white as a symbol for purity and over that was placed a red robe to show his readiness to be wounded, over which a black robe was placed as a symbol of his willingness to die for his king.