Monday, October 30, 2017

Words about religion, Part 2: Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 43 (Words about Religion) of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Another major Christian celebration, at least for many Christian denominations, is All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallow’s Day or Hallowmas, among other names (saints were known as hallows in Old English, as we shall see). In Spanish, it is called Día de Todos los Santos, which literally means 'all saints' day' or 'day of all the saints'. In Christianity, a saint is primarily 'a person officially recognized, especially by canonization, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth' (AHD). It became a tradition in early Christianity to celebrate saints every year on the day of their death but as more an more saints started to fill the calendar, a catch-all day to celebrate the many lesser known and anonymous ones was established in the early 7th century.

All Saints’ Day has taken place on November 1 for the last 1,300 years or so. The purpose of this day is to celebrate all saints, known and unknown, and it is celebrated in the Catholic tradition as well as in some Protestant traditions, though we shouldn’t forget that until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, all European Christians were Catholic, and Christianity in the Americas descends from European Christianity. As we said, this Christian tradition started in the early 7th century, though there had been an earlier tradition of celebrating All Martyrs Day since the 3rd century. For the first hundred years or so, in the 7th century, All Saints’ Day was celebrated on May 1st, not on November 1st. It is quite likely that the date was moved to November because that is around the time that some pre-Christian European cultures, in particular the Celtic ones, remembered the dead, in a celebration known as Samhain, ‘the first day of November, celebrated by the ancient Celts as a festival marking the beginning of winter and of the new year according to their calendar’ (OED). Many traditional cultures in the northern hemisphere had a special celebration at the end of the summer (warm weather), associated with life, and the beginning of winter (cold weather), associated with death. The setting of this celebration at this time is just one more of the many attempts of early Christianity to take over key pagan celebrations in order to gain acceptance, as we have seen.

In the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean, in the Semitic and Greek worlds where Christianity started, the day ended at dusk and thus the day started in what for us would be the evening before, as night-time began. Because of this, many traditional religious holidays start in what to us is the evening of the holiday's previous day, the holiday’s eve (cf. Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, etc.). The evening before All Saints’ Day, that is, October 31, is known traditionally in English as All Hallows’ (Day’s) Eve or, more commonly, in a compressed version of this phrase, Halloween. In Spanish, this day (or actually evening) is called Víspera de Todos los Santos, literally ‘All Saints’ Day’s Eve’ (see below for more information about the unrelated words Eng. eve and Sp. víspera).[1]

The day after All Saints’ Day, that is, November 2, is known as All Souls’ Day in English. This date was added to the other one (or two, if you count October 31st as a separate day) in the 11th century to form the Allhallowtide triduum.[1]  All Souls’ Day is dedicated to the ‘faithfully departed’, that is to say, the dead. It is formally known in Spanish as Día de los Difuntos or Conmemoración a los Fieles Difuntos, though it is also more informally known as Día de los Muertos o Día de los Difuntos or even, less commonly, Día de las ánimas.[2] In Spanish-speaking countries, November 2 is the day in which people traditionally visit the tombstones of their departed relatives. In the Christian tradition, it is a day to pray for the souls of the departed, especially those who might still be in Purgatory, which in Catholic doctrine is ‘a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven’ (COED).

Figure 157: All Souls’ Day, oil painting by Jakob Schikaneder (1888)[i]
Elderly woman next to the tomb of a loved one

This two-day day period (November 1-2), plus the eve of the first day’s (October 31), which was dedicated to celebrating the dead, including saints, martyrs, and the departed in general, was traditionally known in English as Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, Allsaintstide, all compound words that are now archaic. More modern equivalents of these names are the Hallowmas season or the time or season of All Saints’ Day. In Spanish, the phrase Todos los Santos is sometimes used informally to refer to this 2-or-3-day period of celebration.[ii]

The word tide in the old-fashioned names we just saw is now only used with the sense ‘the alternate rising and falling of the sea due to the attraction of the moon and sun’ (COED), but in the Old English period it meant ‘time, period, era’. The original sense of this word is also found in now uncommon (but not obsolete) expressions such as Christmastide ‘Christmas time’, Eastertide ‘Easter time’, eveningtide or eventide ‘evening time’, and morningtide ‘morning time’.

The English word hallow [ˈhæ.loʊ̯] that we saw in several words referring to this season has an interesting story. This word is rather rare in modern English, at least in American English. The derived adjective hallowed, meaning ‘highly venerated’ or ‘sacrosanct’ (AHD), is perhaps more common, often heard in phrases such as hallowed ground or hallowed war heroes. The word hallow is mostly only a verb today, but in earlier times it could also be a noun that meant ‘a saint or holy person’, which is the sense we find in expressions like All Hallows’ Eve.

The English noun hallow, which descends from Old English hālga ‘holy one, saint’,  could also be used to refer to shrines or relics associated with holy personsor, in pre-Christian times, godssuch as magical objects. In Middle English, this noun changed to halwe and its meaning was ‘a saint’, as well as ‘holy thing, shrine’. The noun hallow is archaic in Modern English. In recent times, many English speakers probably encountered the noun hallow for the first time in the last novel of the Harry Potter series of children’s books, which had the title Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In this novel, the word hallows referred to magical objects, since the deathly hallows are three highly powerful magical objects that were created by Death.

The English verb to hallow means ‘to make holy, consecrate, sanctify’ or ‘venerate, greatly revere’. It comes from Old English hālgian, which also meant ‘to hallow, sanctify, make holy’. In Middle English, the word changed to halwen, but its meaning was the same. This verb is equivalent to Spanish bendecir, consagrar, and santificar. Although the noun and the verb are homonymous in Modern English, that is, they sound and are spelled the same way, we have seen that they were slightly different in earlier times, sharing a root but having different endings or suffixes.

Both the verb and the noun hallow are related to the adjective holy, which was hāliġ or hāleġ in Old English and which meant ‘holy, consecrated, sacred, venerated, godly, saintly’. They all share the same root, a root that is also found in words like whole and health. Eng. whole, the most basic of all these words, comes from Old Eng. hāl, meaning ‘healthy, safe, whole, free from injury’. The adjective holy is derived from whole, by the addition of the adjectival suffix -y, as in messy and runny.[3] Although it is hard to know exactly, the OED guesses that the meaning of the Old English version of holy meant ‘that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated’ (OED).

When the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity in the 7th century, the Old English words holy, hallow, and to hallow came to be used to translate Latin Christian words. The adjective holy translated the Latin adjective sanctus (feminine sancta) that meant as ‘holy, saintly’. The noun hallow translated the Latin nouns sanctus and sancta that meant ‘saint’ (a person), source of Sp. santo (shortened to san before a name) and santa and derived from the adjective that we just saw. The Old English verb to hallow came to be used to translate the Latin verb sanctifĭcāre ‘to make holy’ (source of Spanish learned santificar ‘to sanctify, make holy’). The noun saint was borrowed later into English, in the 12th century, from Fr. saint (fem. seinte), meaning both ‘a saint’ and ‘a holy relic’, the same as hallow. This word has come to replace hallow to a large extent, though without the meaning ‘holy relic’ any longer. The verb sanctify was borrowed later, in the 14th century, from Fr. saintefier. This verb has pretty much replaced the verb to hallow. Thus Eng. saint is a cognate of Sp. santo/a and Eng. sanctify is a cognate of Sp. santificar.

By the way, the words Eng. saint and Sp. santo/a come from Lat. sanctus/a, passive participle of the verb sancīre that meant primarily ‘to consecrate, appoint as sacred’, that is, ‘to render, make or appoint as sacred or inviolable by a religious act’, something very close to what the verb to hallow meant in Old English. Thus, the Latin participle sānctus meant something like ‘made inviolable or established as sacred’. In Late Latin, this participle was converted into a noun, as we have seen, meaning what it means today, namely ‘a saint’, ‘a person who lives a holy and virtuous life’. In Catholic and Orthodox creed, a saint is ‘a person officially recognized, especially by canonization, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth’ (AHD).

In addition to the word hallow ‘saint’, in the word Halloween, and its fuller form All Hallows’ Eve, we also find the word eve. As we mentioned in previous sections, in ancient traditions, the day starts at dusk, not at midnight as it does now, on what we now call the eve of the day. Modern English eve, pronounced [ˈiv] comes from Old English æfen, pronounced [ˈæ.ven], which descends from Proto-Germanic *ēbanþs. The Old English word referred primarily to ‘the time between sunset and darkness’, whereas in Modern English, eve means ‘the day or period of time immediately before an event’ and, in particular, ‘the evening or day before a religious festival’ (COED), a sense it acquired in the 13th century. The equivalent of Eng. eve in Spanish is víspera. Sp. víspera [ˈɾa] ‘day before’ comes from Lat. vespera ‘evening, eventide’. We find a descendant of this word in Eng. vespers ‘a service of evening prayer’ (COED).

The word eve is related to the word evening [ˈiv.nɪŋ], from Old English æfnung ‘the coming of evening, sunset, time around sunset’. The word evening is a hard one to translate into Spanish, since there are several words that can be used to express this meaning. One of them is tarde, a word that as an adverb means ‘late’ as in Llegar tarde ‘to arrive late’.[4] As a noun, however, tarde is typically often translated as afternoon, but it is a period of time that goes from noon until it gets dark, when the noche ‘night’ starts, which thus includes the early evening time.[5] For the late evening time, after it is fully dark, which can be quite early in winter and quite late in summer in the northern hemisphere, we can use noche to translate evening in Spanish. The compound tarde-noche is also sometimes used to translate Eng. evening, though it is quite rare.

(Actually, the meaning of words having to do with times of the day can also depend on customary daily routines in a culture. For instance, the word mediodía, which supposedly means ‘noon’, lit. ‘half day’, does not correspond to the English word noon in Spain, where most people understand mediodía as ‘lunch-time’, which can be as late as 2-3pm.)


mediodía ‘noon’

tarde ‘after lunch’
noche ‘after dark’

Going back to our Hallowmas celebrations, we have seen that, traditionally, the celebration of All Saints’ Day, which is on November 1st, started on the evening before, namely, on October 31. The traditional name for this time in English is Halloween, or Hallowe’en, pronounced today either [ˈhæ.lə.ˌwin] or [ˌhæ.lə.ˈwin], with the main stress on either the first or the last syllable. This word is nothing but a contraction of the phrase All Hallows’ Even. The word even comes from Scots, the dialect of English used in the Lowlands of Scotland. In this dialect, eve and evening are both even, usually contracted to e’en or een.

In England, there existed many Halloween-related traditions, such as trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and costume parties, which have eventually morphed into the modern-day traditions. These traditions are thought to have originated from pagan Celtic harvest festivals, in particularly the Gaelic end-of-summer festival of Samhain. In other words, the pagan, Celtic festival of Samhain was Christianized as Halloween. For the Celts, this day marked the start of winter and beginning of the year, a time of encounter between the living and the dead, which fit well with the Christian tradition of remembering and honoring the dead.

The traditional Halloween is known in Spanish is known as Víspera de Todos los Santos (All Saint’s Day Eve), which did not have any special significance in the Spanish-speaking world, other than being the traditional start of the Todos los Santos celebration. In recent years, however, the influence of the children-centered Halloween celebrations coming from English-speaking countries has started to be felt in many Spanish-speaking countries. Such child-centered partying is also known in Spanish as Halloween, pronounced [xa.lo.ˈɡu̯in], or else as Noche de (las) brujas ‘Night of (the) Witches’. The day itself is also known Día de (las) brujas ‘Day of (the) Witches’.[iii]

The focus of the traditional All Hallows’ Eve revolves around the use of humor and ridicule to confront death, which is the source of the present-day children’s activities, which for most people is all that is left of this traditionally Christian celebration.[iv] The modern Halloween celebrations and customs in the English-speaking world were brought to North America by the Irish and the Welsh in the 19th century and contributed to the modern child-centered tradition.

A major modern Halloween tradition in North America and the British Isles involves children going door-to-door in costume demanding candy, a practice known as trick-or-treat or to go trick-or-treating, which refers to ‘a children’s custom of calling at houses at Halloween with the threat of pranks if they are not given a small gift’ (COED).[v] The source of this recent tradition seems to be the practice of souling in late medieval times in Europe, in which poor people would go house-to-house on All Saints Day offering a prayer for the dead in exchange for some food.[vi] Interestingly, as we just mentioned, the children’s tradition of trick-or-treating has spread to many Spanish-speaking countries in recent years.[vii] The Spanish-speaking world has not settled yet on a phrase equivalent to trick-or-treat, though some vying candidates seem to be dulce o truco, truco o trato (or traco o truco), dulce o travesura, and treta o trato.[viii]

Most of these expressions are quite bad renderings of the original English expression, which they attempt to calque. The Spanish word truco can mean ‘trick’, but mostly only the sense of trick that means ‘skill, knack’ or ‘deception, ruse’, not the sense that means ‘prank, joke’, which translates as broma. The Spanish word trato does not mean ‘treat’, but rather ‘deal’ or ‘treatment’. The word treta means ‘trick, ruse’ and is not a bad translation of the sense of trick in trick-or-treat.

This same period coincides with the celebration of Día de los Muertos, or ‘Day of the dead’ in Mexico, where it is a national holiday that lasts the two already-mentioned days (November 1-2).[ix] In pre-Columbian Mexico, the celebration of the dead was already a big deal for the indigenous cultures, and it used to be celebrated in the summertime. However, upon the arrival of Christianity, the celebration was moved to coincide with the Catholic festival of Allhallowtide. Similar celebrations involving the dead are found in other parts of Latin America, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Brazil. The Día de los Muertos celebration until recently was restricted to southern parts of Mexico and it was rejected in other areas as having too many pagan elements, but now it is a public holiday throughout the country.

Figure 158: La Catarina or Lady of the Dead
In Mexican folk culture, the Catarina is one of the most popular 

figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico[x]

In the Spanish Allhallowtide tradition, the first day, November 1st, is known as Día de los Inocentes (‘day of the innocents’) or, in some countries, Día de los Angelitos (‘day of the little angels’) and it is dedicated to deceased infants and children. This Día de los Inocentes celebration should not to be confused with the Día de los Santos Inocentes in Catholic tradition, which in English, is called (Holy) Innocents’ Day or Childermas. This day marks the Biblical narrative of infanticide by Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews, an event known in English as the Massacre of the Innocents.[xi] This day, which in Catholic tradition is celebrated on December 28, is also known in Spanish as Día de las bromas ‘day of the practical jokes’, and is the Hispanic equivalent of April Fool’s Day in English-speaking (and some other European) countries.[xii] The reason for this seems to be that the word inocente, in addition to ‘innocent’ or ‘not guilty’, can also mean ‘naïve, sucker’ in Spanish. The tradition of playing tricks on people on this day seems to have started from the double meaning of the word inocente in Spanish.

There is little doubt that this three-day long Christian celebration was another appropriation of earlier pagan rites going back millennia during the process of Christianization.[xiii] We have already mentioned the fall or end-of-summer (and beginning-of-winter) or harvest festivals that were commonly found in pre-Christian societies, such as Celtic festival of Samhain. The celebration of Thanksgiving, kwown as (Día de) Acción de Gracias in Spanish, which takes place on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States (on the second Monday in October in Canada), has also been interpreted by some as a form of harvest celebration inherited from earlier times when the agricultural cycle was much more ever-present in people’s lives.[xiv]

[1] The earliest records of the practice of starting the day at nightfall are found in Babylon, which seems to be where the Jews picked it up during their exile there starting in the 6th century BCE. In the early books of the Hebrew Bible, the word for ‘day’ refers just to the daylight hours and it contrasts with the word for ‘night’. The Greeks and the Phoenicians also reckoned the day from sunset to sunset. The Romans, on the other hand, started the day at midnight, a tradition that we now follow in the West and in the whole world more generally. Other peoples reckoned the full day from sunrise to sunrise.

[2] The word difunto/a (originally, defunto/a) means ‘deceased’. It is a cognate of Eng. defunct ‘no longer existing or functioning’ (Sp. en desuso, caduco/a; desaparecido/a, extinto/a; difunto/a). Both words come from Lat. dēfunctus, passive participle of the verb dēfungī ‘to perform, finish, carry out’, used in the expression dēfungor vītā ‘to die’ (lit. ‘to be done with life’). The derived noun defunción means ‘death, decease’. The word ánima is a learned version of Sp. alma ‘soul’, from Latin ănĭma ‘soul’ (originally, ‘air, breeze, wind; the breath of life; life’).

[3] The English adjectival suffix ‑y descends from Old English ‑ig, which descends from Proto-Germanic *-igaz, which is a cognate of the Latin suffix ‑ic‑us and the Ancient Greek suffix ‑ικός (-ik‑ós).

[4] Note that the adverb tarde cannot be used with the verbs ser or estar, because unlike Eng. late, it cannot be used as an adjective. Thus, there is no simple way to translate Eng. to be late. To express that meaning, different verbs must be used with the adverb tarde, as in llegar tarde ‘to arrive late’ or empezar tarde ‘to start late’. Additionally, other verbs can be used to express this meaning such as atrasarse, retrasarse, demorarse, llevar retraso, ir retrasado, ir con retraso, andar retrasado, or andar con retraso.

The adverb tarde comes from the Latin adverb tardē that meant ‘slowly’ and ‘late’. It was derived from the adjective tardus, that meant ‘slow, sluggish’, ‘tardy, late’, as well as ‘dull, stupid, slow-witted’. Also derived from this adjective was the verb tardāre which meant ‘to make slow, to hinder, delay, etc.’. This verb is the source of Sp. tardar ‘to take a long time’. In English, the adjectives tardy (Sp. tardío/a) and retarded (Sp. retrasado/a) contain this Latin root as well.

[5] In some Spanish-speaking countries, such as Spain, the tarde is not considered to start until after lunch, which can start quite late, such as 2:00-3:00pm. Thus, the tarde does not start until around 4:00pm or 5:00pm in such countries. Thus, in Spain, one cannot typically translate afternoon as tarde. If one means afternoon literally as after noon, one should probably say después del mediodía, lit. ‘after noon’.

[i] Source: Jakub Schikaneder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, (2018.10.27)
[iv] Portaro, Sam (25 January 1998). A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Cowley Publications. p. 199: “All Saints’ Day is the centerpiece of an autumn triduum. In the carnival celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule to confront the power of death. The following day, in the commemoration of All Saints, we gave witness to the victory of incarnate goodness embodied in remarkable deeds and doers triumphing over the misanthropy of darkness and devils. And in the commemoration of All Souls we proclaimed the hope of common mortality expressed in our aspirations and expectations of a shared eternity.” Quoted in
[xii] This day commemorates the killing of innocent children by King Herod described in the two of the books of the New Testament, cf.,

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