Hallow, a verb, means to make holy or to honor as holy. Hollow, an adjective, means empty inside, not solid. Hallowe’en derives from a holy observance. There is no such thing as a Hollowe’en. Why, then, do many of us insist on pronouncing the word as if our annual dress-up, trick-or-treat holiday is empty inside? Pronouncing it correctly is easy. Hallow rhymes with shallow. Try it. Hollow rhymes with follow.
Halllowe’en falls on October 31, the day before the feast of All Hallows, which was established by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century to attempt to stamp out pagan celebrations. Christians would honor saints and pray for souls who have not yet reached heaven. Before long, All Saints Day incorporated some of the customs of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. The previous evening became known as All Hallows Eve, later called Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en has evolved into a day of dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns and other assorted mischief.
Scholars tell us that Celts dressed up in white with blackened faces during the festival of Samhain to trick the evil spirits that they believed would be roaming the earth before All Saints’ Day on November 1. By the 11th century, the church adapted this into a tradition called souling, which is considered the origin of trick-or-treating. Children went door-to-door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives.
When people prayed for the souls of the dead at Hallow Mass, they dressed up. When praying for fertile marriages,”The boy choristers in the churches dressed up as virgins, so there was a certain degree of cross dressing in the actual ceremony of All Hallow’s Eve,” according to Nicholas Rogers, a historian at York University in England.
By the 19th century, souling had been replaced by guising or mumming, when children would offer songs, poetry and jokes, instead of prayer, in exchange for fruit or cash. So the pleasant practice of stuffing ourselves with sweet treats on Hallowe’en has been around for a long time, centuries, in fact. Any trick-or-treater will testify that there’s nothing hollow about it.