Word-of-the-Day Wednesday: Halloween and All Saints Day

Each Wednesday, we’ll try to post a word or phrase in one of our new languages (Slovak and Romani) that will give you a glimpse into the place we’re living.

Today and tomorrow (October 31-November 1) are special days around the world… but there are very big differences between the ways they are celebrated in Slovakia and the U.S.

SLOVAK:  Sviatok [SFYAH-tok] všetkých [v’SHET-keeχ] svätých [SFEH-teeχ]

Yes, this one’s hard for most of us to say.  Here are some guides to help make sense of it…

  • Remember that in Slovak, emphasis always falls on the first syllable.
  • The “χ” symbol represents a sound we don’t use in English – “ch” as in the Scottish word “loch.”

MEANING:  “All Saints” or “All Souls” Day.

A Christian icon depicting Christ surrounded by all the saints.

This is, of course, the origin of our tradition of “Halloween.”  All Hallows’ Day – or All Saints Day – was holy day established by the church in the Middle Ages.  Its date was chosen as an alternative to ancient pagan festivals that were celebrated around this time – the end of the harvest and the beginning of the “dark” months of the year.  People would light fires and perform rituals to ward off evil spirits.

As a Christian alternative, the church established All Hallows as a chance or Christians to remember and thank God for all their loved ones and ancestors who had already died in the faith.  The night before All-Hallows became its own celebration called “All-Hallows Eve,” later shortened to “Halloween.”

Today’s American version of the holiday has much more to do with its roots – wearing masks and costumes at night.  This celebration has become largely a children’s holiday, with very little significance, either pagan or Christian.

A typical All Saints scene in a Slovak cemetery, where candles and flowers have been placed in memory of loved ones (click to see larger image).

In Slovakia, like many other places in the world, this holiday still has its Christian significance.  Near this time of the year, Slovaks will begin cleaning up their cemeteries – cutting grass, raking leaves, making sure the places look neat and clean.  Then on or near All Saints Day, they will go as a family to the cemetery to place flowers and candles at the graves of loved ones.  Sometimes the family will travel to cemeteries in other cities or villages, depending on where their ancestors are buried.  During this family time, they will talk together and reflect on the heritage left to them by their own family “saints.”

While it doesn’t involve as much candy, the Slovak version of this holiday is a time rich in family traditions and memories!


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