The Grammarphobia Blog

A dark and goosey night

Q: Time flies. Halloween will be here before long. Last year, you talked about names for the night before Halloween. When growing up in the 1950s, the night before Halloween was known as Goosey Night in the Paterson/Clifton area of New Jersey. It was Cabbage Night in Jersey City when my grandfather was growing up. It was the generic Mischief Night in other parts of northern NJ.

A: Thanks for your comment, but before I respond let me say a few words about Halloween itself, a holiday with roots in the pre-Christian British Isles. It began with a Celtic festival, Samhain, that marked the end of the harvest season.

The Celts referred to the last night of October, the eve of Samhain, as the night of all witches, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

As Christianity took hold, Samhain was transformed into All Hollows’ Day (or All Saints’ Day). And the eve of Samhain, in turn, became All Hallow Even (the Eve of All Saints’ Day). All Hallow Even, of course, evolved into Halloween.

Although the Oxford English Dictionary has references for “all hallows,” meaning all saints, dating back to Anglo-Saxon days, the first citation for “All Hallow Even” doesn’t appear until the mid-16th century.

As for your comment, it confirms what a great many listeners wrote to tell me last fall. Cabbage Night, Goosey Night, Devil’s Night, Mischief Night, and so on, were the night BEFORE Halloween, not Halloween itself.

Now I know when I should be doing all that mischief!

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