I read a paragraph on Halloween:

On November 1, the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. Halloween (October 31) was invented in Ireland and is followed by All Saints’ Day. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day.

The verb was invented caught my attention. The electric bulb, the telephone, the aeroplane, the steam engine, and the computer were invented by scientists. But can a festival or a celebration be invented?

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    It's a very loose use of the word.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 10 at 1:06
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    @TimR - it's common in academic circles (eg. history), to distinguish 'traditions' that were created wholesale at a fairly specific time, from those which are deemed to have arisen in a more organic fashion. I think it might be reasonable to suggest that 'Mother's Day' was invented, not by Hallmark to sell cards, but by Anna Jarvis of West Virginia around 1905. Commented Jul 10 at 7:34
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    It's probably fair to say that to use 'invented' rather than 'established', 'created', etc, may convey, if not scorn, at least lack of veneration. Commented Jul 10 at 7:39
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    I think "invented" is being used very loosely here to say that it originated in Ireland. However this is a fairly unusual use of the verb. I would personally avoid it here, and use "originated in Ireland" or "was established in Ireland".
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 10 at 10:07
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    There's a bunch of invented festivals, even if it's just someone deciding to have a parade (whether a Pride march, a Homecoming parade with floats and marching bands, or walking a religious icon through the streets). The question as it stands seems more like a sociological question than an English language one. Merriam-Webster has examples of inventing stories, procedures, and excuses, so I don't see why not a celebration or festival. The OP needs to say if they have a more specific objection.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 10 at 11:44

8 Answers 8


It's "unusual" in English to say religious festivals such as Halloween, Christmas, Easter were invented by some particular people. The effect is to emphasize the arbitrary nature of the celebration, and thus to undermine any true religious and/or cultural significance it might have had.

More commonly, to avoid such negative connotations, we would say...

The festival of Halloween (October 31) originated in Ireland

It's worth noting that originated (and arose) are intransitive verbs form, implying that the commemorative celebration independently and autonomously came into existence. The "passive" forms (invented, instigated, inaugurated, initiated,...) all imply a subject (people) who "created" the new tradition.

I think there's more "substance, gravitas" to commemorative traditions that intransitively "create themselves" - perhaps because of the implication that they have no choice but to exist (they're not arbitrarily created to suit people).

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    I'm used to thinking of much UK royal flummery and so-called 'tradition' (e.g. as seen at royal weddings, jubilees, coronations, etc) as having been invented in the Victorian era in an attempt to make the monarchy seem more 'dignified'. See Queen Victoria's Jubilees and the Invention of Tradition by William M Kuhn (1987)... 'Recent scholarship has characterized late Victorian royal ritual as having undergone a phase of "invented tradition." ... [in] a more elaborate, more splendid scale in recently created or revived ceremonial. The jubilees fall into this phase of invented tradition.' Commented Jul 10 at 7:19
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    @MichaelHarvey, Very interesting. I guess based on the answer and your comment that invention is exactly the right word if you want to emphasise the negative aspects of those traditions. In the same way flummery and so-called make clear what your feelings are on the subject. For those who want a more neutral way to discuss the subject, I would suggest introduced: "The wedding traditions were introduced during the Victorian period..." Commented Jul 10 at 8:37
  • @PeterKirkpatrick - 'Invented tradition' is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past. In fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past. 'The Invention of Tradition (Ed. Eric Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger, Cambridge, 1983) entire PDF here psi424.cankaya.edu.tr/uploads/files/… Commented Jul 10 at 9:28
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    @PeterKirkpatrick Some traditions, such as Christmas trees, were introduced to Britain by the Victorians. To be introduced usually implies that they had already been a tradition elsewhere. To be invented implies they did not exist beforehand. Commented Jul 11 at 11:19
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    @MichaelHarvey I concur with your use of "invented" in cases of secular tradition, although I raise an eyebrow at citing Hobsbawm on account of his political stance. However when considering something which has possible religious connotations (specifically including Paganism etc.) there's a risk that this becomes a value judgement, so particularly for something that happens on a set date or season I think I would prefer "observed", "celebrated" etc. Commented Jul 11 at 12:01

Holidays can certainly be invented where they did not exist before. Mothers Day, Kwanzaa, Festivus, etc. are all examples of holidays of greater or lesser recognition invented in the 20th century.

"In the old days, before Mothers' Day was invented, Mothering Sunday was a feast of the Church"

"Mothers day was invented as a day to celebrate being a mom,"

or more cynically

"As history is clear, Mothers Day was invented by the greeting card & gift industry."

However, that's not the most common usage for holidays that came about more organically from historical roots rather than being deliberately instituted from scratch.

More common usage might be something like

"Memorial Day began as a way to honor those who died in the Civil War and has become a day to honor all American veterans who gave their lives [...] "(archives.gov)

"The dead of winter, when the longest night of the year takes place, has traditionally been celebrated as a time of renewal and reverence." (pbs.org)

"Halloween evolved from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain." (history.com)

"Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain and is now a worldwide event." (also history.com)

"While Halloween originated in Europe, the holiday became the celebration we recognize today when it was brought to America by the early settlers" (nypl.com)

To sum up, for most holidays I'd use "originated" or "started", or even "grew from", but "was invented" can be appropriate in some cases.

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    Re "Mothers Day was invented by the greeting card & gift industry". My paternal great-grandfather was head of an association of nurseries in a sizeable German town in the 1920s. He also ran a flower store. Among his correspondence I found a newsletter he sent to members of the association in the summer of 1923 reporting that the members' first-time marketing push for a "new American holiday" called Mother's Day had been a resounding success and would therefore be repeated on an annual basis. Now the single most important holiday for flower stores in Germany is "Muttertag" at $120M revenue.
    – njuffa
    Commented Jul 11 at 6:25

"First celebrated" is what I would go with.

  • Halloween was first celebrated in Ireland...

You can find a ton of examples of the usage.

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    1. Halloween’s oldest roots are in an ancient Irish holiday called Samhain (pronounced sah-win)! Samhain—usually translated “summer’s end”—was in part a harvest festival when Celtic tribes held assemblies, and rulers and warriors conferred and made laws. wfupress.wfu.edu/arts-and-culture/…
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10 at 14:33
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    That actually sounds a lot like "invented": Somebody suddenly comes up with it. In reality, it's most likely a development, a confluence, an emergence: Rites evolve. Commented Jul 11 at 14:56

You ask if holidays in general can be invented and I'd say yes. In Denmark we have/had 'Store Bededag' (Great Prayer Day) which was instituted in 1686 as replacement for a number of lesser holidays. It was removed as an official holiday last year, but the main tradition associated with it (eating a certain type of bread the night before) is still practiced.

Using the term 'invented' about Halloween seems like a stretch though. It might be a rhetorical mechanism used to lessen the significance of the holiday.



  • to observe, [formal] to obey a law, rule, or custom: [ … ] The old people in the village still observe the local traditions. / Do you observe Passover?


  • Halloween (October 31) was first observed in Ireland and is followed by All Saints’ Day.

…but it’s untrue

As an aside, this statement is factually incorrect on two points. First, “Hallowe’en” is, strictly speaking, a Church holiday, first added to the calendar in the 9th century, and as such it was observed in every Christian society (this pre-dates the Orthodox schism and the Reformation). The author mentions “All Saints Day”, the second of the three days (the third is “All Souls Day” on 2. November), which makes it unclear whether they are speaking about the religious observance or the secular pumpkins-and-ghosts night...

The second reason is that the modern celebration of Hallowe’en with the pumpkins and trick-or-treating does have its roots in Ireland, but not just Ireland: the exact same customs were practiced in Scotland, another nation that provided lots of immigrants to the early US and Canada. Originally the “Jack-o’-Lantern” was carved from a turnip, but turnips were rare in North America, so the Irish and Scottish immigrants used pumpkins, which were much easier to come by.

This time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere) marked the end of the harvest and the start of the cold weather. Because it was the “end of the summer”, many cultures associated it with the dead - it’s no coincidence that the Catholic Church chose this time for its own remembrance days.


The words invented and invention are always used loosely in English.

The derivation of invention is from "discovered", and the implication in English is that the electric bulb, the telephone and the steam engine were discovered by scientists and engineers, but historically that is not the case: the electric bulb, the telephone and the steam engine were developed by scientists, engineers and technologists.

The word "invented" always sits uncomfortably with the situations to which it is applied. "The invention of Halloween" is well within the range of normal events which are described by "invented", and the discomfort with that use is well within the normal range of discomfort caused when the particulars of "invention" are examined.

Use of the word 'invented' for the electric bulb and the telephone and the steam engine can be justified by one specific reason: they each contain many patented 'inventions' where the word 'invention' is a technical term in patent law used by patent offices. But in those cases, a government office has determined that the word 'invention' is appropriate in a specific legal context.

Lacking a Patent Office determination that Halloween was 'invented', we must fall back on common English: 'invention' is a very loosely used word, that on examination always sits uncomfortably with the situations to which it is applied.

That does not, of course, mean that 'invented' is the best word to describe the development and adoption from English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish traditions.

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    In fact, the relevant definition (for invent = To come upon, find; to find out, discover) in the full OED says (Obsolete except in reference to the Invention of the Cross n. at invention n. I.1b) Their last "non-Cross" cite is 1738, suggesting this sense was long gone by the time electric bulbs and the telephone were invented. That older sense was "available" back when the steam engine was first produced, but it wouldn't have been the natural sense for the context, because,.. Commented Jul 12 at 2:43
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    ...OED definition #3 was first recorded 1538: To find out in the way of original contrivance; to create, produce, or construct by original thought or ingenuity; to devise first, originate (a new method of action, kind of instrument, etc.). The chief current sense. Commented Jul 12 at 2:44
  • Invention is opposed to discovery, hence the debate over whether mathematics is "invented or discovered" - meaning "created or found". Considering the etymology, as FumbleFInngers provided, "invent" might mean "discover" in other languages, but not in English
    – No Name
    Commented Jul 12 at 13:09
  • "The derivation of invention is from "discovered"" - would be much better with a citation and/or careful reasoning. Commented Jul 12 at 18:57

Yes. Have a festive party with a certain theme or commemorate an event, do it again the next year, make it every year ... et voilá, you got yourself a "traditional festive" that was invented by you.

Also Christianity is as far as I know pretty creative with these things. So after finding out that telling people not to celebrate Pagan holidays, didn't really work all that well, they often switched gears and instead co-celebrated a Christian themed holiday as well. That way they could pretend everyone is celebrating the Christian holiday and make a much better case for their religion.

Now whether that overshadowed a particular pagan festive like the Gaelic Samhain or whether that is a move in the different direction where a Celtic revival took inspiration from the Christian "day of the dead" or "all souls day" which follows "all Saints day" served as inspiration for that or whether the season itself brought plenty of inspiration for preparing for the winter, the darkness and the evil spirits lurking within that, is somewhat disputed.

Also apparently the name Halloween is pretty straight forward it's the beginning of the Hallowtide (time of the Saints) and it's the "vigil" so the evening prayer before a high christian festive so "(All) Hallow's evening)". Which as said was followed by "All souls day" which would be a celebration of the dead.

So yes you can invent those things, though usually people would try to put the focus on the event itself and less of the invention so you'd rather use synonyms marking the time of origin but not getting into details on the specifics.


Invented isn’t appropriate.

We can consider instituted as in instituted a festival and apply here: Halloween was instituted ...

Usages of the festival example using institute and instituting are also found:



Also possible is inaugurate: Halloween was inaugurated ...

  • Why is it too general? The OP doesn't say they want a more specific word. I'd say "Halloween began/started in Ireland" but I guess you think that's too general too?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 10 at 11:45
  • Thanks, @Stuart F. Indeed, ‘general’ isn’t the right word. I have replaced that. Commented Jul 10 at 13:01
  • ”Instituted” and “Inaugurated” both suggest a rule being imposed. That is not how holiday traditions come about: nobody decreed that people should exchange decorated eggs at Easter, or that Lunar New Year gifts should be given in red envelopes - these were just things that people chose to do individually until it became a “tradition”. But if you’re talking about the actual Christian holiday of Hallowe’en (All Saints Eve), then “instituted” is the perfect word, as it was declared as a day of prayer by the Catholic Church in the late 8th and early 9th century (see wikipedia: “Allhallowtide“).
    – KrisW
    Commented Jul 12 at 8:08

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