Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A watch kept during normal sleeping hours.
  • n. The act or a period of observing; surveillance.
  • n. The eve of a religious festival observed by staying awake as a devotional exercise.
  • n. Ritual devotions observed on the eve of a holy day. Often used in the plural.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A watch kept during normal sleeping hours, especially over the body of a recently deceased or dying person.
  • n. A period of observation or surveillance.
  • n. The eve of some religious festival in which staying awake is part of the ritual devotions.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Abstinence from sleep, whether at a time when sleep is customary or not; the act of keeping awake, or the state of being awake; sleeplessness; wakefulness; watch.
  • n. Hence, devotional watching; waking for prayer, or other religious exercises.
  • n.
  • n. Originally, the watch kept on the night before a feast.
  • n. Later, the day and the night preceding a feast.
  • n. A religious service performed in the evening preceding a feast.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The act of keeping awake; abstinence or forbearance from sleep at the natural or ordinary hours of rest; the state of being awake during the natural time for sleep; sleeplessness; wakefulness; watch: commonly in the plural.
  • n. Devotional watching; hence, devotions, services, praise, prayer, or the like performed during the customary hours of sleep; nocturnal devotions: commonly in the plural.
  • n. Eccles.: Originally, in the early church, the watch kept in a church or cemetery on the night before a feast, the time being occupied in prayer.
  • n. Hence— The day and night preceding a festival; the eve or day before a festival; strictly, an eve which is a fast.
  • n. A wake.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a purposeful surveillance to guard or observe
  • n. a period of sleeplessness
  • n. the rite of staying awake for devotional purposes (especially on the eve of a religious festival)

Etymologies

Middle English vigile, a devotional watching, from Old French, from Latin vigilia, wakefulness, watch, from vigil, awake; see weg- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Middle English vigile ("a devotional watching"), from Old French vigile, from Latin vigilia ("wakefulness, watch"), from vigil ("awake"), from Proto-Indo-European *weg- (“to be strong”). (Wiktionary)

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