All Saints Day is a special feast day on which Catholics celebrate all the saints, known and unknown. While most saints have a particular feast day on the Catholic calendar (usually, though not always, the date of their death), not all of those feast days are observed. And saints who have not been canonized — those who are in Heaven, but whose sainthood is known only to God — have no particular feast day. In a special way, All Saints Day is their feast.
The History of All Saints Day
All Saints Day is a surprisingly old feast. It arose out of the Christian tradition of celebrating the martyrdom of saints on the anniversary of their martyrdom. When martyrdoms increased during the persecutions of the late Roman Empire, local dioceses instituted a common feast day in order to ensure that all martyrs, known and unknown, were properly honored.
By the late fourth century, this common feast was celebrated in Antioch, and Saint Ephrem the Syrian mentioned it in a sermon in 373. In the early centuries, this feast was celebrated in the Easter season, and the Eastern Churches, both Catholic, and Orthodox, still celebrate it then, tying the celebration of the lives of the saints in with Christ’s Resurrection.
Where All Saints’ Day came from
While now observed in November, All Saints’ Day was originally celebrated on May 13, although the origin cannot be traced with certainty, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica. Pope Boniface IV formally started what would later be known as All Saints Day on May 13 in 609 AD when he dedicated the Pantheon in Rome as a church in honor of the Virgin Mary and all martyrs.
The current date of November 1 was established by Pope Gregory III during his reign (731-741 AD) when he dedicated a chapel in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of all saints.
While this celebration was originally limited to Rome, later in 837 Pope Gregory IV ordered the official observance of All Saints Day every November 1 and extended its celebration to the entire Church.
All Saints really means ALL saints
While many canonized saints are celebrated with their own individual feast days (such as St. Patrick), saints that have not been canonized have no particular holiday.
All Saints’ Day recognizes those whose sainthood is known only to God. Even so, Catholic observances tend to focus on known saints, those canonized by the Catholic Church.
A holy obligation
According to Catholic Online, within the Catholic Church, All Saints’ Day is generally considered a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning all Catholics must attend Mass unless they are prevented by illness or another sufficient excuse.
However, mass is not mandatory in 2021 because the holiday falls on a Monday. Whenever Nov. 1 falls on a Monday or a Saturday adjacent to the Sunday sabbath, Catholics are encouraged but not required to attend mass.
After the Protestant Reformation, many Protestant sects kept All Saints’ Day. Methodists, for example, acknowledge it as a day of giving God earnest gratitude for the lives and deaths of saints, according to Christianity.com.
Why November 1?
The current date of November 1 was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Gregory ordered his priests to celebrate the Feast of All Saints annually. This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.
Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day
In English, the traditional name for All Saints Day was All Hallows Day. (A hallow was a saint or holy person.) The vigil or eve of the feast, October 31, is still commonly known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. Despite concerns among some Christians (including some Catholics) in recent years about the “pagan origins” of Halloween the vigil was celebrated from the beginning — long before Irish practices, stripped of their pagan origins (just as the Christmas tree was stripped of similar connotations), were incorporated into popular celebrations of the feast.
In fact, in post-Reformation England, the celebration of Halloween and All Saints Day were outlawed not because they were considered pagan but because they were Catholic. Later, in the Puritan areas of the Northeastern United States, Halloween was outlawed for the same reason, before Irish Catholic immigrants revived the practice as a way of celebrating the vigil of All Saints Day.
All Saints Day is followed by All Souls Day (November 2), the day on which Catholics commemorate all those Holy Souls who have died and are in Purgatory, being cleansed of their sins so that they can enter into the presence of God in Heaven.
Facts About All Saints’ Day
Here are some facts about all saints’ day
Some churches celebrate All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
Churches such as Eastern Orthodox Churches, Catholic Churches, and Protestant Churches consider All Saints’ Day as a religious holiday. Although most people observe All Saints’ Day on November 1st, others celebrate it on the first Sunday after the Biblical Pentecost.
The possible origin of All Saints’ Day traces back to the 4th century.
During the 4th century, the Greek Christians had a tradition of celebrating feasts and festivals. All these celebrations pay homage to the martyrs and saints. Normally, the Ancient Greeks held these festivities on the following Sunday after the Pentecost.
All Saints’ Day was exclusive in Rome until 837 A.D.
In 837 A.D., Pope Gregory IV officially declared the observance of All Saints’ Day every 1st of November. This immediately spread and became a practice in the Catholic Church across the globe.
Some Mexicans celebrate All Saints’ Day for almost a week.
In Mexico, locals celebrate All Saints Day as Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. For two days, they celebrate this holiday in memory of those who passed away. Some may celebrate it as early as October 28th until November 2nd. \
On this celebration, people sell candies and toys that symbolize death such as coffins and skeletons. Typically lively rather than solemn, the holiday’s festivities also includes carnivals, dances, and parades.
November 1st and 2nd are special non-working holidays in the Philippines.
In the Philippines, most people visit their loved ones in cemeteries during November 1st and 2nd. Families come together to visit their loved ones who had passed away and bring flowers, light candles, as well as offering prayers to the departed in a picnic-like environment.
The Church of the East observes All Saints Day on the first Friday after Easter.
Typically, members of the Eastern Catholic Church observe All Saints Day on the first Friday after Easter. Also known as the Nestorian Church and the Persian Church, the Church of the East came from the East Syriac from Mesopotamia.
King Frederick William III led ‘Totensonntag’ or ‘Sunday of the Dead.’
Ruling Prussia from 1797 to 1840, King Frederick William III first ordered his officials to decree a holiday that honored the dead. With that, he mandated all Lutheran churches under the Persian government to observe the last Sunday before Advent as a time to celebrate and honor the dead. From there, Germany and other Lutheran churches followed the custom as well.
German and Austrian children usually receive trietzel during All Saints Day.
In Germany and Austria, godchildren usually receive Allerheiligenstriezel from their godparents on this holiday. Also known as a strietzel, this braided yeast pastry comes with raisins, salt, and poppy seeds or decorating sugar. In English, Allerheiligenstriezel literally translates to “All Saints’ braid.”
The Portugese make soul cake during this season.
Among many traditional All Saints’ Day dishes, Portugal’s pastry of choice is the soul cake. Also known as soulmass-cake, this dessert is usually made during Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day for sharing within families.
Church members go to their priest and have the soul cake blessed.
Traditionally, Catholics and Lutherans go to their priest to bless their soul cake. This is a common practice before giving or distributing the soul cake to the children. In return, children are encouraged to pray for the souls of the dead relatives from the giver during All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Furthermore, leftover soul cakes are either shared among the family or given to the poor.
All Saints Day honors all those who have achieved beatific vision.
According to Catholic theology, All Saints Day honors all those who have achieved beatific vision in Heaven. Based upon the faith, a beatific vision describes an experience where God reveals himself to man, giving them the the capability to witness God in His heavenly glory. Saint Thomas Aquinas described the beatific vision as the person’s “final end” in which one attains to perfect happiness.
Some families light candles in front of their houses for All Saints’ Day.
For those unable to go to cemeteries and light candles there, families will usually light candles at the front door of their house. The number of candles in front of the house represents each of their loved ones who passed away. Through this practice, some believe that their loved ones who passed will find a happy path towards the afterlife.
Halloween is celebrated in the U.S. every October 31st.
Numerous Catholic churches in the United States observe All Saints Day. However, compared to other countries, the US places value on Halloween more than these religious holidays.
The New Orleans Saints was established on November 1, 1967.
Inspired by the dominant Catholic population in New Orleans, the American football team New Orleans Saints was born. More interestingly, John W. Mecom Jr. and David Dixon founded the team exactly on All Saints Day of 1967.
Peter, Francis, Paul, and Dominic are among the most recognized saints today.
Most of these saints experienced great transformations because of their faith. For one, St. Peter was a mere fisherman who later became the head of the Church. St. Francis of Assisi organized the Order of Friars Minor named Franciscans. Meanwhile, St. Paul of Tarsus persecuted Christians before he became a preacher of the Good News. Finally, St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers known as Dominicans.
All Saints Day is for the saints in Heaven.
According to the Catholic faith, the main difference between All Souls Day and All Saints Day is that ‘All Souls Day’ remembers the church penitent of souls in purgatory. Meanwhile, ‘All Saints Day’ commemorates the church triumphant of saints in Heaven.
Purgatory is an interim state after death.
According to the Catholic Church, purgatory is an interim state and realm after one’s physical death for expiatory purification. Catholics believe that all who die and are not yet holy need to undergo the process of purification, which the Church calls purgatory. Once holiness is achieved, you may finally enter the joy of heaven. Thus, All Souls Day also aims to help the souls in purgatory reach their final destination.
Most Christians relatively accept All Saints Day.
Although most Christians accept All Saints Day, there is a huge division when it comes to All Souls Day. Unlike Catholicism, some Christian denominations would argue that there is only heaven and hell after death, and no purgatory.
All Saints Day is a national holiday in Guatemala.
During this day, people in the country prepare a special dish called Fiambre, which is a traditional Guatemalan salad. It is also common for Guatemalans to visit cemeteries and offer some of the Fiambre to their dead relatives, flying kites to “reconnect” the dead with the living.