All Saints Day: Meaning, History, and Facts

Though traditions slightly differ from culture to culture, there are notable similarities in celebrating All Saints Day worldwide.

On November 1, Christians worldwide celebrate All Saints Day according to the tradition practiced in their country. The gist of this day is to commemorate all the saints of the church that have attained heaven. In some countries, however, All Saints Day isn’t just for remembering the saints but also for paying respects with prayers, flowers, and food to the departed loved ones. 

Take a look at All Saints Day’s rich history and festive traditions.

All Saints Day

What is All Saints Day?

All Saints Day is a Christian celebration to honor all the church’s saints, known and unknown, who have attained heaven. It is known as All Hallows Day, Feast of All Saints, Feast of All Hallows, Solemnity of All Saints, and Hallowmas.

History and Origin of All Saints Day

Though there is no exact date tracing its origin, All Saints Day was originally celebrated on May 13. All Saints’ Day goes back to the fourth century when the Greek Christians kept a festival on the first Sunday after Pentecost in honor of all martyrs and saints.

During the reign of Pope Gregory III, the first practice of celebrating it on November 1 started. A basilica of the Apostles already existed in Rome, and its dedication was annually remembered on May 13. Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration to the entire church. The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself.

In the west, the feast that we know today as “All Saints Day” was formally started by Pope Boniface IV. He dedicated the Pantheon in Rome as a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs in 609.

What is the relation of All Saints Day to Halloween?

All Saints Day was formerly known as All Hallows in medieval England. The day before is All Hallows Eve, which is more popularly known as Halloween. This holiday has a Celtic origin, the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. November 1 is believed to be associated with human death as it marks the end of summer, the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The Celts believed that the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred, which allowed the dead to return to earth. 

The tradition of trick-or-treating during Halloween dates back to the early All Saints Day parades in England. During this day, the poor would beg for food, and ‘soul cakes’ are given to them, and in return, they have to promise to pray for the giver’s family’s dead relatives. The church encouraged this tradition as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for the roaming spirits.

All Saints Day and All Souls Day, how do they differ?

All Saints Day and All Souls Day are different, though these two celebrations comprise the two-day commemoration of the Communion of Saints. On November 1, the church celebrates All Saints Day to commemorate the saints who have achieved spiritual maturity, regardless of whether they are known. A day later, All Souls Day is celebrated for all those who have departed. The church offers prayers in remembrance of brothers and sisters that have died marked with the sign of faith.

When is All Saints Day celebrated?

All Saints Day is a Western Christian tradition observed by Roman Catholic churches, Methodist churches, Lutheran churches, and many more. It is always celebrated on November 1st, and this year, it falls on the first Tuesday of November.

Different Practices of Feast of All Saints

In Western Christianity

All Saints Day was retained after the reformation in the liturgical calendars of the Lutheran churches and the Anglican churches. In the Church of Sweden, it is a general commemoration of the dead. It takes place from October 31 to November 6. While in Anglican churches, it may be celebrated on November 1 or on which Sunday from October 30 to November 5. 

Protestant churches observe All Saints Day, and they commemorate all Christians, both living and deceased. Christians that recognize this day use it to remember both the past and the present. All Saints Day is celebrated on the first Sunday of November in the United Methodist Church. All Saints Day is observed by commemorating saints and also members of the local congregation that died. 

A candlelit by the Acolyte while the clergy calls out each person’s name is a tradition in some communities. Those killed in the past year are usually attached to a memorial plaque. Prayers and responsive readings are also practiced while reading the names of the departed.

In Eastern Christianity

All saints are collectively commemorated on the Sunday after Pentecost, following the Byzantine tradition. Emperor Leo VI expanded this tradition, ‘the Wise’, when miracles occurred after the death of his devout wife, Empress Theophano. Initially, he intended to name the church he built for his late wife but was discouraged by local bishops and dedicated it to ‘All Saints’ instead. 

While in Lebanon, they observe All Saints Day as a holiday due to the influence of Western Catholic orders. The traditional Maronite feast is one of the three Sundays in their liturgical calendar that serves as a preparation for Lent. Their equivalent of All Saints Day is the Sunday of the Faithful Departed; this is the following Sunday.

All Saints Day in East Syriac tradition is celebrated after Sunday’s first Friday after the resurrection. All departed faithful are saved by Jesus’ blood and are resurrected with Christ. Usually, the departed souls are remembered on Friday before the beginning of the Great Fast.

All Saints Day

Why is it Essential to Celebrate All Saints Day?

Whether you believe in old religious stories about saints and martyrs, we must commemorate their sacrifices for the church and God. Their selflessness is an example of the type of Christians we should be. To spread the love and goodness of the Lord instead of hate and judgment toward those who are different. 

All Saints Day leads to All Souls Day, so it is also an excellent opportunity for us to remember and honor our loved ones and the fantastic people who have impacted our lives. Let it be a day of celebration; remember them with the fondest memories we have of them. 

How to Celebrate All Saints Day?

Read about your favorite saints.

Use this day as a chance to learn more about your favorite saints. In doing so, you can apply their stories and lessons to your life and spiritual journey. Sharing your favorite saints with your friends and family is also a good way of honoring them.

Attend the mass with your family

According to the Catholic Church, attending mass on All Saints Day is a holy obligation. Although it is more lenient nowadays, following the service is still ideal. New lessons at the service are often catered explicitly to on All Saints Day. It is also an excellent opportunity to gather and bond with the family. 

Sing offertory songs for the saints with your family

Even if we are not blessed with the talent for singing, that should not hinder us from lifting our voices in praise of our Lord. Some of the most famous offertory songs for saints are Now Thank We All Our God, For All The Saints Who’ve Shown Your Love, and Holy, Holy, Holy. This activity is available during the church service or can be a great activity with the family as you celebrate at home.

Celebrations of All Saints Day Around the World

All Saints Day is one of the oldest holidays globally, and it is celebrated differently across the globe. 

In Latin America, it is referred to by its Spanish name—Dia de Los Santos or Dia de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. It’s one of the biggest annual holidays in Latin America, and it is mainly celebrated in Catholic and Hispanic communities. All Saints Day is observed when families visit the gravesites of their deceased loved ones with food and flowers to offer them. This tradition is the most well-known Mexican funeral tradition widespread across Latin America. 

In America, they observe All Saints Day with people gathering in local cemeteries and decorating the graves of their loved ones with wreaths, bouquets, and lighted candles. The manner of celebration is similar to the rest of the world. 

However, in America, October 31 is also a day of celebration. All Hallow’s Eve, more popularly known as Halloween, is a day when one-quarter of the annual candy sales are made. All ages celebrate this festive holiday; ecstatic children go door to door in their chosen costumes to trick-or-treat, while adults also have their costume party to attend. Others spend Halloween watching old and newly released scary movies in the theaters and on online movie streaming platforms. 

They have their twist on the Latin American tradition in different parts of Europe. In Germany and Austria, a braided pastry called Allerheiligenstriezel is given by godfathers to their godchildren. The name means ‘All Saint’s braid’, and this tradition originated from the ancient funeral practice of women cutting their braided hair as an expression of mourning for the deceased. 

In Ireland, Celtic tradition influences the belief that dead relatives can communicate with the living. There is a blur in the boundaries between the mortal and unearthly realms during All Saints Day, and communication with the deceased is possible. 

Families in Poland and Portugal spend All Saints Day and All Souls Day commemorating the departed faithful. Families tend to their relatives’ graves, lighting candles and leaving flowers for them. In Portugal, children even go door-to-door and receive cakes, nuts, pomegranates, and candies.

All Saints Day is widely celebrated in the Philippines. As it is the world’s third-largest Catholic country and a former Spanish colony, their traditions and beliefs are similar. It is often referred to as Undas, and it is traditionally observed by families visiting their relatives’ graves. They clean and repair their loved ones’ tombs, and prayers for the dead are also recited with offerings of food, candles, flowers, and incense. 

Due to this tradition, family reunions are rampant during this day. Filipinos overseas often fly home for this holiday as paying respects to their deceased loved ones is a cherished tradition.

The Philippines also has its version of trick-or-treating, which is pangangaluluwa, and it’s a tradition dating back to pre-colonial times. The early Filipinos don blankets and go from house to house singing as they pretend to be the spirits of their ancestors. The house owner then needs to give them rice cakes, or else the ‘spirits’ would play tricks on them, such as stealing their slippers or running off with the family’s chickens. Rural areas usually practice this tradition.

All Saints Day

In Summary

The message of All Saints Day is clear, remembrance and paying respects. Whether for the church’s saints or our departed loved ones, it is a day for selflessness. During this day, we remember and honor the saints that did good work in the spirit of Christianity. 

Let their lives and contribution be examples of the type of Christian we aim to be, selfless and obedient followers of Christ. It is a day to pay respect and commemorate the lives of those who have already left us. Let the fondest memories of them and the impact they made on our lives keep them alive in our hearts. 

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Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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