Since All Saint’s Day isn’t a major holiday in the U.S., many Americans remain confused about this religious holiday. Also called All Hallow’s Day, celebrations are more likely to be found among Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and some Protestant faiths. And yes, there is a strong connection to the festivities from last night, once called All Hallow’s Eve and was eventually slurred to sound like Halloween.
Before we get into the meat of the holiday, it’s helpful to realize that it remains a public holiday in many other countries including: France, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Phillipines, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Austria, Chile, Bolivia, and Croatia. And parts of Switzerland and Germany.
Although some countries celebrate the holiday at the end of Pentecost (May or early June), the holiday can be traced back as far as 835 and Pope Gregory IV. There is strong reason to suspect the holiday was intended to supplant an earlier holiday celebrated by more ancient people.
However, All Hallow’s Day always was and still remains a Christian holiday intended to celebrate the lives of recognized and unrecognized Saints. Variances exist from country to country and from religion to religion, but almost all include some form of recognition of those who have died.
In some traditions in the Catholic Church, it is a day of obligation in which all Catholics are expected to attend church services and special prayers are said to celebrate the Saints that have arrived in heaven. This is distinguished from All Soul’s Day in which those who have not yet made it to heaven are celebrated.
Other traditions focus on commemorating those who have died in the past year or children who have died. Some tend to focus on family members who have passed while others restrict the holiday only to recognized or suspected saints.
Celebrations can also take on a variety of forms. While the Catholic faith may celebrate by spending the day in church, other Christian traditions may encourage families to picnic in the graveyard as a means of remembering their loved ones or to decorate the gravestones of those they have loved. Lighting candles, offering flowers, and singing special hymns are other ways the holiday is commemorated.
Rather than the fun and games of the October celebration, All Hallow’s Day is more serious, reflective, and respectful. These are the holidays that tend to be neglected most, yet understanding what they are can help us understand each other better.