Now that November is fast-approaching, what do you look forward to the most? The Halloween parties? The spooky movie marathons on TV? Or simply reuniting with the rest of your family to pay respects to the departed?
With all these yearly traditions, how did we come to celebrate All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day the way we do in the present?
History of All Saints’ Day
Let’s start with All Saints’ Day that fall on November 1. People in different parts of the globe have been celebrating this day since the 4th century as a commemoration of saints and martyrs. It was, however, only made official as the ‘Feast of All Holy Martyrs’ by Pope Boniface IV in 609 AD. He moved the feast to May 13 until Pope Gregory IV changed it back to November 1 in 837 AD. The latter also renamed it the ‘Feast of All Saints,’ so as not to make it unexclusive to a few martyrs.
What It Means Today
So, it began as a celebration for martyrs, then all saints, and now, interestingly, All Saints’ Day has been extended to all Christians. From those that lived in the time of Christ, the great prophets you’ve read about, to spiritual mentors who inspire you to better. “We are all saints in a biblical sense,” said Mark Wood at ‘Christian Today.’ This was his answer to the evangelical Protestants who expressed discomfort with how saints are ranked more highly than other Christians. Thus, November 1 or All Saints’ Day is now a celebration of people sharing the same faith in God and commitment to do good.
About All Souls’ Day
As the name suggests, November 2 or All Souls’ Day is when you pray for the souls of loved ones who already passed away. It is a day dedicated to praying for God’s mercy to let their soul ascend to heaven peacefully. In some countries, they open a ‘Book of the Dead’ in the altar of churches where you can write names of departed relatives. You remember them through a prayer and a mass is held if the day falls on a Sunday. This practice is common among European Catholic churches.
The Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival is the ‘All Souls’ Day’ counterpart in China, although it doesn’t happen on the first day of November. This Buddhist and Taoist festival held every August 15 is believed to be a day for the deceased to visit their living loved ones. It is almost the same with Mexico’s ‘Dia Delos Muertos’ if you’ve seen Pixar’s animation, ‘Coco,’ except that it is celebrated on November 1.
What About Halloween?
Halloween began in the pagan times and literally means ‘holy evening.’ Its origin dates back to the festival of Samhain – end of harvest season or summer. Pagans believe that on this day, spirits can pass through the land of the living and destroy their crops in the coming season. As a response, they make bonfires, set up dinner tables, and offer food to calm the spirits. Strange how the living fear the dead, right?
Now you know the real essence of both All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day began. You’ve also learned the difference between how Europeans and Asians remember their loved ones. You probably don’t share the same beliefs, claim they don’t apply to the present, or even find them strange.
However, you can’t deny it’s always interesting to uncover traditions, right? At the end of the day, you’d realize they aren’t merely unreasonable practices – since the beginning, traditions add meaning to life and bring families closer.