More than a dozen countries around the world recognize All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day as non-working holidays and, maybe, more importantly, days when classes are suspended. Student life, much like regular employment, tends to get repetitive and tiring. Class suspensions and holiday breaks allow for a welcome recess between seemingly endless lectures, projects, and exams.
Often, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day get mixed up, especially by non-Christians, due to the similarities between these two holidays. Both are commemorations related to the departed. Both involve rituals and offerings like candles, food, and flowers. Plus, these two holidays happen on consecutive days. A quick and simple way to tell them apart is to remember that November 1 is a holiday for Christian saints while November 2, All Souls’ Day, is for souls.
In this article, we answer frequently asked questions about All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. These FAQs include how these two holidays are connected to Halloween, their history, and which countries do not celebrate Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day.
Here are 5 of the most frequently asked questions about these holidays.
Halloween is celebrated every October 31st of the year. Because it comes right before November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day), there must be some connection, right? Correct. Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Hallows’ Day (All Saints’ Day). Hallow comes from the Middle English word “halwe” which means “a saint” or “a holy person”.
The celebration of All Hallows’ Eve and All Hallows’ Day can be traced back to a Celtic festival from around the 9th century called Samhain. The celebration starts on the evening of October 31st to the 1st day of November of every year to welcome the new harvest. The Celts are said to have believed that, on the eve of Samhain, the worlds of the living and the dead would collide. Everyone, therefore, had to leave offerings on their doorsteps, use a disguise, and light bonfires to fend off any ghosts or supernatural beings whom they might encounter during the festival.
All Saints’ Day is quite straightforward; it means a day for remembering all saints. Specifically, to Christians, the Feast of All Saints goes beyond commemorating saints who were canonized by the Catholic church. It is a chance to remember their loved ones who are believed to have passed on into heaven.
The history of All Saints' Day goes back to May 13 in 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome as a church honoring all Catholic martyrs and the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the reign of Pope Gregory III (731-741), he dedicated a chapel in the Old Saint Peter's Basilica in honor of all saints on November 1. The general observance of All Saints’ Day every 1st of November in all of Christendom was ordered and started by Pope Gregory IV.
Christians, in particular, believe in commemorating the lives and work of people who have done so much good on Earth that they must have gone to heaven after death. This holiday is rooted in the religious beliefs of a particular group and not of everyone on the planet. However, there are enough Christians in the world (more than 2 billion as of 2020) that their holidays are observed by the countries where they are the majority. So, if you live in a country that’s predominantly Catholic/Christian, your holiday breaks most likely coincide with a religious calendar that includes All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
All Souls’ Day was set to be on the 2nd of November of every year by Odilo, abbot of Cluny, as a day for intercession for all the souls in purgatory. In the Christian tradition, November 1st is when the faithful celebrate the lives of those who have departed and entered heaven as saints, both known (canonized) and unknown. On the other hand, November 2nd is when the faithful pray for the souls of those who had died before they were able to atone for their sins.
One day is for celebrating the souls of good people who entered heaven after they died and the other is for praying for the souls that are in purgatory. Both holidays are meant to commemorate the dearly departed so they’re often mixed up. A way to easily remember which one is which is by keeping in mind that the day after Halloween is for saints who have ascended to heaven and the day after that is for the souls who need more prayers of intercession.
An important distinction that needs to be made here is between celebration and nationwide recognition as a holiday. The reality is wherever there are Christians, there are bound to be celebrations of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. On the flip side, All Saints’ Day, for example, is observed in the United States, Canada, and Australia, but it's not recognized as a nationwide public holiday. Halloween celebrations have even been banned in the past in Vendargues, France, Beijing, China, and Uzbekistan because of vandalism and safety concerns.
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