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All Saints Day: Historical Origins and Relationship to Halloween

All Saints Day: Historical Origins and Relationship to Halloween

05-27-2020

All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1, a day during which Catholics celebrate all the saints. This holy day is rooted in the early Church’s celebration of each martyr on the anniversary of their death. Initially, celebrations of martyrs varied regionally, as did the dates of honor, symbols, and prayers. This unwanted variation, along with the increasing numbers of persecutions, led dioceses to come together and determine a common feast day for all known and unknown martyrs.

All Saints’ Day has existed since the 4th century, but was initially celebrated during the Easter season. It was most likely moved to its current timing in the 8th century when Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel for martyrs in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which occurred closer to late fall.

All Saints’ Day is a Holy Day of Obligation; Catholics are obliged to attend Mass unless it falls on a Saturday or Monday. At the core of All Saints’ Day is the celebration of the fellowship and community of all God’s people on earth, in heaven, or in purgatory.

All Saints’ Day is widely known in secular culture because of its relation to All Hallow’s Eve on October 31. All Hallow’s Eve is just another way of saying the night before All Saints’ Day, but it obviously has other secular meanings. Many Catholics are concerned about the connection between the Eve of All Saints’ Day and the pagan celebrations (both modern and historical) that have occurred at the end of October and early November. Many historians and scholars have weighed in on the connection between the pagan celebration of October and All Saints’ Day. Some believe the two are relatively unrelated, or at least not related in any significant way as to undermine the Catholic celebration of saints. Others believe the Church actually timed the celebration of saints’ beauty and light to counteract what they felt were pagans’ obsession with death and fear. Regardless of the historical origins of pagan or Christian feast days, many Catholics feel the modern-day celebration of Halloween actually honors the contributions of saints, who mocked evil, much the way evil is mocked on October 31.

May you have a blessed All Saints’ Day!