All Saints Day Lantern on Memorial Stone

A Brief History of All Saints Day

What Is All Saints Day?

Each year Christians around the world celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1st to praise saints and martyrs, both known and unknown, for their exceptional deeds performed in life.

All Saints’ Day is most notably observed through praying, feasting and other festivities. Baptisms are commonly performed on this day. The celebration also provides a time for remembrance and commemoration of the lives of loved ones, family and friends, or even pets.

Some Christian denominations that celebrate All Saints’ Day but not All Souls’ Day (more on that below) will provide offerings of candles, flowers, or simply prayers placed on graves of the departed during this time.

Why Do Christians Celebrate All Saints’ Day?

Many saints are unknown and uncelebrated with feast days throughout the Church year. Therefore a day was created to appreciate all saints for their noble actions in life.

The History of All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day was originally observed on May 13th in the early 7th century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. It is believed that All Saints was celebrated on this day because according to Saint Ephrem Syrus, a feast of all martyrs was kept on this day.

Although the first official celebration was in AD 609/610, there have been references made to general feasts happening as early as the 4th century in the teachings of Saint Ephrem (d. 373) and Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407).

Date Changed 

Pope Gregory III (731-741) instituted a change of the date to November 1st after he consecrated a chapel to all of the saints in the Basilica of Saint Peter.

It was in the 9th century that All Saints’ Day was celebrated by the entire church after Pope Gregory IV (827-844) ordered it to be observed.

Connection to Halloween

All Saints’ Day was traditionally called “All Hallows’ Day” and therefore today’s holiday Halloween was known as “All Hallows’ Eve”. A “hallow” is another word for saint or a holy person and All Hallows’ Eve would be “Evening of the Saints” or “Evening of Holy People”.

Modern day trick-or-treating comes from “souling” done on All Souls’ Day, which was adopted in the 10th century by Abbot Odilo of Cluny, a Benedictine monastery in western Europe.

An Angel Prays

All Souls’ Day

All Souls’ Day, observed on November 2nd, is a day set for commemorating all of those who have died and are now in Purgatory. There are various ways in which people remember and honor their friends and family on All Souls’ Day, such as visiting cemeteries, special meals, giving prayers or lighting candles.

Historically, soul-cakes were baked to be given to children as they were “going souling” that night. The act of souling was to go door-to-door and ask for donations of food or money in exchange to pray for the homeowners' relatives who have passed away. The next day the remaining soul-cakes were given to the poor.

The earliest activity of souling was recorded in 1511 and is still done today in some places such as Portugal and the Philippines however, by the end of the 19th century most of the world had ended the practice.

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