All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows, Solemnity of All Saints, or The Feast of All Saints) is a solemnity celebrated on 1 November by parts of Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity, in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. All Saints’ Day is the second day of Hallowmas, and begins at sunrise on the 1st of November and finishes at sundown on the 1st of November. It is the day before All Souls’ Day.
In Western Christian theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. It is a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries. In the Catholic Church and many Anglican churches, the next day specifically commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. Christians who celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day do so in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in purgatory (the ‘Church Suffering’), those in heaven (the ‘Church triumphant’), and the living (the ‘Church militant’). Other Christian traditions define, remember and respond to the saints in different ways; for example, in the Methodist Church, the word “saints” refers to all Christians and therefore, on All Saints’ Day, the Church Universal, as well as the deceased members of a local congregation, are honored and remembered.
In the East
Eastern Christians of the Byzantine Tradition commemorate all saints collectively on the first Sunday after Pentecost, All Saints’ Sunday (Greek: Αγίων Πάντων, Agiōn Pantōn).
The feast of All Saints achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI “the Wise” (886–911). His wife, Empress Theophano—commemorated on 16 December—lived a devout life. After her death in 893, her husband built a church, intending to dedicate it to her. When he was forbidden to do so, he decided to dedicate it to “All Saints,” so that if his wife were in fact one of the righteous, she would also be honored whenever the feast was celebrated.
According to tradition, it was Leo who expanded the feast from a commemoration of All Martyrs to a general commemoration of All Saints, whether martyrs or not.
This Sunday marks the close of the Paschal season. To the normal Sunday services are added special scriptural readings and hymns to all the saints (known and unknown) from the Pentecostarion.
In the late spring, the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday (50 days after Easter) is set aside as a commemoration of all locally venerated saints, such as “All Saints of America,” “All Saints of Mount Athos,” etc. The third Sunday after Pentecost may be observed for even more localized saints, such as “All Saints of St. Petersburg,” or for saints of a particular type, such as “New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke.”
In addition to the Sundays mentioned above, Saturdays throughout the year are days for general commemoration of all saints, and special hymns to all saints are chanted from the Octoechos.
In the Maronite Catholic Church, the Sunday of the Righteous and Just is the traditional Maronite feast in honor of all saints.
In the West
The Western Christian holiday of All Saints’ Day falls on 1 November, followed by All Souls’ Day on 2 November, and is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to 13 May 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. There is evidence that from the fifth through the seventh centuries there existed in certain places and at sporadic intervals a feast date on 13 May to celebrate the holy martyrs.
The origin of All Saints’ Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been observed on various days in different places. However, there are some who maintain the belief that it has origins in the pagan observation of 13 May, the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. Liturgiologists base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin of that of All Saints on their identical dates and on the similar theme of “all the dead.”
The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world,” with the day moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed.
This fell on the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which had a theme similar to the Roman festival of Lemuria, but which was also a harvest festival. The Irish, having celebrated Samhain in the past, did not celebrate All Hallows Day on this 1 November date, as extant historical documents attest that the celebration in Ireland took place in the spring: “…the Felire of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches [in Ireland] celebrated the feast of All Saints on April 20.”
A November festival of all the saints was already widely celebrated on 1 November in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious, issued “at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops,” which confirmed its celebration on 1 November. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484).
The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the Saturday between 31 October and 6 November. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. In the Church of England it may be celebrated either on 1 November or on the Sunday between 30 October and 5 November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada, the Methodist churches, and the Wesleyan Church.
Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints and if they observe All Saints Day at all they use it to remember all Christians both past and present. In the United Methodist Church, All Saints’ Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in November. It is held, not only to remember Saints, but also to remember all those who have died who were members of the local church congregation.
In some congregations, a candle is lit by the Acolyte as each person’s name is called out by the clergy. Prayers and responsive readings may accompany the event. Often, the names of those who have died in the past year are affixed to a memorial plaque.
In many Lutheran churches, All Saints’ Day and Reformation Day are observed concurrently on the Sunday before or after those dates, given Reformation Day is observed in Protestant Churches on 31 October. Typically, Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is sung during the service. Besides discussing Luther’s role in the Protestant Reformation, some recognition of the prominent early leaders of the Reformed tradition, such as John Calvin and John Knox, occurs. The observance of Reformation Day may be immediately followed by a reading of those members of the local congregation who have died in the past year in observance of All Saints’ Day. Otherwise, the recognition of deceased church members occurs at another designated portion of the service.
Roman Catholic Obligation
In Catholicism, All Saints’ Day is a Holy Day of Obligation in many (but not all) countries, meaning going to Mass on the date is required unless one has a good reason to be excused, such as illness. However, in a number of countries that do list All Saints’ Day as a Holy Day of Obligation, including England and Wales, the solemnity of All Saints’ Day is transferred to the adjacent Sunday, if 1 November falls on a Monday or a Saturday, while in the same circumstances in the United States the Solemnity is still celebrated on 1 November but the obligation to attend Mass is abrogated.
In Mexico, Portugal and Spain, offerings (Portuguese: oferendas, Spanish: ofrendas) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed.
All Saints’ Day in Mexico, coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration. Known as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents), it honours deceased children and infants.
Portuguese children celebrate the Pão-por-Deus tradition, going door-to-door where they receive cakes, nuts and pomegranates. This only occurs in central Portugal.
Hallowmas in the Philippines is variously called “Undas” (based on the word for “[the] first”), “Todós los Santos” (literally “All Saints”), and sometimes “Áraw ng mga Patáy” (lit. “Day of the Dead”), which refers to the following day of All Souls’ Day but includes it. Filipinos traditionally observe this day by visiting the family dead, often cleaning and repairing them. Offerings of prayers, flowers, candles, and even food are made, while Filipino-Chinese additionally burn incense and kim. Many also spend the day and ensuing night holding reunions at the graves, playing music or singing karaoke.
In Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, and American cities such as New Orleans, people take flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In some places in Portugal people also light candles in the graves.
In Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Catholic parts of Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.
In English-speaking countries, the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by William Walsham How. The most familiar tune for this hymn is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Another hymn that is popularly sung during corporate worship on this day is “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”