All Saints Day: 1st November
November 1st is synonymous in the Catholic Church as All Saints Day, but its origins date back to pagan times, and it links to Halloween. It used to be called All Hallows Day, ‘hallows’ being an old word meaning ‘saint’ or ‘holy person’. With the unlikely mix of Catholic and Celtic pagan origins, both Halloween and All Saints day are intrinsically linked and honour many traditions of both Catholic and Pagan rituals
How did All Saints Day begin?
All Saints Day is the day Catholics celebrate the known and unknown saints around the world. This universal Christian celebration is an old feast day that stemmed from the tradition of celebrating martyrs on their anniversary. When the number of martyr’s began to grow a common celebration day was initiated to honour all. The church felt that every martyr should be acknowledged and so appointed a universal day.
The current date of celebration, November 1st, was set by Pope Gregory III when he consecrated a church in Saint Peters Basilica to all martyrs and decided on a yearly celebration. Originally it was only celebrated in Rome but it was soon spread to the whole church.
The Western Church, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans each honour it on the 1st of November but because of different religious understandings, each conducts celebrations differently. The Catholic Church and some Anglican Churches also celebrate the following day, November 2, All Souls Day, which is a day dedicated for prayers to the dead.
Where does All Saints Day come from?
‘Hallowmas’ was a term used by Shakespeare. However, a few recent writers have applied this term to the three days from 31 October to 2 November. It was first celebrated in 609AD or 610AD when Pope Bonifide IV dedicated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and all martyrs and ordered an anniversary on the 13th of May.
This date coincided with the Celtic holiday of Samhain. The Irish, who celebrated Samhain, did not recognize All Hallows on 1st. Many historians believe the Church moved it to this date to purposefully correspond with Samhain in order to bring people to the Catholic faith. Incorporating pagan and Samhain traditions would have appealed to Celts and so encouraged them to join Christianity. Samhain was the Celtic Lord of Death and it literally means ‘summers end’. Since winter is associated with darkness and cold, Celtic people began to connect it with death.
How do people celebrate All Saints Day?
Different groups developed stories over time in connection with the celebrations. Irish people held a parade to celebrate Muck Olla and we were also responsible for the jack o’lantern story where a man named Jack could not enter into either heaven or hell so was forced to travel the world with his lantern until judgement day.
Scottish people walked through fields, towns and villages with torches and lit bonfires to warn off witches and spirits. In Wales people placed a stone in a bonfire and if they could not find it the next day they were going to die within a year.
With the Roman conquest of Britain in 43AD other pagan feasts were born. Fernalia, held in October honoured the dead and another celebrated Pomona, Goddess of fruits and trees. This could be how apples became associated with Halloween. Many different elements have been combined to create Samhain or Halloween’s image.
Now that you know the origins of All Saints Day, how will you and your parish celebrate this year?