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All Saints’ Day
Traditions of All Saints’ Day
The origin of All Saints’ Day may date back to a Greek Christian tradition from the 4th century, when a festival was held to honor saints and martyrs on the Sunday following Pentecost.
The first recorded All Saints’ Day occurred on 13 May 609 CE when Pope Boniface IV accepted the Pantheon in Rome as a gift from the Emperor Phocas. The Pope dedicated the day as a holiday to honour the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs.
In 835 CE, during the reign of Pope Gregory III, the festival was moved to 1 November and was expanded to include the honouring of all saints. It is likely that 1 November was intentionally chosen to replace the pagan feast of the dead, Samhain. The night before Samhain was a time when evil spirits roamed the land looking for humans. To confuse the spirits, people would dress up as creatures. This tradition carried on after 1 November became a Christian festival, hence the name of Halloween – which is a shortened version of All Hallows’ Eve.
The day survived the Reformation, though the Protestants combined it with All Souls’ Day, which was on 2 November.
The day was abolished as a church festival in 1770, but may be celebrated by many churches on the first Sunday in November.
In Roman Catholicism, All Saints’ Day is a Holy Day of Obligation. This means Catholics must go to Mass on the date unless there is a good reason not to attend, such as illness. The holiday is typically observed with a reading of the Beatitudes, eight blessings given in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew.
In recent years, it has become common in many churches to commemorate those who died during the year on the day itself.
The tradition of placing candles on the graves the evening before All Saints’ Eve is becoming more common.