All Saints Day: A Primer

Today is All Saints Day for Catholics, which is officially called Solemnity of All Saints or All Hallows or Hallowmas.

The day commemorates the Saints -- those who have attained beatific vision (a vision of god) -- and is a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries. In the Roman Catholic Church, tomorrow (November 2) is All Souls' Day, which commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven.

The Feast of All Saints is a holy day honoring all saints, which is much like the American holidays Veterans Day and Presidents Day, both of which honor many unnamed people at once.

Halloween is often called All Hallows' Eve because it falls on the day before All Saints Day. Of course, All Saints Day is celebrated differently in different countries.


Some traditional ways to observe:

  • All Saints Day begins with a vigil and the nighttime hours of All Saints are devoted to prayer and fasting. The Catholic Mass is followed by prayers offered to the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
  • In Mexico All Saints Day coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), which is the "Dia de los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents), honoring dead babies and young children. Common traditions include happy family gatherings cemeteries and parades featuring elaborate wreaths, seasonal flowers, and macabre effigies of skeletons. Many grave sites are vibrantly decorated for the Day of the Dead, with special offerings displayed on commemorative altars. There may also be fireworks.
  • In Portugal, children celebrate the Pão-por-Deus tradition, which is a bit like trick-or treating, except instead of candy, children receive cakes, nuts, and pomegranates. Can you imagine your child's reaction to a pomegranate instead of a Snickers?
  • The day is also a day to visit grave sites and in Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, and Spain, people bring flowers to those graves.
  • In Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Austria, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, and Catholic parts of Germany, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.

Will you be commemorating All Saints Day today?

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