All Saints' Day

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"The Feast of All Saints" redirects here. For the 1979 novel by Anne Rice, see The Feast of All Saints (novel).
All Saints' Day
Painting by Fra Angelico
Also called All Hallows Day, Solemnity/Feast of All Saints
Observed by
Liturgical Color White (Western Christianity)
Green (Eastern Christianity)
Type Christian
Observances Church services, praying for the dead, visiting cemeteries, eating soul cakes
Date November 1 (Western Christianity)
Sunday after Pentecost (Eastern Christianity)
Frequency annual
Related to

All Saints' Day, also known as All Hallows' Day, Hallowmas,[3][4] Feast of All Saints,[5][6] or Solemnity of All Saints,[7] is a Christian festival celebrated in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. It occurs on different dates in different Christian traditions. Several Western Christian denominations celebrate it on 1 November, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, and other Protestant churches. Meanwhile, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic churches celebrate it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.[8]

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 heaven (the "Church triumphant"), and the living (the "Church militant"). In Catholic 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 Methodist theology, All Saints Day revolves around "giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints", including those who are "famous or obscure".[9] As such, individuals throughout the Church Universal are honoured, such as Paul the Apostle, Augustine of Hippo and John Wesley, in addition to individuals who have personally led one to faith in Jesus, such as one's grandmother or friend.[9]

In the Western Christian practice, the liturgical celebration begins at Vespers on the evening of 31 October, All Hallows' Eve (All Saints' Eve), and ends at the close of 1 November. It is thus the day before All Souls' Day, which commemorates the faithful departed. In many traditions, All Saints' Day is part of the triduum of Allhallowtide, which lasts three days from 31 October to 2 November inclusive.[10]

In the British Isles, it is known that churches were already celebrating All Saints on 1 November at the beginning of the 8th century to coincide or replace the Celtic festival of Samhain.[11][12][13] James Frazer suggests that 1 November was chosen because it was the date of the Celtic festival of the dead (Samhain) – the Celts had influenced their English neighbours, and English missionaries had influenced the Germans. However, Ronald Hutton points out that, according to Óengus of Tallaght (d. ca. 824), the 7th/8th century church in Ireland celebrated All Saints on 20 April. He suggests that 1 November date was a Germanic rather than a Celtic idea.[11]

In the East[edit]

The Eastern Orthodox Church, following the Byzantine tradition, commemorates 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 9th century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI "the Wise" (866–911). His wife, Empress Theophano – commemorated on 16 December – lived a devout life. After her death in 893,[14] 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 honoured whenever the feast was celebrated.[15] 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 Saturday (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 localised 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 Mondays 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.

The traditional Maronite feast in honor of all saints is celebrated on 1 November.

In the West[edit]

The Catholic 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.

In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnise the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the 4th century, neighbouring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast; as is shown by the invitation of St. Basil of Caesarea (397) to the bishops of the province of Pontus. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407). According to Ephrem, this feast was observed at Edessa on May 13 and John Chrysostom says it was on the Sunday after Pentecost in Constantinople.[16] As early as 411 there is in the Chaldean Calendar a "Commemoratio Confessorum" for the Friday after Easter.[17]

On 13 May 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, ordering an anniversary;[17] the feast of the dedication Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. There is evidence that from the 5th to the 7th centuries there existed in certain places and at sporadic intervals a feast date on 13 May to celebrate the holy martyrs.[18] 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. Some 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".[19] Meanwhile, others consider that May 13 was perhaps deliberately chosen by the Pope because of its celebration already established in the East.[20]

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",[21] with the date moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed.[22]

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 20 April."[23]

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",[21] which confirmed its celebration on 1 November. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484).[21]

The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches.[21] 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, mother church of the Anglican Communion, it is a Principal Feast and 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 Christians 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 is celebrated the Sunday after Reformation is celebrated (the date for Reformation is October 31, so Reformation Sunday is celebrated on or before 31 October). In most congregations, the festival is marked as an occasion to remember the dead. The names of those who have died from the congregation within the last year are read during worship and a bell is tolled, chime is played, and/or candle is lit for each name read. While the dead are solemnly remembered during worship on All Saints' Sunday, the festival is ultimately a celebration of Christ's victory over death. While the harsh realities of death are acknowledged, hope in the Resurrection and our place in the "communion of saints" should always take centre stage.


All Saints' Day at a cemetery in Sanok – flowers and lit candles are placed to honor the memory of deceased relatives. Poland, 1 November 2011

In France, and throughout the Francophone world, the day is known as La Toussaint. Flowers (especially Chrysanthemums), or wreaths called 'couronnes de toussaints' are placed at each tomb or grave. The following day, 2 November (All Souls' Day) is called Le jour des morts, the Day of the Dead.

In Mexico, Guatemala, Portugal and Spain, offerings (Portuguese: oferendas, Spanish: ofrendas) are made on this day. In Spain and Mexico the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed.

All Saints' Day in Mexico, coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebration. Known as "Día de los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents), it honors deceased children and infants.

Portuguese children celebrate the Pão-por-Deus tradition (also called santorinho, bolinho or fiéis de Deus) going door-to-door, where they receive cakes, nuts, pomegranates, sweets and candies. This occurs all over Portugal.

Hallow-mas in the Philippines is variously called "Undás", "Todos los Santos" (Spanish, "All Saints"), and sometimes "Araw ng mga Patay / Yumao" (Tagalog, "Day of the dead / those who have passed away"), which actually refers to the following day of All Souls' Day but includes it. Filipinos traditionally observe this day by visiting the family dead to clean and repair their tombs. Offerings of prayers, flowers, candles, and even food are made, while Chinese Filipinos additionally burn incense and kim. Many also spend the day and ensuing night holding reunions at the graves, playing games and music, singing karaoke, and feasting.[24]

In Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Spain, and the state of Louisiana, people take flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In some parts of 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, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia 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 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".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marty, Martin E. (2007). Lutheran questions, Lutheran answers: exploring Christian faith. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-8066-5350-1. Retrieved 2 November 2011. All Lutherans celebrate All Saints Day, and many sing, 'For all the saints, who from their labors rest…' 
  2. ^ Willimon, William H. (2007). United Methodist Beliefs. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 64. ISBN 9781611640618. Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  3. ^ "Shakespearian Glossary". 
  4. ^ The Shakespeare Name Dictionary (Routledge 2004 ISBN 978-1-13587571-8). Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  5. ^ The Anglican Service Book. Good Shepherd Press. 1 September 1991. p. 677. ISBN 0962995509. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  6. ^ St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. "Homily on the Feast of All Saints of Russia". St. John Chrysostom Orthodox Church. 
  7. ^ Roman Missal
  8. ^ Sidhu, Salatiel; Baldovin, John Francis (5 February 2013). Holidays and Rituals of Jews and Christians. p. 193. ISBN 9781481711401. Lutheran and Orthodox Churches who do not call themselves Roman Catholic Churches have maintained the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, still celebrate this Day. Even the Protestant Churches like the United Methodist Church all celebrate this day as the All Souls Day and call it All Saints day. 
  9. ^ a b Iovino, Joe (28 October 2015). "All Saints Day: A holy day John Wesley loved". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 20 October 2016. 
  10. ^ Leslie, Frank (1895). Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. Allhallowtide. Frank Leslie Publishing House. p. 539. Retrieved 9 April 2014. Just as the term "Eastertide" expresses for us the whole of the church services and ancient customs attached to the festival of Easter, from Palm Sunday until Easter Monday, so does All-hallowtide include for us all the various customs, obsolete and still observed, of Halloween, All Saints' and All Souls' Days. From the 31st of October until the morning of the 3d of November, this period of three days, known as All-hallowtide, is full of traditional and legendary lore. 
  11. ^ a b Hutton, p.364
  12. ^ Pseudo-Bede, Homiliae subdititiae; John Hennig, 'The Meaning of All the Saints', Mediaeval Studies 10 (1948), 147–161.
  13. ^ "All Saints Day," The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition, ed. E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 41–42; The New Catholic Encyclopedia, eo.loc.
  14. ^ The date in Vita Euthymii, not printed until 1888 "makes it seem practically (though not absolutely) certain that she died on 10 Nov. 893".(Downey 1956, pp. 301–305)
  15. ^ Downey 1956, pp. 301–305.
  16. ^ Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. Church Publishing, Inc. 2010. p. 662. ISBN 9780898696783. 
  17. ^ a b "Mershman, Francis. "All Saints' Day." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 2 Mar. 2014". Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  18. ^ C. Smith The New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967: s.v. "Feast of All Saints", p. 318.
  19. ^ For example, Violet Alford ("The Cat Saint", Folklore 52.3 [September 1941:161–183] p. The FRench celebtrate it.181 note 56) observes that "Saints were often confounded with the Lares or Dead. Repasts for both were prepared in early Christian times, and All Saints' Day was transferred in 835 to November 1st from one of the days in May which were the old Lemuralia"; Alford notes Pierre Saintyves, Les saints successeurs des dieux, Paris 1906 (sic, i.e. 1907).
  20. ^ Saunders, William. "All Saints and All Souls". Retrieved 18 September 2016. 
  21. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  22. ^ "All Saints' Day", The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition, ed. E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 41–42; The New Catholic Encyclopedia, eo.loc.
  23. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. New York: Oxford Paperbacks. ISBN 0-19-285448-8. 
  24. ^ "2011 Business Mirror – Government bans sharp instruments and guns during All saints day". 


  • Glanville, Downey (1956). "The Church of All Saints (Church of St. Theophano) near the Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople". Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 9/10: 301–305. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Langgärtner, Georg. "All Saints' Day". In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, 41. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999. ISBN 0802824137.

External links[edit]