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
Observed by
Liturgical Color White
Type Christian
Observances Church services
Date November 1 (Western Christianity)
Sunday after Pentecost (Eastern Christianity)
Frequency annual
Related to

All Saints' Day, also known as All Hallows, Day of All the Saints,[3] Solemnity of All Saints,[4] or Feast of All Saints[5] is a festival celebrated on 1 November by the Latin Church of the Roman Catholic Church and some other Western Christian traditions, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. The liturgical celebration begins at Vespers on the evening of 31 October and ends at the close of 1 November. It is thus the day before All Souls' Day.

Hallowmas is another term for the feast and was used by Shakespeare in this sense.[6][7] However, a few recent writers have applied this term to the three days from 31 October to 2 November inclusive,[8] as a synonym for the triduum of Hallowtide.[9]

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 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 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 Bible and 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.[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 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 9th 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,[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 honour 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). At first only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were honoured by a special day. As early as 411 there is in the Chaldean Calendar a "Commemoratio Confessorum" for the Friday after Easter.[16]

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;[16] the feast of the dedicatio 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.[17] 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".[18]

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",[19] with the date moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed.[20]

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."[21]

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",[19] which confirmed its celebration on 1 November. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484).[19]

The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches.[19] 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 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 honour the memory of deceased relatives. Poland, 1 November 2011

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.

Hallowmas 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.[22]

In Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, 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 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. ^ St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. "Homily on the Feast of All Saints of Russia". St. John Chrysostom Orthodox Church. 
  4. ^ Roman Missal
  5. ^ The Anglican Service Book. Good Shepherd Press. 1 September 1991. p. 677. ISBN 0962995509. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  6. ^ "Shakespearian Glossary". 
  7. ^ The Shakespeare Name Dictionary (Routledge 2004 ISBN 978-1-13587571-8). Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt (1 August 1998). Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Pelican Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 1565543467. Retrieved 1 November 2012. The Church brought its saints' celebrations to every new land it conquered. The celebrations on the eve of All Saints, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (the three were referred to as Hallowmas) spread throughout Europe. From the British Isles to France to Poland and Italy, the religious remembrance of the ancestral dead became an annual celebration of major importance. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ The Rev. J. Richard Peck (2011). "Do United Methodists believe in saints?". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 31 October 2011. We also recognize and celebrate All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) and "all the saints who from their labors rest". United Methodists call people "saints" because they exemplified the Christian life. In this sense, every Christian can be considered a saint. 
  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. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ C. Smith The New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967: s.v. "Feast of All Saints", p. 318.
  18. ^ 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).
  19. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. New York: Oxford Paperbacks. ISBN 0-19-285448-8. 
  22. ^ "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]