All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, is a Christian solemnity created as a time to celebrate all saints, known and unknown. As early as the fourth century, Christians held feasts to commemorate martyrs in their church.
All Saints’ Day first appeared in a ninth-century English calendar by Pope Gregory IV. This extended the holiday to the entire Catholic church and broadened it to include more than just martyrs, who were the focus of the original commemorations.
This holiday is celebrated by a variety of Christian denominations today. In western churches such as Roman Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran, All Saints’ Day occurs on Nov. 1. In eastern churches, such as the Eastern Orthodox and some Catholic churches, this day of celebration is on the Sunday following another Christian holiday called Pentecost.
The word “saint” in English comes from the word “sanctus” in Latin, meaning “holy.” To be celebrated as a saint, one does not have to be formally recognized or go through canonization. Rather, all people who have lived exemplary lives or lives of holiness are honored as saints.
It is hard to talk about All Saints’ Day without mention of All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day.
All Hallows Eve, also known as Halloween, is a festival rooted in Celtic origins that was somewhat adapted by certain Christian affiliations as a day to prepare for All Saints’ Day. In commemoration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day, indigenous Latin American traditions were also somewhat mixed with certain unofficial Catholic practices which led to what is known today as Día de los Muertos.
As for All Saints’ Day, Christians were able to feel a closer connection to the saints in heaven. Christians were then inspired to live their lives like the holy saints. Remembering those who died also sparked the creation of All Souls’ Day, a Roman Catholic day of remembrance for those who have passed away.
Across most denominations that celebrate All Saints’ Day, it is a common goal to be more like the saints through exemplifying a holy life. Because of this, All Saints’ Day bonds Christians together. It reminds Christians of their connection with one another and purpose in life.
There is a wide diversity of canonized saints in the Roman Catholic church. In the list of over 10,000, saints for archers, lovers, taxi-drivers and more are recognized. This goes to show that saints come from all statuses and personalities and provides inspiration for all Christians that they too can become like the saints.
Some common ways to celebrate are lighting candles in honor of those who have died or in honor of one’s favorite saint.
“They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.”
—from the hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” commonly associated with All Saints’ Day