All Saints Day History
In the ninth century, the All Saints Day celebration was modified to include literally all saints, becoming a church-wide observance of the Feast of All Saints on November 1st. By changing the date, the Western Church sought to incorporate a Christian focus into the ancient festival of the dead that many European clans celebrated during the first part of November. The Church's observance of a vigil the night before All Saints Day coincided with the beginning of the festival to honor the dead. That night, known as All Hallows Eve (or Halloween), retains many of the old European customs and traditions.
All Saints Day Observances
All Saints Day begins with a vigil, the observance of which originated with the Antioch Church. The night time hours of All Saints are devoted to prayer and fasting. The Catholic ceremony for the day is a solemn one, and includes the observance of Mass, followed by prayers offered to the Virgin Mary and all the saints. Lutherans and Episcopalians remember the day by giving thanks to God for all saints, living and dead. The Orthodox Churches continue to honor all Christian martyrs on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
Dia de los Muertos or 'Day of the Dead' Celebrations
One of the more peculiar All Saints Day traditions comes from Mexico. Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration that combines Catholic tradition and pre-Columbian culture. The first day is dedicated to "angelitos" (little angels), who are infants and children that have died. Adults who have died are memorialized on the second day.
Common traditions include joyful family gatherings at local cemeteries, and parades exhibiting elaborate wreaths, seasonal flowers, and macabre effigies of skeletons. Many gravesites are vibrantly decorated for the Day of the Dead, with special offerings displayed on commemorative altars. Fireworks are exhibited throughout the day and night in religious rituals.
In other countries, Day of the Dead customs include the lighting of votive candles and lights, offerings of special foods and drinks, and large displays of flowers. In numerous countries in Eastern Europe, All Saints Day is a public holiday where people from all lifestyles visit local cemeteries and honor deceased family members, friends, and national heroes.
Church-related information on All Saints Day is sometimes overshadowed by popular conceptions. However, within the Church, the day is specifically dedicated to martyrs and saints, with prayers and litanies offered for their faithful service to God. Simply put, All Saints Day is a time to thank God for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.