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All Saints’ Day on November 1 is holy in the Western Christian tradition, celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, and more. It is designed to show honor and reverence to saints both canonized and unknown, and in some faiths also to give thanks to those who have guided others to Christ, like a friend or relative. Around the world, there are many traditions woven into All Saints’ Day, from the laying of flowers on graves on November 1 to the Mexican Day of the Dead — which honors children who have passed on, on the holiday’s first day — not to mention Halloween in the U.S. and Canada, a celebration that originally was in large part linked to All Saints’ Day.
History of All Saints' Day
On May 13, in the year 609 A.D. or 610 A.D., Pope Boniface IV consecrated the day and ordered an anniversary to celebrate the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs. He may have chosen May 13 because many churches in the East already had a similar day to honor the dead and the martyrs. It was Pope Gregory III (690–741 A.D.) who moved the date of All Saints’ Day to November 1 on the Old Style calendar when he founded an oratory in St. Peter’s at the Vatican to exalt the apostles, saints, martyrs, and “all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.”
In the years and decades that followed, various influential figures in the church and government used their power to make All Saints’ Day an official observance in different Christian sects and denominations. Today, the holiday is also known — depending on the location and branch of the church — as All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, the Feast of All Saints, and the Solemnity of All Saints.
So you can be reasonably sure that any Christian friend of yours will be holding ancient miracle workers in their heart today — reach out and ask what All Saints’ Day means to them, if you’re not Christian yourself.
All Saints' Day timeline
In what is now northern Italy, St. Maximus of Turin gives an annual address on the Sunday after Pentecost in honor of all martyrs of the faith.
The Sunday after Pentecost is referred to in the “Comes Romanus Wirziburgensis” as “Sunday of the Nativity of the Saints.”
Pope Gregory III effectively changes the date of All Saints’ Day from the Sunday after Pentecost to the day before All Souls’ Day and suppresses the traditional May feast.
Church reforms suppress the All Saints’ vigil and octave, ushering in the single-day celebration most Christians are now familiar with.
All Saints' Day FAQs
Is All Saints’ Day a day of holy obligation?
Yes — meaning that church members are expected to attend All Saints’ Day Mass, unless November 1 falls on a Saturday or a Monday.
How is All Saints’ Day celebrated in Europe?
Customs and traditions vary from region to region, but for one example, in Italy, it’s common to visit family members and exchange gifts — with special honor shown to those who are named after saints themselves.
Isn’t the whole event a case of idol worship?
According to the church, no — they distinguish between worship, which is meant for God alone, and veneration, which may be given to saints, from the least-known to the Virgin Mary.
HOW TO OBSERVE ALL SAINTS’ DAY:
Attend a service
This goes for a suggestion to both our Christian readers and our agnostic or atheist ones. A curious friend who wants to experience a church service is almost always welcome, and to experience solemnity and beauty, All Saints’ Day is a hard one to match.
Celebrate the more secular parts of the day
In North America, that means either Halloween or the Day of the Dead. There’s no reason not to go about either one the way you usually do, but with the added perspective of internally honoring history’s beatific figures — Mother Teresa, for example — who did real work to aid and protect the poor and underserved.
Read up and share your knowledge
The internet is rife with information about every topic — including the rich and textured history of All Saints’ Day. Whether you take a stance of faith or skepticism, write a few paragraphs on your point of view and post them to your socials — but make sure you’re respectful of either side. You’ll be surprised at the depth of the responses you get.
FIVE AMAZING FACTS ABOUT MOTHER TERESA:
No looking back
Mother Teresa — born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu — left her family to join the convent at the age of 18, and never saw them again.
Moments of doubt and fear
Even as devout as she was, Mother Teresa confessed religious doubt in letters she wrote, saying, “Where is my faith?”
From mother to daughter
After her father’s death when she was only eight years old, Agnes’s mother took special care to teach her charity, for example, with the words, “Never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.”
In 1982, Mother Teresa went under the radar to make an unpublicized trip to war-torn Beirut, where she served the children of both the Christian-dominated and Muslim-dominated sides of the city.
Mother Teresa was nominated for — and won — the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her services to the sick and hungry.
WHY ALL SAINTS’ DAY IS IMPORTANT:
It’s about selflessness
Whether you as an individual believe the old religious stories about saints, martyrs, and miracle-workers to be literal truth or not, saints became saints for the good works they did — in the spirit of Christianity as an institution of brotherly love, not a church of hatred toward those who are different.
It honors amazing people
Boomers and Gen-Xers will remember Pope John Paul II, known for his true charity and his gentle handling of the most important church matters at the Vatican. He was canonized as a saint in 2014 by Pope Francis. John Paul and Mother Teresa are just two examples of very real people doing very admirable work who went on to be named ‘Saint.’
It leads to All Souls’ Day
This is a time to remember and honor all those who have passed away in one’s life. We don’t think anyone would suggest that thinking reverently of those you’ve lost is a bad thing to do.
All Saints' Day dates