Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day and All Souls Day

I'm going to cheat and post about both of these Christian holidays today, because they are mentioned together so much.

November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Soul's Day. Now, I was raised in the Christian church, but as a Protestant (first Fundamentalist and later Methodist). I never heard anything about either of these holidays. I don't recall them even in the Methodist church, but one of my sources says the Methodist Church has All Saints Day on the first Sunday in November to remember those who have passed away from the local congregation. Anyway, for the most part I think they are more a Catholic thing in America at least.

After the Romans invaded Britain, and as the Christian religion spread, November 1 was made a church holiday by the Roman Catholic Church to honor all the saints, called All Saint's Day (or Hallowmas, or All Hallows - "hallows" meaning "saints," and "mas" meaning "Mass"). Years later, the Church also made November 2 a holy day called All Souls Day (or Day of the Dead), which was to honor the dead. It was celebrated with big bonfires, parades, and people dressing up as saints, angels and devils. All Saints Day and All Souls Day were originally in May but were moved to November to downplay the Pagan holidays at that time. Religious leaders thought the holidays were too popular at the time to ban, but thought if they moved the Christian holidays the Pagan holidays would just die away.

In the early Church, Christians would celebrate the anniversary of a martyr's death (the saint's "birth day"). But eventually there were so many that a single day was designated for all of them. The first All Saints' Day occurred on May 13, 609 when Pope Boniface IV accepted the Pantheon (a Pagan temple) as a gift from the Emperor Phocas. Boniface dedicated it as the Church of Santa Maria Rotonda in honor of the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs. (May 13, was an ancient pagan observation, the culmination of the Feast of the Lemures, which involved malevolent and restless spirits of all the dead.) During Pope Gregory III's reign (731-741), the festival was expanded to include all saints and and moved to November 1. Pope Gregory IV officially designated the day in 837. Roman Catholics are required to attend Mass and to "refrain from unnecessary servile work" on this day. All saints, known and unknown (not just those that have been canonized) are honored.

Saints are ordinary people who have served God faithfully have reached a certain level of holiness, and who serve as inspiration and motivation. They are not perfect, but are relatable in that they have faults and foibles. They are considered to be close to God and able to help those on earth who are still struggling.

All Souls Day was started in 998. It is a time to pay respect to and remember the souls of all friends and loved ones who have died. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is a time to pray for the souls who are deceased but who are in Purgatory and have not yet made it into Heaven(because they have not yet been cleansed from venial sins or have not fully atoned for mortal sins). Often, people will pray to their lost loved ones and even ask for special favors.

Customs for both of these holidays vary by region or culture. I don't believe in America they are really celebrated, except in the Catholic church, because I have never heard of anything like there are in other parts of the world. Traditions may include preparing an altar for the dead with an offering of food, flowers, candles, incense and photos of the dead; graves may be visited and decorated; candles burned for each person to be remembered; leaving food and water out for the spirits that wander on that night; in Mexico there are picnics at the cemetery and skull-shaped candy; in Germany, people try to return to their native villages and spruce up the graves of loved ones and in the4 evening have a procession to the cemetery; and in some places, it is traditional to see the play Don Juan Tenorio.


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