Ethnic traditions

Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day – Can We Celebrate them all?

Nowadays, Halloween has become increasingly fashionable in Europe: Halloween greetings on social media sites, Halloween parties and costumes, and sometimes even European children follow the American tradition and go ‘trick or treating’ on October 31st. However, many people argue that Halloween is a foreign holiday, and some European nations shouldn’t follow its traditions as we also have our own holidays around this time: All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. But what exactly are these holidays, and when do we celebrate them? Is it possible to go to a Halloween party and still commemorate our loved ones? 

Halloween – 31st of October

photo: Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI

Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve is on October 31st, the evening before Western Christians celebrate All Saints’ Day. With this day, a three-day-long observance of Allhallowtide starts, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and our loved ones who have died. It is said that Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals with potentially pagan roots, such as the Gaelic Samhain. Celts divided the year into two seasons: winter began on the night of October 31st. They believed that the sun god Samhain would be captured by the god of death and darkness, who would summon the spirits of the dead on the night of October 31st. Interestingly, after the spread of Christianity, the festival was not banned but Christianized as Halloween by the early Church. The modern Halloween is mainly popular in Anglo-Saxon countries, but it is becoming more and more common in other parts of the world as well. Traditions include trick-or-treating for which children dress in costumes and collect candy and chocolates in their neighborhoods, costume parties, and carving pumpkins into Jack-O’Lanterns.

All Saints’ Day – November 1st

photo: Bea Kallos/MTI

Also known as All Hallows’ Day, this holiday is held on the day after Halloween, as early Christians tried to adapt their holidays and practices to the existing pagan ones. Thus, All Saints’ Day was connected to the day of the former Celtic dead cult. The new Christian holiday was officially recognized by the church in 835 and since then, it has been held on the 1st of November. Later, the following day, November 2nd, was also declared a holy day: the Day of the Dead, or All Souls’ Day. On All Saints’ Day, it is common for families to attend church, as well as visit cemeteries in order to lay flowers and candles on the graves of their deceased loved ones. This is why many cemeteries are operating with longer opening hours. It is a Solemnity in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church and a national holiday in many historically Christian countries.

Many Catholic Spaniards celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1, visiting tombstones to honor the memory of deceased relatives.

All Souls’ Day – November 2nd

Also known as the commemoration of all the faithful departed, that is, of the souls of all Christians who died but have not yet received salvation, who are currently in purgatory. The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that souls, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, alms, and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass.

photo: MTI

Gradually, the Day of the Dead has evolved from a religious holiday into a general commemoration of departed loved ones. In many European countries people usually visit and maintain the graves of their deceased relatives on these days, lighting candles and placing flowers. As the chrysanthemum opens during this period, tombs are usually decorated with this flower or with decorated wreaths. The original purpose of these traditions was for the liberated souls to return to their own graves – as, in the past, even many Christians thought that the dead would emerge from the grave at this time.

To sum up, Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day all fall on different – though consecutive – days, thus the confusion. However, they all belong to the same festive cycle, the Allhallowtide, with a pagan holiday as the basis, later Christianized and expanded. There is nothing that rules out celebrating all three: the more modern traditions of Halloween, while also commemorating our deceased loved ones and laying flowers and placing candles on their graves. Source

Read more The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day

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