Did you know that at one time there was a relationship between Halloween (All Hallows Eve) and All Saints Day? Of course the All Hallows Eve traditions had very little in common with the current Halloween practices of today. In fact, the only thing it had in common was that it was held the day before All Saints Day.
All Hallows Eve was originally a time for Christians to prepare themselves for reverent practices of All Saints Day through prayer and various other ways. How you prepared for All Saints Day entirely depended on the practices of where you lived. In England, parents would take their children from house to house to beg for a special pastry treat called “soul cakes” and to pray for all those who had died from each house they visited. There is a very interesting Catholic tradition where children are taught about saints on All Hallows Eve by dressing as saints and going house to house. This link will take on a fascinating ride through this creative style of faith education. How I would love for all of us to have this truly fun experience of honoring and remembering who the saints have been and are. Unfortunately today most of us do not continue the Christian celebration of All Hallows Eve. Secular living has popularized a secular fun filled day we know as Halloween instead.
Of course all of this is to lead us to All Saints Day. Unfortunately a widely unknown feast day in the lives of Christians everywhere. In the 4th Century AD, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated this day as a day to remember all Martyrs on the Sunday after Pentecost. However, Syrians celebrated the “Commemoratio Confessorum” on the Friday after Easter. Over history the day was celebrated at various times, sometime to honor Martyrs and others to honor all Saints. In the 9th century a Byzantine Emperor Leo VI (the Wise) , to honor his late but very devout wife, changed this day to remember all Saints rather than just the Martyrs. Likewise, Pope Gregory III established November 1 as the official All Saints Day.
Some people today argue that the final date of November 1 was chosen because of the Celtic pagan Samhain being held on that day. Personally, I don’t see the problem either way. Christianity has historically taken various pagan, wicked symbols and changed them to become holy symbols. There’s also that scripture, Isaiah 2:4 “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Charles Wesley took many bar tunes and put Christian verses to them and these are beloved hymns of today. Knowing who the saints are and celebrating their significance is vital to the body of Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow. Whatever day we use, let us use it. November 1st it is.
Now, many of you might be thinking … well, ok so what IS or who IS a saint? While the Catholic Church has specific venerated saints. However, protestant churches recognize all people who believe in the Triune God (trinity) as saints. We are the communion of saints. We include both the living and those believers who have died. The United Methodist Church has a brief description of All Saints Day here. The practice of remembering, naming and celebrating the cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints in our lives in a collective way can go a long long way to encouraging us in the faith. Life is hard. In fact, it’s the hardest thing we will ever do. Let’s us stand together, hold one another up, encouraging and supporting our brothers and sisters to live in faithful ways by celebrating all the saints who have touched our lives. Celebrating all those saints who have guided us and those who continue to bless us grounds us especially during this time of uncertainty and stress.
Look for celebrations of All Saints Day in your local community this year. If you can’t find one locally than perhaps you can find one online.