The Liturgical Home: All Saints’ Day

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Halloween is almost here! I doubt this is news to you. The stores have been filled with hanging witches and zombies for weeks, and nowhere is Halloween on fuller display than in neighborhood yards. Driving through my mom’s neighborhood yesterday, I passed by ghosts hanging from trees and gravestones placed in the grass. There was even a yard with two life-size skeletons lowering a corpse into a coffin. It was wild! It’s hard not to believe that Halloween is an embrace of the pagan, the occult, or the demonic.

Sadly, many of us don’t know the real meaning of Halloween, especially Christians. Halloween is, in reality, a beautiful Christian celebration that, like other holidays, has been hijacked by our culture. Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is actually the eve of the Feast of All Hallows’ Day, which is another name for All Saints’ Day. This is a beautiful feast day where we lovingly remember martyrs and saints who faithfully served the Lord. 

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What is All Saints’ Day?

All Saints’ Day, on November 1st, is a principal feast day in the Christian calendar. It provides a dedicated day to recognize those saints whom the Church has officially recognized for their exemplary lives, faith, and contributions to Christianity. They might be early Christian martyrs, theologians, missionaries, or others who’ve led lives of significant spiritual meaning and impact.

We also recognize those saints who are unknown. This refers to the countless believers throughout history who’ve lived faithfully but haven’t been officially recognized or canonized as saints. These are sometimes recognized on their own day, November 2nd, which is called All Souls’ Day or the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Many people live saintly lives without gaining widespread recognition or having a significant public impact. However, their faith and good works are known to God. We honor the example of their lives and deaths and rejoice in the continued communion with them through the body of Christ.

The Communion of Saints

A core component of All Saints’ Day is the “communion of saints.” This doctrine underscores the unity of all believers, living and deceased, in the body of Christ. It reminds us that our connection with fellow Christians doesn’t end with death; it continues in God’s holy presence. In Hebrews 11 and 12, St. Paul introduces us to this communion of saints when he reminds us of the faithful who went before us. He encourages us that since we are surrounded by such a “great cloud of witnesses,” we should throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us and that we should run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

We believe that the communion of saints is the spiritual union of all of the members of the Church. This includes the living, the Church Militant, and those who have died in the faith of Christ—the Church Triumphant. We are knit together with the saints in the mystical body of Christ. We all worship God together, and as we say every Sunday during Holy Eucharist, we join our voices “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” We do not pray to or praise the saints; we join with them in the worship of God. This idea of the “communion of saints” is so pivotal to our faith that it is a part of the Apostles Creed. 

The History of All Saints

All Saints’ Day is rooted in early Christian traditions and practices of honoring martyrs and saints. In the earliest days of Christianity, it was common to commemorate the anniversary of a martyr’s death for Christ at the place of their martyrdom. As the number of martyrs increased, especially during intense periods of Roman persecution, it became challenging to assign separate days for each martyr. Various Christian communities began to establish a common day on which to honor all martyrs. The foundation for a collective celebration can be seen as early as the 4th century when the Feast of All Martyrs was celebrated in the Eastern Church.

In the West, in 609 or 610 AD, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. This established an annual feast in Rome on May 1st. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved the date to November 1st, broadening the festival to include all saints and martyrs. Finally, in 837 AD, Pope Gregory IV extended the celebration of the feast day from Rome to the entire Western Church. 

Samhain

A common myth is that Halloween is based on a pagan festival known as Samhain (pronounced SOW-an). The story typically goes that the Church Christianized a popular Celtic festival that celebrated the dead. However, the earliest sources available indicate that Samhain was a harvest festival, like many around the world. It had no particular ritual connections to the dead. A direct link between the two is largely speculative. Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, originates primarily from Christian traditions marking the eve of All Saints’ Day. Its practices and customs, including attending church services, lighting candles on the graves of the holy, and the later traditions of trick-or-treating, have clear roots in Christian liturgical observances. Research into the origins of Halloween points to its independent emergence within the Christian tradition rather than as an adaptation of pagan rituals.

Celebrations Worldwide

Traditionally, on the eve of All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’ Eve), Christians attended a vigil where worshippers prepared their hearts with prayers and fasting. They spent the night thinking about and offering thanks to those who had died in faithful service to the Lord and praying that they might be more like them in a service called the Vigil of All Hallows or the Vigil of All Saints. After the service, festivities commenced with food and drink and visits to the graveyard, where flowers and candles were placed at the graves. They also went “souling,” which evolved into our modern-day trick-or-treating. Children and the poor went about visiting homes, offering prayers, and, in return, receiving soul cakes—small, sweet treats infused with spices. In Portugal, a variation of this tradition continues today. Children go door to door, singing songs and asking for a special bread called Pão-por-Deus or “Bread for God.” 

Ways to Celebrate All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day

  • Read Hebrews 11:1–12:2 and Revelation 7:9-12.
  • Go trick-or-treating or attend a church’s Halloween celebration. 
  • Go and visit the grave of a loved one. All around the world, Christians visit the graves of loved ones on All Saints’ Day. They bring flowers, clean up the spaces, and spend time reminiscing about and offering thanks to God for their loved ones. If you are unable to visit the grave of a loved one, light a candle in honor in their honor. Have everyone share what they loved about them and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for them. 
  • Bring flowers to the grave or put some on your porch or in your home to honor the deceased. Chrysanthemums are the traditional flower in Belgium and France, and marigolds are the traditional flowers in Mexico.
  • Christians worldwide have a special bread or sweet that they make for All Saints’ Day. In Portugal, they make Pão-por-Deus (Bread for God); in Mexico, they make Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead); in France, they call it Pain des Morts (Bread of the Dead). They shaped the bread like a coffin or a cross. In Spain, they make a sweet called Huesos de Santo (Saint’s Bones). In Austria, they make Allerheiligenstriezel, a sweet braided bread often enjoyed with coffee or tea.
  • Make Ossa dei Morti or Bones of the Dead. Christians make these almond-flavored, bone-shaped cookies to honor the deceased and often enjoy them with a glass of wine.

Ossa dei Morti or Bones of the Dead

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/2 ounces ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • Powdered sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sugar, extract, and egg until blended.

Stir in the almonds, baking powder, flour, and salt, and stir just until combined. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured hard surface and gently knead for a minute or two with your hands until smooth. (Dough will be sticky)

Divide the dough into three pieces and roll each into a 1-inch log. Cut the log into 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch pieces, then use your fingers to roll each piece into ropes about 4 inches long.

Place the cookies 2 to 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies just begin to brown and the tops feel set when touched with your fingertips.

Cool completely, dust with powdered sugar, and enjoy!

Recipe from Italian Food Forever.


Photo by Aris Leoven from BaseImage, courtesy of Canva.

Published on

October 30, 2023

Author

Ashley Tumlin Wallace

Ashley Tumlin Wallace, the author of the Liturgical Home series of books and articles at Anglican Compass, is a homeschooling mom of four and the wife of an Anglican priest. She and her family live in the panhandle of Florida.

View more from Ashley Tumlin Wallace

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