Each November, the Church celebrates two feast days, which are related to each other. All Saints’ Day is a solemnity celebrated on November 1st. On this day we celebrate the great Communion of Saints, which includes those holy men and women who have passed before us but have not been canonized. All Souls’ Day is celebrated on November 2nd and is a day to remember and pray for all those who have died.
Though Halloween is a now a mostly secular annual holiday, it is historically connected to All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days.
Halloween originated with a festival called Samhain, which was celebrated by the ancient Celts. Samhain was a day to celebrate the year’s harvest and to honor the dead. As Christianity took hold in the ancient world, the autumnal observance of Samhain took on sacred meaning from the Church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day, which was originally celebrated in May.
Pope Gregory III designated November 1st to honor the saints. The night before was known as Eve of All Hallows. By the 7th century, these two ancient holidays were merged, making the Eve of All Hallows, later called “Halloween,” a time to both acknowledge the passage into death and to celebrate those who have passed into Eternal Life.
While Christians have always prayed for the dead, All Souls’ Day began in the 7th century when Odilo of Cluny established a day to pray and give alms for those in purgatory. Though it began as a local feast, by the 10th century it was celebration spread throughout the Church.
On All Saints’ Day, we are obligated to attend Mass to praise and worship God and honor the lives of the saints. On All Souls’ Day, the Church prays for all those in purgatory.
El Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a festival that takes place during All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, November 1st and 2nd. It originated in Mexico, but it is celebrated throughout Latin America and also in the United States. This tradition brings together Aztec ritual and Catholicism, which was introduced to Mexico from Spain during the colonial period. During Día de Los Muertos, families remember those who have died by celebrating in their homes or at the cemeteries in which loved ones are buried.
Día de Los Muertos is a custom that embraces hope. It celebrates the lives of the departed through parties and activities. It recalls the favorite pastimes and foods of deceased family members. Familiar symbols of Día de Los Muertos include calacas, or skeletons, and calaveras, or skulls, which are visible in sugar form and as masks and dolls. Día de Los Muertos customs value the importance of remembering ancestors while recognizing our mortality.
Challenge your students to look for Día de Los Muertos symbols as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day approach.
Celebrate All Saints’ Day in class or at home with a special All Saints' Day Prayer Service based on the theme “Built on a Rock.” Leaders will need to gather a stone for each participant as part of a Scripture reflection and activity based on Matthew 7:24–25. Participants will reflect on ways saints built their faith on a firm foundation and ways God is like a rock.
For more All Saints’ Day resources, including printable activities and an eBook, check out this post.
On All Souls’ Day, one of the readings we may hear at Mass is “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). On All Souls’ Day, we will pray to God for those who have died.
Pray with the students in your religious education classroom or together as a family on November 2nd with the All Souls’ Day Prayer Service. This prayer service includes a procession with pictures, in which participants can place a photo of a loved one who has died in a basket on the altar and offer a quiet prayer. The prayer service also includes a reading from Scripture, Prayers of the Faithful, and the option to include music.