Holiday History: All Saints Day

Today, Christians of many denominations around the world will celebrate all of those who have achieved Heaven. Today is All Saints Day, or, as it was once known in England, All Hallows Day.

And, yes, that’s where we get the word Halloween. Halloween was All Hallows Evening, much as we refer to the evening before Christmas as Christmas Eve. Hallow was, basically, an old English term for saint.

All Saints Day is observed in the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations. In the Catholic church, it is a holy day of obligation. That means Catholics are expected to attend mass today.

For many Protestants, it is observed during worship services on the first Sunday in November. Frequently, that includes reading or announcing names of church members or family members who have died in the past year.

As such, the day is a celebration of those have gone on to Heaven and the work God did in their lives, and yet a somber occurrence for those here who feel the loss of their presence.

Pope Gregory IV established All Saints Day on November 1 in the ninth century. This has continued in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The Orthodox Church and some other Eastern churches observe it on the Sunday after Pentecost.

There is a difference between saints and Saints, although again that will vary between denominations. Small “s” saints could include anyone who is a Christian.

Generally speaking, in our culture, Saints are those who are recognized through the formal processes of the Roman Catholic Church known as beatification and canonization. That list includes the Apostles such as St. Peter and St. John, and later church figures such as St. Patrick and St. Francis of Assisi, as well as more recent figures like Mother Teresa. Famed for her work among the poor in India, she was canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.

Protestants tend to use the term Saint much less often, but it still endures in some settings, notably church names and in some translations of the Bible. In the King James version, the four writers of the gospels are all referred to as Saints, and the last book of the Bible is titled the Revelation of St. John the Divine.

Here in Florida, we use Saints’ names in everyday use without even thinking about it. When was the last time you were in St. Augustine, or St. Petersburg? Then there is Port St. Lucie, named for an older settlement that was founded on the feast day of St. Lucia.

If you typically don’t think much about All Saints Day, here are a couple of things to consider.

The next time you hear “When the Saints Go Marching In,” don’t just associate it with New Orleans, or a football team, or even as a fun, raucous jazz tune. Think about the saints marching into heaven as described in the lyrics, and if you “want to be in that number” with them.

And, as you rummage through your children’s Halloween candy today, think about the holiday that gave its name to a widespread secular holiday.

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