Monday, October 31, 2016

All Hallows' Day

Today is November 1, or All Saints' Day.  It is also known as the Feast of All Saints, the Solemnity of All Saints, All Hallows' Day, and Hallowmas; the day is a Christian festival (originally Catholic) that is celebrated in honor of all of the saints, known and unknown.  In New Orleans, Louisiana, it is the annual day to scrub and clean family gravestones and to place, or replant, fresh flowers.  It is a day of obligation to the church, family, deceased relatives, and all saints recognized by the church.  Extra masses are said in Catholic and Anglican churches.
   Christian churches began celebrating the lives and deaths of saints and martyrs in the second century.  Initially the calendars of saints and martyrs varied by location, with churches honoring local saints.  Gradually feast days became more universal.  The first reference to a general feast celebrating all saints occurs in St Ephrem the Syrian (died in 373).  St John Chrysostom (died in 407) assigned a day to this feast, the first Sunday after Pentecost, where, in the Eastern Churches, the feast is celebrated to this day.
   In the West, this date was probably originally used, but then the feast was moved to 13 May.  The current observance, 1 November, probably originates from the time of Pope Gregory III, and was likely first observed in Germany.
   The vigil of the Feast (the evening and night before) has grown up in the English speaking countries as a festival in itself, All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe'en.  While some Christians refuse to observe the holiday, considering it "pagan," as far as the Church is concerned, the date is simply the eve of All Saints.  In fact, many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast's vigils, we mock evil, because as Christians, it has no real power over us.
   Various customs have developed related to Halloween.  In the Middle Ages, poor people in the community begged for "soul cakes," and, upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls.  This is the root of modern day's Trick or Treat.  The custom of masks and costumes developed to mock evil, or, perhaps, confuse the evil spirits by dressing as one of their own.
   (And I make a personal note here, that several people have insisted that since the first All Saints Day feast happened in Germany, that All Hallow's Eve can have nothing to do with the pagan festival Samhain.   The Church insists that Samhain was an Irish pagan festival, not a Celtic one, and therefore would never have been practiced in Germany.  -  I think there's a gap in logic there...)

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