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All Saints' Day

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AllSaintsDayPoland

A cemetery in Oswiecim, Poland on the evening of All Saints' Day, November 1, 1984.

All Saints' Day (often shortened to All Saints) is a festival which many Western Christian denominations celebrate either on November 1, the day after Halloween, or the first Sunday in November. Older English names for the holiday are Hallowmas and All Hallows. The evening before the festival was known as All Hallows' Eve, which was later shortened to Halloween.

As its name indicates, the festival commemorates all Christian saints, however, different denominations, and individual believers, have different ideas about what makes somebody a saint. For many people, it is a time to honor their deceased relatives and loved ones. It is often marked by people visiting the graves of their late relatives, cleaning the graves and leaving flowers, illuminated candles or other offerings.

Origins

In the year 609 or 610 CE, Pope Boniface IV declared May 13 to be All Saints' Day. It has been suggested that the date was chosen because, before the coming of Christianity, it had been the Roman Feast of the Lemures, the day on which ghosts were said to return to Earth.

Pope Gregory III, who was pope between the years 731 and 741, moved the date of All Saints' Day from May 13 to November 1. The Celtic festival of Samhain is known to have occurred in early November or late October. It is widely believed that Pope Gregory III was trying to Christianize the pagan festival of Samhain, although there is no documentary evidence for that.

Celebration of the related festival of All Souls' Day on November 2 began in France at the end of the 10th century.

Activities

In many countries with a strong Catholic tradition, All Saints' Day continues to be a national holiday. People in several different countries mark the occasion by visiting the graves of their relatives, They often clean the graves and may decorate them with flowers, candles or both. In Spain and Portugal it is common to leave offerings of food and drink at relatives' graves also.

In Spain there is a long standing tradition of performing the 19th century play Don Juan Tenorio at theaters on All Saints' Day. The play has become associated with the holiday because the second part takes place in a graveyard. After many years away, the anti-hero Don Juan finds that his old home has been converted into a cemetery where his former fiancee, who died of a broken heart, and his faincee's father, who he murdered, are buried. Many Spanish newspapers carry detailed analyses of the play in their November 1 issues.

In Mexico, November 1 has become a day to honor people who died while they were still children. The major festival for honoring deceased adults, el Día de los Muertos, occurs the following day.

Children in some areas of Portugal go from house to house and from store to store on All Saints' Day, in a practice similar to trick-or-treat. At neighbors' homes they are given candy and similar treats. The shopkeepers at different stores give them small samples of their wares.

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