All Saints Day is the celebration of all Saints, known and unknown. In the year 731 AD, November 1 was designated as a day of remembrance for saints of the church who had no day of their own. The official date of November 1, recognized by Roman Catholic and Protestant churches was instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and ordered an annual celebration. The Eastern Orthodox Church observes it on the first Sunday after Pentecost. In many cultures All Saints’ Day is followed by All Souls’ Day which is a national day of mourning for all those lost.
The most common theme from various cultures is that families gather and lay flowers at the graves of their loved ones. As this celebration is held in a colder season, the most popular flower for this event are chrysanthemums, either cut or as a plant.
How is it Celebrated Around the World?
In France the celebration is called Toussaint, and each year around 25 million chrysanthemum pots are placed on French graves on the 1st of November. The cemeteries are filled with colour and the holiday is celebrated publicly.
In England families visit the graves of dead family members and bring bunches of flowers to decorate the grave. In church the names of the dead may be read aloud upon request, and in some regions the day may end with a play or some songs.
In Sweden it is often quite cold and there is snow on the ground. A jar of flowering heather is a common choice to dress the grave, as it stands up well to the cold. All Saints’ Day is no longer an official holiday, but many people take the day off and either visit cemeteries or spend the day with family. Churches organize services or concerts to recognize the day. In the 1900s, people began putting lighted candles on the graves of the departed. This custom originated with wealthy families in towns and cities. But after World War II, it spread throughout the country. All Saints’ Day marks the first day of winter and the traditional start of the alpine ski season.
In Poland All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1 and is a national holiday referred to as Wszystkich Świętych. Following All Saints’ Day, All Soul’s’ Day, Zaduszki is celebrated. This event is very highly regarded and a very busy day. Every cemetery parking lot is completely full and vendors line the outer perimeters of the cemeteries selling Fall flowers and candles.
Uniformed guards are placed by military graves. Chrysanthemums are the flowers of choice and are singularly associated with death. The countless glowing candles in the evening create breathtaking views of the cemeteries and are intended to help illuminate the way to God.
Slovakia’s traditions highly resemble those of the Polish. Slovaks return home, sometimes driving great distances to be with their entire family and visit the cemeteries where their ancestors lay. Graves are blanketed in flowers and candles are lit. It’s a day to remember deceased family members, to reflect upon life and share a meal with family members.
Similar to other Eastern European cultures Slovenia celebrates All Saints’ Day nationally and state officials lay wreaths at ceremonies throughout the countries cemeteries.
Spain celebrates this holiday over the course of October 31, November 1 and November 2. It is commonly referred to as The Day of the Dead. Festivals and parades are a large aspect of this tradition as well as the performance of the play Don Juan Tenorio. At the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones and place marigolds and other gifts alongside the graves of loved ones.
In Italy Festa di Tutti i Santi, is both a religious and public holiday on November 1 each year. It collectively celebrates all of the Catholic saints and is a day when people visit family and friends and exchange gifts and good will to one another. If Italians have the same name as a saint, it is a special day for them too.
In Germany the holiday is referred to as Allerheiligentag. It is a public holiday in some parts of the country. A traditional adornment found on graves is a Newweling which is a traditional candle made of two wicks of different colours (red, white, blue, yellow or green) wrapped around a cone and then burned.
German tradition is to attend church in the morning and listen to sermons centralized on the message of leading a saint-like life. Thereafter, extended families gather for a large family meal and listen for the pealing of church bells. The souls of the dead are said to walk the earth among the living, the chiming is a signal for the souls to be released from any earthly bindings. Following the meal, a procession is led to the cemetery, where the graves of loved ones are tended carefully. Often families will bring candles or lanterns as well as flowers and evergreen boughs to place on the graves. Children are given the traditional All Saints’ Day bread, Strietzel, from their godparents. The sweet braided bread is often eaten during an afternoon “Kaffee und Kuchen” party after returning from the traditional visit to family burial sites.