All Saints Day and All Souls Day across the globe


All Saints Day and All Souls Day both have Christian roots. The exact origin of the Feast of All Saints is not known but the commemoration of saints began in different churches after the legalization of Christianity.  According to a historian, Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) designated Nov.1 as the official date of the Feast of All Saints.  At present, Catholics gather in church on All Saints Day to commemorate all Blessed Saints.

The Feast of All Saints led to the observance of All Souls Day, independent of the elements of paganism and Halloween. The Church encouraged the Catholics to offer prayers for the souls of the faithful departed in Purgatory. During the early Church days, names of the faithful departed were posted in Church so that the mass goers can include them in their prayers.  In time, Nov. 2 was decreed as the Feast of All Souls for the entire Church.

For other cultures that do not celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day, they have Halloween instead.

Traditions that remember and honor the dead vary all over the world. Here are some global traditions that spark interest.

In the Philippines, Undas (All Saints Day) and Todos los Santos (All Souls Day) are highly celebrated holidays. Many Pinoys head to their hometowns to pay respect and offer prayers for their departed loved ones. It became a tradition for Filipinos to observe All Souls Day a day early by going to cemeteries on Nov. 1 instead of the actual day, which is Nov 2.

Graves of deceased relatives are cleaned, repainted, and repaired (if needed) ahead of time. Cemeteries become one big picnic ground. Aside from flowers and candles, people also bring food and drinks. Many enterprising Pinoys take advantage of the crowd by selling different merchandise. If one didn’t know better, one might think it’s a festival of sorts.

all souls days

In Spain, one of the traditions during the Feast of All Saints is the staging of the play of Don Juan Tenorio, written by José Zorrilla. The final act features Don Juan’s choice between salvation or hell.  The atmosphere during All Souls Day is similar to the Philippines. People visit cemeteries and adorn graves with flowers.  Traffic also becomes a major issue.  Merchants selling candles, food, drinks and other things line up the streets.

In Austria, people take flowers to the graves of dead relatives.  It has also been a tradition of some people to place bread, water and a lighted lamp on their tables before sleeping on Hallow’s Eve.  These offerings are meant to welcome the dead souls when they visit.

In Mexico, All Saints Day and Díde los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents), also known as Díde los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) both falls on Nov. 1.

It is a day of remembering infants and children who have passed away. Nov. 2 is designated as Díde los Muertos or Díde los Difuntos (Day of the Dead). People go to cemeteries to visit their departed loved ones and give ofrendas (offerings). They make private altars and offer flowers, food, sweets, drinks and other favorite things of the departed. Toys are offered for dead children while bottles of tequila are offered for departed adults. Ofrendas are also left in homes as welcoming gifts to encourage the souls of their beloved to visit and feel how much they are loved. In the streets of Mexico, you’ll find miniature skeletons in colorful traditional costumes being sold in the market.

In China, flowers, food and drinks are placed in front of photographs of deceased family. The Chinese believe that the souls of their loved ones can also partake in the simple feast. Incense sticks are lighted for the souls. The spirits are also guided by lighting bonfires and lanterns.  Filipino-Chinese in the Philippines, offer paper houses, cars, Chinese money, and other material possessions to their departed loved one’s tomb in the hope that they become prosperous in the afterlife.

In Japan, they celebrate the Obon Festival, also called Matsuri or Urabon  in July or August. The Japanese believe that the souls of their deceased family return to the places where they were born. Relatives offer special dishes and light candles which they put in lanterns. The lanterns are set afloat in the water to guide the spirits of the departed.

In Poland, Dzień Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints Day) and Dzień Zaduszny (All Souls Day) are considered important Polish holidays. Polish visit cemeteries and bring flowers and candles in colorful glass jars. They also pay respects to the graves of important Poles and military tombs.

In Germany, Catholics honor their dead by visiting graves. Germans have this tradition of hiding knives from October 30 to November 8 in order to protect visiting souls from getting hurt by everyday knife movements.

In Czech Republic, the people bring flowers and candles to cemeteries. It is a custom to place a chair for each dead relative by the fireside.  

In Italy, All Saints Day, also known as Festa di Tutti i Santi, is a religious and public holiday. People honor the Catholic saints. People visit their family and friends to exchange gifts and spread good will. It has been a custom for many families to make bean-shaped cakes which they refer to as Beans of the Dead. In the southern part of Italy, families prepare a feast for the departed before going to mass.  Homes are left open because Italians believe that the souls of the departed will come and share the feast with them.

In the United States, All Souls Day is not a public holiday but many Christians visit the graves of their loved ones to offer candles and prayers.  Some cities have Day of the Dead parades, festivals and celebrations.


Photos: "All Souls Day" by editor. Some Rights Reserved;  Skeleton and hats!” by Leonora Enking, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved; Graveside Candles” by Chris RubberDragon, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.


Rachel Yapchiongco, also known as Rach to her friends, is a Psychology and Marketing Management graduate of De La Salle University.  Rachel is a full-time mom to a charming young boy and married to an entrepreneur who has a passion for cooking. She shares parenting experiences and slices of everyday life on her personal blog calledHeart of Rachel.



Write Comment

Security code