Halloween is over, but holidays commemorating the dead aren’t. Día de Muertos is happening right now, and on November 2nd, Catholics will observe All Souls’ Day.
All Souls’ Day is celebrated by Catholics around the world, as well as a few other Christian denominations. It follows the holiday of All Saints’ Day on November 1. On All Saints’ Day, believers celebrate all saints and martyrs in Christian history, both the known and the unknown. On All Souls’ Day, believers remember and pray for the souls of people in Purgatory — where the faithful who have died repent for their sins before going to Heaven.
According to the BBC, Odilo, Abbot of Cluny first designated All Souls’ Day in the year 998. While Christians had always prayed for the dead, this time, there was a specific day dedicated to remembrance and prayer. The fact that it falls so close to Halloween is no accident: according to History.com, it’s widely believed that church officials chose the dates for both All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in an attempt to replace Samhain, a Celtic festival that took place on November 1. The evening before All Saints’ Day became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.
All Souls Day coincides with Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrations in Mexico and some other Latin American countries. This alignment, again, is no accident: Día de Muertos has its roots in a monthlong summer festival celebrated by indigenous Aztecs, but Spanish invaders moved the festival to synchronize with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Unlike Easter and Christmas, All Souls’ Day is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics, so believers aren’t required to attend Mass. If they choose, they can spend time in prayer. They may also visit loved ones’ graves, leaving flowers, lighting prayer candles, or sprinkling holy water. If All Souls’ Day falls on a Sunday, priests may incorporate special prayers into the regular Sunday Mass.
In a homily on All Souls’ Day in 2018, Pope Francis said, “Today is a day of memory that takes us back to our roots. It is also a day of hope. It reminds us of what we can expect: the hope of encountering the love of the Father.”
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