Nov 012016


Today is the Christian festival of All Saints’ Day in the West, followed by All Souls’ Day tomorrow. All Saints marks the center of the three-day holy period (a triduum) of Allhallowtide from the Eve of All Hallows to All Souls.

All Saints is an old Holy Day of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, and in many traditionally Catholic countries it is a federal holiday. In the early centuries, Christians often solemnized the anniversary of a martyr’s death at the place of martyrdom. In the 4th century, neighboring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast, as is shown by the invitation of St. Basil of Caesarea (397) to the bishops of the province of Pontus. During the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this is found in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. There is also mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407). According to Ephrem, this feast was observed at Edessa on May 13 and John Chrysostom says it was on the Sunday after Pentecost in Constantinople. As early as 411 there is in the Chaldean Calendar a “Commemoratio Confessorum” for the Friday after Easter.


On 13 May 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, and ordered a feast to be kept on the anniversary. The feast of Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. There is evidence that from the 5th to the 7th centuries there existed in certain places and at sporadic intervals a feast date on 13 May to celebrate the holy martyrs. The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world,” with the date moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed.

A festival of all the saints was widely celebrated on 1 November in the days of Charlemagne (742-814) and was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious (778-840) following an order issued originally by Pope Gregory IV (c. 795-844).

All Saints’ Day was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the Saturday between 31 October and 6 November. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. In the Church of England it is a Principal Feast and may be celebrated either on 1 November or on the Sunday between 30 October and 5 November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada, the Methodist churches and the Wesleyan Church. More generally, Protestants who are outside the episcopal framework (that is, are not hierarchical), do not celebrate All Saints Day (or saints’ days in general), but if they do they tend to remember all Christians both past and present.

In France, and throughout the Francophone world, the day is known as La Toussaint. Flowers (especially Chrysanthemums), or wreaths called ‘couronnes de toussaints’ are placed at each tomb or grave. The following day, 2 November (All Souls’ Day) is called Le jour des morts, the Day of the Dead. In Mexico, Guatemala, Portugal and Spain, offerings (Portuguese: oferendas, Spanish: ofrendas) are made on this day. In Spain and Mexico the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. All Saints’ Day in Mexico, coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) celebration. It is known as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents), and honors deceased children and infants. The following day honors adults.


Portuguese children celebrate the Pão-por-Deus tradition (also called santorinho, bolinho or fiéis de Deus) going door-to-door, where they receive cakes, nuts, pomegranates, sweets and candies. This occurs all over Portugal. Hallow-mas in the Philippines is variously called “Undás”, “Todos los Santos” (Spanish, “All Saints”), and sometimes “Araw ng mga Patay / Yumao” (Tagalog, “Day of the dead / those who have passed away”), which actually refers to the following day of All Souls’ Day but includes it. Filipinos traditionally observe this day by visiting the family dead to clean and repair their tombs. Offerings of prayers, flowers, candles, and even food are made, while Chinese Filipinos additionally burn incense and kim. Many also spend the day and ensuing night holding reunions at the graves, playing games and music, singing karaoke, and feasting.


In Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, and the state of Louisiana, people take flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In some parts of Portugal, people also light candles in the graves. In Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Catholic parts of Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Sweden, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.


In English-speaking countries, the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by Walsham How. The most familiar tune for this hymn is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This version is sweet in some ways but the phrasing is all wrong.

My mother requested it at her funeral (which we honored), so it is appropriate to include it today as well. I wish the singers in the video knew how to read music, though. The second line is clearly marked with a quarter note followed by a dotted half note putting strong emphasis on the second word of the line – not the first. Singers !!


All Saints’ Day is well known for food the world over – generally sweet things of some sort. Here in Mantua they sell dolce dei santi at pastry shops and groceries: a spicy sweet bread. In many Latin American countries and Spain they make sweets with almonds and/or coconut.

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I’m in a bit of a rush right now. I’ll try to add a proper recipe by the end of the day.  Meanwhile there’s this: It’s a google translation from Italian, so is not totally readable. I like the fact that it translates “bread (pan) of the dead” as “dead pan.” Hahahahaha !!!