What is the significance of Halloween, All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day, Day of the Dead, and Samhain?
This past week I was listening to a morning news talk show and a commentator expressed his disbelief of why people celebrate Halloween, stating that "it’s a holiday with no historical significance, it’s just a made up holiday for people to dress up and eat candy." I was really stunned by his ignorance, after all this is a person working in media who is exposed to different cultures, religions, etc. So I decided to write just a short summary explaining the significance of this holiday season to inform those who may not be aware of the reason for this holiday season.
Halloween, October 31st
Halloween' comes from 'All Hallows Eve', the Vigil of the celebration of the Christian Feast of 'All Saints'. All saints is a family Feast day when Catholics honor all those who have died (http://www.catholic.org/hf/faith/story.php?id=43471)
More than a thousand years ago in Ireland and Britain, a common custom of Christians was to come together on the eve of the feast of All Hallows Day to ask for God's blessing and protection from evil in the world. Often, they would dress in costumes of saints or evil spirits and act out the battle between good and evil around bonfires. That's the source of the modern observance of Halloween.
"All Hallows was considered a time when evil could manifest itself…there is invisible evil and invisible good. It’s an acknowledgement of that existence." (http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2013/11/days_of_the_dead_whats_the_dif.html)
All Saint’s Day, November 1st
All Saint’s Day is celebrated in honor of all the saints, known and unknown (http://www.catholic.org/saints/allsaints/) The saint’s are honored by a day of prayer, fasting and attending church.
All Soul’s Day, November 2nd
All Soul’s Day commemorates the faithful departed. The Roman Catholic celebration is associated with the doctrine that the souls of the faithful who at death have not been cleansed from the temporal punishment due to venial sins and from attachment to mortal sins cannot immediately attain the beatific vision in heaven, and that they may be helped to do so by prayer and by the sacrifice of the Mass. In other words, when they died, they had not yet attained full sanctification and moral perfection, a requirement for entrance into Heaven. This sanctification is carried out posthumously in Purgatory (http://www.catholic.org/saints/allsouls/)
All Souls' Day is a day to pray for the deceased who may be in purgatory and not yet gotten into heaven. While I was living in New Orleans, I learned that there it is customary to visit and tend to the graves of your deceased family members. The cemeteries were crowded with people looking after their ancestors by putting fresh flowers on the graves and cleaning up cemetery plots.
Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead (Spanish: Dí de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it attains the quality of a National Holiday. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl. In Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain, there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures (http://www.catholic.org/saints/day-of-the-dead/)
Means "End of Summer” and is celebrated on October 31st, or November 1st. It is one of the two "spirit-nights" each year, the other being Beltane. It is a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time, for they journey through this world on their way to the Summerlands. Originally the "Feast of the Dead" was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the "wandering dead". http://wicca.com/celtic/akasha/samhainlore.htm