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All Saints Day

All Saints Day 2017 and 2018

All Saints Day occurs on 1 November and is meant to honour and remember those deemed by the Catholic Church to have attained sainthood. In 2017, All Saints Day falls on a Wednesday.

YearDateDayHolidayStates
20171 NovWedAll Saints' DayBW, BY, NW, RP & SL
20181 NovThuAll Saints' DayBW, BY, NW, RP & SL
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The holiday is also known as “All Hallows,” the preceding day, 31 October, being “All Hallows Eve” (Halloween). The following day, 2 November, is known as “All Souls Day” and is a day to remember those souls still in Purgatory, which have not yet attained to the “beatific vision of Heaven.”

The date of All Saints Day derives from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was introduced into Germany from Britain. However, both the Germans and the Romans already had celebrations similar to Samhain, which was a day of appeasing the spirits of the dead. Thus, though the date is of Celtic origin, according to many at least, the idea of the ancient pagan holiday was widespread.

When All Saints Day was placed on the date of Samhain, the pagan observance “retreated” to the day before and “became” Halloween. Samhain gave rise to the practice in Germany of lighting large bon fires on Halloween in honour of the “Lord of the Dead.” It was not until around 1990, however, that the large-scale observance of Halloween was introduced into Germany from U.S. military bases.

Traditionally, liturgical readings in Catholic churches for All Saints Day begin on the evening of October 31st. In Germany, some Protestant churches also participate, though they adjust the services somewhat since all Christians are “saints” in Protestant theology and there is no belief in Purgatory.

In Bavaria, the whole span from 30 October to 8 November is observed as All Souls Week and is thought to be a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is much “thinner” than normal. In general, however, it is only the triduum from 31October till 2 November that is observed.

All Saints Day traditions in Germany include placing lit candles or small lamps on the graves of deceased relatives. People also decorate the graves with fir-branch and pine-cone wreathes and lay floral arrangements on the grave sites. After a somber sermon in a village church, it is common for a procession with congregants carrying such lamps to move out into the church graveyard to decorate the graves. At home, families gather together for large meals, and next morning, on All Souls Day, mass is attended again and prayers are made for the dead.

Lutheran churches have not recognised All Saints Day nor All Souls Day from the time of the Reformation, but they have “replaced” it with “Totensonntag,” meaning “Sunday of the Dead.” This day is made concurrent with Reformation Day and generally falls on 31 October. Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God will be sung, the history of the Reformation recalled, and the names of congregation members who passed away in the previous year are called out publicly. Later in the service, all church members and all saints will be remembered as well.