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All Saints Day

All Saints Day 2017 and 2018

All Saints Day is a religious, primarily Roman Catholic, festival that is celebrated in many Catholic countries in Germany.

YearDateDayHolidayStates
20171 NovWedAll Saints' DayBW, BY, NW, RP & SL
20181 NovThuAll Saints' DayBW, BY, NW, RP & SL

It occurs on November 1st and is meant to honour and remember those deemed by the Catholic Church to have attained full sainthood in Heaven. The holiday is also known as “All Hallows,” the preceding day, October 31st, being “All Hallows Eve” (Halloween). The following day, November 2nd, 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, November 1st, 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 October 30th to November 8th 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 October 31st till November 2nd 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 gravesites. 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 October 31st. 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.

If you visit Germany on or near All Saints Day, particularly in Catholic-majority areas, some activities you may wish to take part in include:

  • On Halloween, there are now many Haunted Medieval Castles and Witches Fairs to visit, and many amusement parks have “horror night.” “Horror foods” like severed fingers made of frankfurters, almond and onion fingernails, and ketchup blood. Also look for eyeballs made of cherry tomatoes filled with white cheese and black olives and for “Halloween cheese” infused with pumpkin and ginger flavouring.
  • On All Saints Day itself, there is a famous annual fair in Soest that has been running for seven centuries. At the local church of St. Peter’s, a gigantic, multi-day festival occurs. This is the largest fair of its kind in all of Europe.
  • If in Munich on All Saints Day, most shops and businesses will be closed. However, the Munich Main Railway Station will have many tourist shops open, including delicious eateries. As this station is one of the largest in all Germany and is open 365 days a year, you will find plenty of opportunities for shopping and dining there.

By visiting Germany for All Saints Day, you can see how Catholic and some Protestant Germans keep this very religious holiday. You can also see the recently created German Halloween traditions on the day before. While many businesses close down for All Saints Day, there will be plenty of tourist stops and German restaurants still open.