All Saints' Day
The tradition of All Saints' Day is a primarily Catholic one, falling on November 1st. It is a festival celebrating the saints of the Church—those who have attained heaven. It is followed by All Souls’ Day on November 2nd, which is dedicated to those who have died, but have not yet reached heaven. In essence, it’s about giving thanks for the lives and deaths of the aforementioned saints.
The holiday is usually celebrated by a rendition of “For All the Saints,” a hymn by Walsham How, which is sung during a worship service. In Europe, the day is also commemorated with offerings of flowers and candles on the graves of the dead.
But this holiday has roots that dig deeply, down below the Christian topsoil and down into the rocks of Paganism below.
The Pagan holiday of Samhain, came before the advent of All Saints' Day, and was celebrated by the ancient Celts. It had many themes in common with All Saints' Day, most notably the connection and celebration of the dead.
Over time, old Celtic festivals were gradually Christianized by the encroaching Church in the 800s AD, and the Samhain link to the dead became a Catholic link to the saints. At this time, it was celebrated in a similar way to Samhain, with huge bonfires and parades and costumes.
Today, the holiday has been mostly scrubbed of its Pagan origins, but hints of Samhain can still be seen in the essence of the holiday.