All Saints Day: East and West

All Saints Day is a Christian feast. Traditionally, people celebrate on October 31 – November 1. The aim of this holiday is to mention all saints, pray for them and thank them for all they did for us. Usually, it is an official day off in most Christian countries. Despite the long history and enormous popularity of the feast, there are a lot of differences in celebrating and meaning of the holiday in different countries, especially from the East to the West.


Eastern tradition honors all saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The implementation of the feast was connected with the name of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI "the Wise." Historians claim that Leo wanted to dedicate a new-built church to his wife, who had died. Having received a ban from the government, he said that he would built that church to honor all saints. It should be mentioned that his wife was also righteous and considered to be holy. Thus, All Saints Day helped Leo to honor the memory of his wife. Furthermore, Leo expanded the meaning of the holiday. Now it is the feast of all saints and the dead, not only martyrs. You can hear solemn hymns on this day. They mention and glory all saints, for instance, "All Saints of America," "All Saints of Mount Athos," etc. Further, each town mentions its local saints and glorifies them.


People celebrate All Saints Day on 1 November in the West. The following day is All Souls’ Day. All Saints Day dates back to the 7th century when Pope Boniface IV started to honor the Virgin and all martyrs on May 13. Some people argue that the feast has pagan roots and is a production of the Feast of the Lemures, which had the same date and similar theme of honoring dead. Nevertheless, now we celebrate All Saints Day on November 1 thanks to Pope Gregory III who changed the time of the feast in the 8th century. Perhaps, it was an attempt to break with pagan tradition. However, the date of November 1 was also the time for the Celtic holiday of Samhain.


Ways of honoring this day depend on countries and their traditions. For instance, Mexico honors all dead infants and children; Spain organizes the performances of Don Juan Tenorio; Portugal traditionally opens doors for children who ask for cakes, sweets, etc. The Philippines has two traditions. The first is to honor all saints by praying, lighting candles, etc. The second, which is becoming more popular now, is to sing songs, play music, use fireworks, etc. Other countries in America and Eastern Europe usually celebrate All Saints Day visiting cemeteries and putting candles and flowers on the graves, praying for their relatives and singing traditional pious songs and hymns.