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All Souls’ Day: Traditions, Legends, And Beliefs

Do you believe in ghosts? Did you know there’s an actual holiday a few days after Halloween that’s dedicated to honoring the faithfully departed? While such a day might sound spooky, this day—All Souls’ Day, November 2nd—has little to do with scary things and nightmares. It’s a Christian holiday when the living remember our beloved deceased family and friends. (All Souls’ is not to be confused with All Saints’ Day—the Holy Day on November 1st when the Church honors its saints and martyrs).

What Is All Souls’ Day?

It was during the Middle Ages that Christianity came to England and Ireland. As it became more widespread, its traditions started to blend with the Pagan traditions of the Celtics, and in 1000 A.D., a new holiday was born. The Christian church created All Souls’ Day, which adopted some of the Celtic traditions of Samhain—a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the “darker half” of the year. Celebrations also included masquerades and bonfire celebrations.

Connection To Halloween?

Some of the early All Souls’ Day traditions were for poor people to go door-to-door among the homes of wealthy families who would give out soul cakes (small, sweet cakes spiced with cinnamon) and ask that the recipient prays for the souls of the family’s deceased relatives. This new tradition was called souling, and as the years went on, it became an activity not for adults, but for children. Children who went out on All Souls’ Day would go door-to-door asking for treats like money, food, and drink. Today, we know this as “trick-or-treating.”

Celebrating in Silence

An open old book with a white oval candle on top and flowers.

Today, a popular way to celebrate All Souls’ Day is with prayer. Masses are often offered for the benefit of the dead, and many churches have the custom of asking parishioners to write the names of their lost loved ones in a book called the “Book of the Dead” or “Book of Remembrance.” These names are remembered during all masses and church services celebrated during the month of November.

Other All Souls’ Day customs include cleaning and visiting gravesites and decorating cemeteries with lighted candles. Some families even cook their loved one’s favorite meal and place it on their graves.

All Souls’ Day Beliefs, Legends, Lore

When it comes to All Souls’ Day, people of faith around the world hold extraordinary beliefs and traditions about spirits on this day:

  • In the Mexican culture, All Souls’ Day is known as Día de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. It is believed that the dead are still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit, and during the Day of the Dead, they temporarily return to Earth.

The 2017 animated movie, Coco, depicted the Día de los Muertos traditions.

  • According to Hungarian tradition, all work and housework is forbidden on All Souls’ Day. It is seen as disrespectful to the dead, and it is believed that any work done will be sabotaged by them.
  • According to a superstition from the Philippines: When it rains on All Souls’ Day, the raindrops are tears of the dead.
  • Many cultures decorate with candlelight because they believe it warms the dead and helps souls find their way back to their graves at the end of All Souls’ Day.
  • According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, Catholics can shorten the time a soul spends in purgatory (a place where souls are purified before entering heaven) by visiting a church and praying the Our Father and the Creed on All Souls’ Day.

Do you participate in any All Souls’ Day celebrations? Tell us in the comments below.

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Melissa Goff

I want to start his celebration this day. Any help to start would help

Kurt Aust

We’re starting a new tradition in our house, thanks for the info.

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