Halloween is sometimes called All Hallows Eve, which literally translated from the Old English means the day preceding the feast of the most “holy” people in Western Christianity: saints. The Nov. 1 holiday is followed by All Souls Day, on which Christians pray for those who have died.

Halloween is sometimes called All Hallows Eve, which literally translated from the Old English means the day preceding the feast of the most “holy” people in Western Christianity: saints. The Nov. 1 holiday is followed by All Souls Day, on which Christians pray for those who have died.


When did the celebration of All Saints Day begin? There were feasts honoring martyrs as early as the fourth century, but most trace the start of All Saints Day to the early seventh century, www.americancatholic.com says. Pope Boniface IV, reacting to the plundering of the catacombs where early Christians were buried, gathered 28 wagonloads of bones and re-interred them beneath the Pantheon in Rome. He essentially took a Roman temple to the gods and rededicated it to the memory of saints, the website says.


How did the feast day come to be celebrated on Nov. 1? It was likely tied to the Catholic Church’s expansion into Celtic areas, says Lisa Derrick, an editor for Sacred History magazine. “The Roman Catholics were especially good at converting, so with the expansion of the Holy Roman Empire into the Celtic areas, the church figured it was easier to create Catholic holidays and overlay them onto Celtic ones,” Derrick says.


How did All Souls Day on Nov. 2 emerge from this? “Since the Catholics had to cope with a festival of the dead among the people they were trying to convert and conquer, what better way than to come up with their own festival of the dead and add an extra day, too, celebrating first the super holy dead – the saints – and then the everyday faithful?” Derrick says.


Why is Dia de los Muertos – “Day of the Dead” – so prominent in Latin American countries, particularly Mexico? It was a similar case of missionaries trying to convert people to Catholicism, Derrick says. The veneration of the dead was deeply integrated into the Latin culture, and Catholics simply joined their beliefs to those that already existed, she says. In Mexico and other parts of Central and South America, however, Nov. 1 is the “Day of the Innocents,” a feast day for children who have died. It’s followed by the Day of the Dead on Nov. 2, when deceased loved ones are celebrated and altars to their memories built. Skulls play a prominent role in the celebrations, Derrick says, because “the idea is underneath the flesh we are skulls; it is only our external trappings that define us.”