November 2 is All Souls’ Day, also know as Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. It is a day originally dedicated to praying for the deceased who are trapped in Purgatory in an effort to help them move on in the afterlife. It has since evolved into a day for honoring and remembering all those dearly departed.
The day was first celebrated during the Easter season around Pentacost, and was later moved to follow All Saints’ Day which honors all those faithful in heaven on November 1. All Souls’ Day was instituted on November 2 sometime in the tenth century by Abbot Odilo in a monastery in Cluny to pray for those poor souls in Purgatory. It soon became a popular tradition and spread throughout the Christian world. It wasn’t until Medieval times when Europeans began to combine All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day that records of many traditions that have come into existence were recorded. Though All Souls’ Day has primarily become known as a Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox holy day in which formal masses are held, it is still informally celebrated by some Protestants.
Two plenary indulgences are usually attached to All Souls’ Day, and they are visiting a church and visiting a cemetery. The prayer and almsgiving efforts of those observing All Souls’ Day in this way are performed by the living, but the merits of these indulgences are applicable to the souls in Purgatory.
Veneration of dead ancestors has been a custom practiced worldwide through different events like the Chinese Ghost Festival, the Japanese Bon Festival, the Roman Lemuria or the Mexican Day of the Dead. It is believed by some that the origin of All Souls’ Day in European folklore came about through the practice of these customs.
The Mexican Day of the Dead can be traced back to Aztecs and other pre-Hispanic civilizations, 3000 years ago. Skulls were collected for rituals to represent rebirth and death. Known as “Dia de los Muertos” to Latin communities, Day of the Dead is one of the more prominent All Souls’ Day celebrations in America due to the parades, festivals, and other large gatherings Latin American communities participate in. These festivities are often marked by the elaborate costumes, make-up, and skull face paint known to adorn the celebrators. They also make elaborate decorations and altars or ofrendas at home to honor their lost loved ones. Offerings in the form of flowers (traditionally orange Mexican marigolds), food (shaped or decorated to mimic symbols of death), candles, and other gifts are often placed on altars or graves of the deceased. It is a widely popular belief that on this day, the dead return to earth to visit their families and friends. A door or window is often left open for the dead, and some even leave extra plates at their dinner tables for the deceased.
No matter how you choose to celebrate All Souls’ Day, it is meant to be a celebration and remembrance of the life and death of those we have lost.