All Saints' Day
All Saints' Day is a Christian holy day observed by many Western churches on November 1 and by Eastern churches on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
The Feast of All Saints is a holy day of the Church honoring all saints, known and unknown. This is much like the American holidays Veterans Day and Presidents Day, where many people are honored on one day. While we have information about many saints, and we honor them on specific days, there are many unknown or unsung saints, who may have been forgotten, or never been specifically honored. On All Saints Day, we celebrate these saints of the Lord, and ask for their prayers and intercessions. The whole concept of All Saints Day is tied in with the concept of the Communion of Saints. This is the belief that all of God's people, on heaven, earth, and in the state of purification (called Purgatory in the West), are connected in a communion. In other words, Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that the saints of God are just as alive as you and I, and are constantly interceding on our behalf. Remember, our connection with the saints in heaven is one grounded in a tight-knit communion. The saints are not divine, nor omnipresent or omniscient. However, because of our common communion with and through Jesus Christ, our prayers are joined with the heavenly community of Christians.
The Catholic Catechism concisely describes this communion among believers, by which we are connected to Christ.
There are thousands of canonized saints, that is, those individuals officially recognized by the Church as holy men and women worthy of imitation. Because miracles have been associated with these people, and their lives have been fully examined and found holy by the Church, we can be assured they are prime examples of holiness, and powerful intercessors before God on our behalf. There are also many patron saints, guardians or protectors of different areas and states of life. For instance, St. Vitus is the patron saint against oversleeping, and St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of air travelers. It may sound crazy to have a patron saint against oversleeping, but keep in mind the Church has something meaningful for every area of our human lives. All of these saints are celebrated throughout the year, as many have their own feast days. Christians have been honoring their saints and martyrs since at least the second century AD.
Initially the calendars of saints and martyrs varied from location to location and many times local churches honored local saints. However, gradually feast days became more universal. The first All Saints' Day occurred on May 13, 609 (C.E.) when Pope Boniface IV accepted the Pantheon as a gift from the Emperor Phocas. Boniface dedicated it as the Church of Santa Maria Rotonda in honor of the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs. During Pope Gregory III's reign (731-741), the festival was expanded to include all saints and a chapel in St. Peter's church was dedicated accordingly. Pope Gregory IV officially designated the day in 837.
The vigil of the Feast (the eve) has grown up in the English speaking countries as a festival in itself, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. While many consider Halloween pagan (and in many instances the celebrations are for many), as far as the Church is concerned the date is simply the eve of the feast of All Saints. Many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast's vigils we mock evil, because as Christians, it has no real power over us. However, for some Halloween is used for evil purposes, in which many Christians dabble unknowingly.
Various customs have developed related to Halloween. In the Middle Ages, poor people in the community begged for "soul cakes," and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls. This is the root of our modern day "trick-or-treat." The custom of masks and costumes developed to mock evil and perhaps confuse the evil spirits by dressing as one of their own. Some Christians visit cemeteries on Halloween, not to practice evil, but to commemorate departed relatives and friends, with picnics and the last flowers of the year. The day after All Saints day is called All Soul's Day, a day to remember and offer prayers up on behalf of all of the faithful departed. In many cultures it seems the two days share many customs.