Years ago when I was going to Cowansville High School we would get a free morning pass to attend All Saints Day services at our local churches. The reality of it all was a lot of us were tired from Halloween night and it was a good way to be “out of focus” for an hour or two. While the drone of the minister’s voice carried through Trinity Anglican Church, there were some fast asleep in the back seats.
ALL SAINTS’ DAY, observed by all Catholics and in recent years by many Protestants, honours all the unknown saints who by reason of their obscurity do not have days of their own in the Christian calendar. The day was established early In the seventh century by Pope Boniface IV. Originally it was set for May 1, but in 834 it was changed to Nov. 1.
This change in dates brings up some interesting speculation. The best known feature of All Saints’ Day is not the day itself but the evening that precedes it: Halloween. People who have no idea of what All Saints’ Day is about are probably the most active of the Halloween revellers. The strange fact is that all the typical Halloween pranks were happening on Oct. 31 long before there was an All Saints’ Day, even before Christianity.
During the day in years past entire cities shut down. Vendors selling food, flowers and black glass wreathes lined the streets near cemeteries. Crowds gathered to visit their dead and each other. This wood engraving below by John Durkin published in Harper’s Weekly in November 1885 is no doubt an apt depiction of the holy day celebration.
The best known feature of All Saints’ Day is not the day itself but the evening that precedes it: Halloween. People who have no idea of what All Saints’ Day is about are probably the most active of the Halloween revellers. The strange fact is that all the typical Halloween pranks were happening on Oct. 31 long before there was an All Saints’ Day, even before Christianity. SCHOLARS say that back in the time of the Druids, Nov. 1 was the feast of Saman.
It was the day on which Saman called up the souls of all the departed. Naturally, the idea got about that the dead would begin to appear at midnight, when the day actually began, and since no one likes the prospect of facing a ghost alone people soon developed the custom of gathering together in groups on this fearful night. And once they were in one another’s reassuring company there wag no reason why they should not enjoy themselves. The new crop of apples and nuts was readily available. Perhaps a little cider had been brought to just the right condition for the occasion. And there was the long night ahead, for certainly no one dared relax and go to sleep.
The setup was, of course, perfect for the village pranksters, with most of the population huddled behind locked doors, convinced that ghosts and goblins were running wild outside, what practical joker could miss such a chance to’ create a chaos which, when discovered next day. would be blamed on the spirits ? But to come back to the question. All this started a long, long time before All Saints’ Day. When All Saints’ Day was put into the Christian calendar on May 1, six months away from the night of ghosts and goblins, why wasn’t it left there? Was it moved to Nov. 1 in one of the church’s typical efforts to Christianize a pagan revel? Probably that is the reason, but history is not clear about it.
Incidentally, there is an old Scottish belief that anyone who is born on All Saints’ Eve will have “double sight.” That is he will be able to see the spirit world about him and have command over the spirits he sees.