HISTORY OF ALL SOUL’S DAY: DAY OF THE DEAD
November 2 is All Soul’s Day or Day of the Dead. As I mentioned previously in my article on the History of Halloween, Allhallowstide includes these three holidays:
- October 31: All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween)
- November 1: All Hallows’ Day (All Saints’ Day, Feast of All Hallows, Hallowmas)
- November 2: All Soul’s Day
What’s the Difference Between these Holidays?
- Halloween: we have already discussed this at length.
- All Saints’ Day: commemorated those perished saints and martyrs (from the Greek word “witness” who died in persecution) who are now in Heaven.
- All Soul’s Day: is a day of prayer — especially in the Roman Catholic church — for the souls of believers in Purgatory, who await having their souls purged of sin.
This holiday was not celebrated before the Middle Ages. All Soul’s Day is observed worldwide by Catholics and Anglicans but not so much by other less-liturgical Protestant churches. Lutherans, especially in Europe, merged it with All Saints’ Day and tidied and decorated graves.
Anglicans also see it as an extension of All Saint’s Day as a commemoration to “remember those who have died” and is an optional observance. During the English Reformation, observance lapsed and now serves as a reminder of the resurrection from the dead. Methodist churches also observe it as an extension of All Saints’ Day.
Why is there a Difference between liturgical Catholic and Anglican churches and other Protestant churches?
The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches support prayer for the dead by referencing 2 Maccabees 12:45, from the Apocrypha.
The Roman Catholic church officially added the Apocrypha to their Bible at the Council of Trent (1545-1563 A.D.) to counter the Protestant Reformation.
Most Protestants consider the Apocrypha deuterocanonical, not part of the biblical canon of Scripture, and do not pray for the dead.
Mexican influence of Day of the Dead
In the late 20th century, Dia de Muertos, or Dia de Los Muertos, became popular in more extensive parts of Mexico than just the central and southern parts of the country, migrating to the north and in parts of the U.S. with Mexican immigrants.
“The Day of the Dead,” a public holiday in Mexico, honors the dead, especially children, and harkens back to pre-Columbian indigenous traditions across Mexico and some parts of Latin America, Spain, Italy, and the Philippines.
Celebrated initially during the beginning of Summer before the 16th-century colonization by Spain, it has become syncretized in modern times with the days from October 31 through November 2. It is traditionally celebrated on November 1 and 2.
Even Google Doodles refers to the Day of the Dead.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian