All Saints, All Souls, and the Faithful Departed

You’ve probably heard of All Saints' Day, and you know about Halloween, of course. But what about All Souls' Day, and All Hallows’ Eve, and All Faithful Departed? What’s the difference?

Well, November 1 is All Saints' Day, one of the principal feasts of the Episcopal Church, when the church remembers the saints, known and unknown.  It is also one of the four holy days denoted as especially appropriate for baptisms. (The others are the First Sunday after Epiphany, the  Easter Vigil, and Pentecost.)

The origins of All Saints' Day aren’t completely clear. A feast for all martyrs was observed as early as the fourth century on May 13. And Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in Rome to all saints on November 1,  while Pope Gregory IV officially declared its general observance in 837.

In medieval England this feast was known as All Hallows (hallow was an old English term for saint), and the day before was All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween. It is believed that the traditions we associate with Halloween originate with Celtic harvest festivals, in particular the festival of Samhain, which celebrated the harvest and when the dead were said to return to their homes because the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was thought to be thinnest at that time. Bonfires were lit to frighten away evil spirits.

There is an Episcopal service for All Hallows' Eve that includes prayers and readings such as "The Witch of Endor," which it may surprise you to learn is a story from the Bible (1 Samuel 28: 3-25), not Tolkien. 

November 2 is the commemoration of All Faithful Departed, sometimes called All Souls' Day. It is a day when faithful Christians who have died are remembered.

While in the New Testament “saints” refers to the entire Christian community, it has come to mean people of “heroic sanctity” whose holy deeds are remembered by Christians. Beginning in the tenth century, the church began to remember all departed Christians on November 2. Many remember their loved ones who have died on this day.

Together these three days are sometimes called Allhallowtide.