Christian, Wiccan: ‘Soulful’ holidays remember the departed

A Day of the Dead windown paintingTUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2: It’s a trio of soul-centered holidays today and tomorrow for Christians and Wiccans: All Saints’ Day, Samhain and All Souls’ Day.

Remembering loved ones who have left the earth, these three holidays follow in the wake of another day devoted to departed souls—All Hallows Eve. Of course, these days aren’t marked in solemnity by everyone: In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is marked with elaborate folk art, colorful ceremonies and plenty of food. (Cook up authentic Day of the Dead recipes, courtesy of FoxNews.) And, among Mexican descendants living in the U.S., many families still try to plan a picnic near loved ones’ graves. Many families bring special adornments to gravesites today.


Each year, millions of Christians remember both saints of the past—and men and women they have lost in the past year—on All Saints’ Day. In many churches nationwide, names of the departed are read aloud with accompanying symbols: sometimes the ringing of bells or the placing of a flower or candle. Special prayers are shared and, in some congregations, processions are planned. NOTE: Many churches have moved All Saints Sunday to November 6, this year so that more churchgoing families can participate.

One of the central practices that united the ancient Christian church was remembrance of the dead, especially true during periods of persecution in which congregations kept memories of martyrs alive. (Details are at Wikipedia.) The earliest form of the All Saints’ Day feast was known as the Feast of All Martyrs, beginning sometime in the 4th century; the date changed to Nov. 1 when Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in the basilica of St. Peter to all saints on Nov. 1, during the 8th century. (Learn more from AmericanCatholic.)

Looking for a way for your family to remember the Church’s history of saints? Many people are named after saints. Ask family members to tell the stories of their names. (Get more ideas from Women for Faith and Family.)


Samhain luminariesWiccans also recognize departed souls on Nov. 1, as part of the ancient Gaelic harvest festival, Samhain.

The ancient festival fell on Oct. 31 and Nov.1, but most Pagans mark it on Nov. 1 now because of Halloween. (Learn more from Wikipedia, the BBC or

In embracing the “darker half” of the year, Pagans and Wiccans light bonfires, leave food for deceased ancestors on home altars and make predictions for the future, as they have long believed the “veil” between this world and the next is lifted at this unique time.


Christians start making things more personal on Nov. 2, as they visit loved ones’ graves and remember departed family members on All Souls’ Day. (FishEaters has today’s Catholic recipes, readings and more.) Protestants may not know much about this practice, but it remains part of the Catholic liturgical year. Catholic teaching holds that those who left this world as the faithful departed—but have not yet cleansed their souls of venial or mortal sins—can be aided in their ascension to Heaven from Purgatory through the prayers of mortals on earth.

Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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