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All Saints' Day, Halloween and All Souls' Day: What's the difference?

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Purgatory, candy, honoring the dead and costumes?

Everyone knows how to celebrate Halloween -with costumes, candy and horror movies, right? Well, that isn't wrong but it isn't the entire story either. What about All Saints' Day or All Souls' Day? 

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Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (CovenofMercury/Photobucket).

Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (CovenofMercury/Photobucket).

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Let's start with Halloween. We all know trick-or-treaters ask for candy door-to-door in costumes ranging from adorable to frightening, but the holiday does not have roots in either candy or costumes.


Long ago in Ireland and Britain, Christians would come together on All Hallows Eve to ask for God's blessing and protection from the evil in the world. The source of the modern celebrations stemmed from the donning of saintly and evil spirit costumes to act out the battle between good and evil.

Tasty Halloween candy ready to be handed out.


According to dictionary.com, the word "Halloween" is a "direct derivation of All Saints Day" with "All Hallows" in Old English meaning "the feast of the saints."

"Halloween" has also been translated to "Eve of All Hallows," which was a holy day celebrating the day before All Saints Day, that Reverend Richard Donohoe, the vicar of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Birmingham, described as "a celebration of the communion of saints, those people we believe are in heaven, through good works and God's grace." All Saints' Day is celebrated the first day of November while All Souls' Day is celebrated November 2.

Candles burning on a grave in Hungary to mark All Saints Day.


All Saints' Day is a day Catholics offer prayers to those in purgatory. Reverend Donohoe said, "All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day are related, but they are two separate celebrations. On All Saints' Day there's a call to live as saints, to remind us how we're supposed to live. On All Souls' Day, we're talking about all souls and asking God's mercy for them.

"We're talking about those people who have died before us, and their process of getting to heaven, through Christ ... It has its roots all the way back to the fourth century." It is on this day that the Book of the Dead is opened to allow parishioners to write the names of relatives to be remembered.

Campo Verano cemetery.


Reverend Donohoe described that the book is "placed near the altar" and "That's done all through November. It's an All Souls' tradition..."

All Souls' Day is a commemoration of the faithfully departed and is observed primarily in the Catholic Church. Its origins date back to European folklore related to customs of veneration practiced worldwide through evens like the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) or the Chinese Ghost Festival.


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To remember the departed, many cultures prepare meals for the souls of the dead, light candles or leave flowers on relatives' graves and some anoint tombstones with holy water or pour milk over them.


All Souls' day is celebrated November second and if that day happens to fall on a Sunday, the Mass is of All Souls and Morning and Evening Prayer (Lauds and Vespers) for the Dead can be said while people participate.

Each celebration touches on cultural beliefs about the spirit world, honoring the dead and feasts, so when you celebrate Halloween this year remember to prepare for All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day as well.

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