Calling the Saints to Remembrance: Turn Grief into Joy!

Janis Hunt Johnson
6 min readNov 3, 2019
Ernesto Rodríguez — Pixabay

Halloweekend and All the Saints

The ancient Celts over two millennia ago celebrated their New Year, Samhain, on November 1st, which meant that “All Hallow’s Eve” started the night before. When the harvest was done, community bonfires were lit and the partying went on for three days, or in some cases for a whole week. Since it was believed that the world of the dead could open up to the living during this time, offerings were left out for ancestors. People dressed up as beasts and monsters to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.

In the 7th century, the Pope established the first Sunday after Pentecost as a day to commemorate Christian martyrs; about 200 years later, Pope Gregory III decided to add in all the saints, moving the feast day to November 1st so as to line up with the Celtic holiday — calling it All Saints’ Day. Later, November 2nd was designated All Souls’ Day, to honor all the dead.

In the 19th century, when America welcomed many Irish immigrants, of course they brought their traditions with them, and the Halloween we know started to take hold in the United States. This year, with Halloween falling on a Thursday, we’ve had the opportunity to celebrate from Thursday to Sunday, just like the Irish ancients, culminating with All Saints’ Sunday services — which many Catholics and Protestants will participate in on November 3rd. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It’s no surprise then, that when Spaniards came into Mexico and Central America in the 16th century, they brought their version of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day with them — and the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans soon conjured from their 3000-year-old culture El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).

The Academy Award–winning Disney Pixar film Coco contains a marvelous portrayal of contemporary Mexico’s rich customs surrounding this dazzling holiday. According to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened so that the spirits of the dead can reunite with their loved ones for 24 hours. In the film, young Miguel takes a spectacular journey to the magical land of his ancestors, where he discovers a secret about his family that changes everything. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you; just watch…

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Janis Hunt Johnson

Author, 5 Smooth Stones: Our Power to Heal Without Medicine through the Science of Prayer. Transformational Editor. From Chicago to L.A., now in Pacific NW.