Do you know what happens when we die? This is one of those questions that haunts us all. Death is a universal truth, and a part of life we won't have answers to until death inevitably takes us into its sweet embrace. Still, despite our lack of knowledge, there are many traditions out there geared around our loved ones needing our help and prayers in the afterlife. All Souls' Day, also known as Feast of All Souls & Day of Remembrance, is a holiday created by Catholics for just that purpose. All Souls' Day was originally created by Catholic & Orthodox Christians in an attempt to absorb Samhain & similar festivals of the dead. It later became intertwined with the Pagan holidays that honor the dead.
November 1st became a holy obligation in the Catholic Church as a time to pray for all the dead & to ask for intercession, or prayer on behalf, of the dead that ascended to heaven. In Catholic tradition these prayers were necessary because they believed that some souls went to purgatory, which is an afterlife neither in heaven nor hell, where souls had to work out their issues before moving on.
Catholic & Orthodox Christians observe these holidays with great ceremonies. Some denominations split the observance into two holidays. November 1st became known as All Saints' Day and November 2nd as All Souls' Day. All Souls' Day is for those who may have some sins to work off in purgatory. All Saints' Day is for those who are believed to be blissfully in heaven.
Observances for this great holiday of remembrance are many and include prayers for the dearly departed with bell tolling meant to comfort those being cleansed. All Souls' Day is celebrated in many European countries with vigils, lighting candles to share light for the poor souls languishing in the darkness, & decorating graves. Another custom widely practiced is leaving cakes for departed loved ones on the table & keeping the room warm for their comfort.
A popular way to celebrate All Souls' Day in modern times is with prayer. Catholic masses are often offered for the benefit of the dead. Many of the churches have a custom of asking parishioners to write the names of their dearly departed in a book called the “Book of the Dead” or “Book of Remembrance”. The names entered into the Book of the Dead are remembered during all masses and church services during the month of November.
Some cultures observe this day in their own way. In Mexican culture, All Souls' Day is known as Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. Mexicans believe the dead are still members of the community. They are kept alive in memory & spirit and during the Day of the Dead they temporarily return to earth.
Whether you celebrate Samhain, Halloween, All Souls' Day or one of the many other traditions celebrated from October 31st through November 2nd one undeniable truth binds us all: this is a sacred time, steeped in profound emotion, where we come together to remember, honor, and lovingly nurture the cherished souls of our departed loved ones.