Most of us don’t give it a second thought (or even a first), but yesterday (November 1) was All Saints Day. It’s also known as All Souls Day, Hallowmas, All Hallows Day, Solemnity of All Saints, and the Feast of All Saints.
Many of us miss this day because of the big deal we make over Halloween. The secular celebration, of course, always trumps the Christian one. (I almost said it trumps the spiritual one, but there is a spiritual aspect to Halloween as well—one I will not get into here).
If I remember correctly, the Feast of All Saints is a holy day of obligation celebrated among the Roman Catholics. In fact, it’s a national holiday (or at least, has been) in many countries that have been historically Catholic.
Replacing the Pagan Festivals
Like many Christian holidays, the date was chosen to replace a pagan celebration. In this case, November 1 was chosen as All Saints Day to displace the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain. Celebrating Jesus’ birthday during the winter solstice did the same thing. He was undoubtedly born some other time than December 25, but it usually works better when you replace something rather than simply try to forget it.
The great thing about the celebration of All Saints is the fact that it is truly the commemoration of ALL saints. We usually recognize the famous ones—St. Francis, St. Joseph, St. Teresa, St. Joan of Arc, etc. In doing so, we often forget the ones who have not been canonized.
If you read the New Testament (especially the letters of Paul), you’ll notice phrases like, “All the saints greet you.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Biblically, a saint was anyone who believed in Jesus. We’ve somehow lost that definition in some quarters, but it’s still the correct and operative one.
What this means is there are saints who should be remembered on this day (and all days for that matter). They are saints with names like Fred, Ginger, Sally, Hank, and Tonisha. They have titles like Dad, Mom, Nona, and Tio. They did miraculous things like raise up families, work in coal mines, and round up cattle.
Are the saints all dead?
In other words, saints are not simply those the church has venerated over the years. The saints, both past and present, are those who live(d) their lives in an attempt to follow the risen Christ. They are/were not perfect, but they are remembered for their stance—a stance that says, “Jesus is Lord.”
It’s a shame that we seem to have supplanted All Saints Day with something as trivial as Halloween. Don’t get me wrong here. Halloween can be a fun, entertaining night. But the real heroes are not the ghouls, vampires, and living dead. The real heroes are the people who got us to this point in life—those who led the way in faith.
We are the current saints. Let’s celebrate the past, present, and future of God’s church. Let us celebrate all the saints, shall we?
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]