Today, 1 November is All Saints Day which is believed to have been established in the early part of the fourth century and was known as 'Martyrs Day'. It is a Feast Day which honours all Christian saints whose names we know and those we don't. Western Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans celebrate this Feast today whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
In early days many Christians were persecuted by the Romans and died for their belief in God. To remember those martyrs, various Dioceses set aside special days to celebrate. In the early seventh century the Emperor of the Roman Empire handed over the Pantheon Temple to the then Pope who removed the statues of the Roman gods and consecrated it as 'All Saints' in recognition of all who had died from persecution during the first three hundred years after Christ. Pope Gregory 111, in the Diocese of Rome, instituted the 1 November as All Saints as he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs, in St Peter's Basilica. Pope Gregory IV extended the Feast to the entire Church and except in the Eastern Orthodox Church, that is where it remains today.
Then, this is how people came to be made saints and when Christians became free to worship openly, the Church found other ways to recognize sanctity. Early in Christianity people were made saints by popular acclaim which was then sanctioned by the local Bishop. For the last five hundred years or so the path to sainthood has been a much lengthier and a more difficult process. Sainthood certainly doesn't come as easily as it once did! Today there has to be proof of extraordinary sanctity in the form of at least one if not two miracles before canonization. However there are exceptions to every rule as in the case of John XXX111 who does not have a miracle to his name but has other amazing attributes.
In Catholic countries All Saints is a Public Holiday and is seen as a Holy Day of Obligation meaning that one is required to attend Mass. In other countries, as with many other Feasts, the day has been moved to the nearest Sunday. Countries and their cultures have different ways of acknowledging and celebrating this Feast. In Spain, Mexico and Portugal offerings are made. In Belgium, Hungary and Italy flowers are brought to the graves of dead relatives. In other parts of Europe, eg Austria, Croatia, Romania and Poland it is customary to place lighted candles on the graves of relatives. In parts of Asia, particularly The Philippines, the Feast of All Saints is also observed. Relatives of those deceased go the graves to clean and repair them, lay flowers and light candles. In France, church services are held but by evening the focus has moved towards the dead. People crowd cemeteries and there is a great deal of cleaning and lighting of candles. All Saints is closely tied to All Souls which falls on the 2 November and is dedicated to prayers for the deceased who are not yet glorified.
All Saints is not a Public Holiday in Trinidad and Tobago but the tradition of the living visiting the family plots in preparation for All Souls is strong and very much part of the culture. This evening many Trinidadians still put candles in their windows carrying out the age old belief that 'lost souls' will be able to find their way home.
Happy Feast Day!