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

·Contributor
·3 min read
Residents of Antipolo City, Philippines visit the tomb of their loved ones inside cemeteries on October 27, 2021. Since the pandemic hit the Philippines on March 2020, public and private cemeteries in the country are still closing their doors for visitors this coming October 29 until November 2 to avoid the massive spread of COVID-19 on the celebration of All Soul's Day. (Photo by Ryan Eduard Benaid/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Residents of Antipolo City, Philippines visit the tomb of their loved ones inside cemeteries on October 27, 2021. Since the pandemic hit the Philippines on March 2020, public and private cemeteries in the country are still closing their doors for visitors this coming October 29 until November 2 to avoid the massive spread of COVID-19 on the celebration of All Soul's Day. (Photo by Ryan Eduard Benaid/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

November 1 used to be a solemn day reserved for going to church and praying. It was on November 2 that people would gather to honor their loved ones.

Nowadays, most Filipinos would observe Undas on both days combining both solemn and celebratory traditions. 

While it may seem irreverent to some, families set up camp in the cemetery to have feasts and honor our loved ones not just with prayers, flowers and candles, but with food and drink as well.

FILE PHOTO: Filipinos share a meal in front of the tomb of a family member at a Manila cemetery November 1, 2004 as Filipinos celebrate All Saints' Day in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. (Source: REUTERS/Erik de Castro)
FILE PHOTO: Filipinos share a meal in front of the tomb of a family member at a Manila cemetery November 1, 2004 as Filipinos celebrate All Saints' Day in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. (Source: REUTERS/Erik de Castro)

Historical accounts, however, show that before the second World War, Filipinos gave more importance to the distinction between All Saints Day and All Souls Day. But what's the difference between the two?

All Saints Day can be traced back to the eighth century, when Pope Gregory III proclaimed November 1 as a day to honor all saints. Evolving from early celebrations of Christian martyrs in the Eastern Church, it is a celebration of the communion of saints – those who we believe are in heaven, through their good works and God's grace. 

The root word of Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is – ''hallow'' – meaning ''holy.'' The suffix "een" is an abbreviation of "evening." It refers to the Eve of All Hallows, the night before the Christian holy day that honors saintly people of the past.

You can read more about this on our Halloween explainer.

All Souls' Day, on the other hand, has quite a different story. The Church has long recognized the importance of praying for the dead. While family members were free to pray for their dearly departed, the Church did not officially recognize this until St. Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny, declared November 2 as a “Day of All Departed Ones.” He chose November 2 so that all of the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory would be remembered on consecutive days.

The Catholic notion of purgatory as the final step of atonement for souls waiting to ascend to heaven plays a huge part in the celebration of All Souls Day. Traditionally, Catholics believe that the prayers and mass offerings of those who are still alive would guide their loved ones in Purgatory. This is why All Saints Day is a time to attend requiem masses and pray novenas for them. Bell tolling is meant to comfort souls being cleansed. Candles serve as a beacon of hope for those who are lost in the shadows.

With the Philippines being predominantly Catholic, you'll find this holiday being observed in communities all around the country.

Filipinos have a strong sense of family and so they celebrate Undas not just to honor the dead but to reunite with the living as well. More than just being a religious practice, Undas is also a cultural practice that reinforces the Filipinos’ sense of community. Our return to our roots during holidays helps define our identity and belongingness.

FILE PHOTO: A Filipino family sit with a pile of picnic boxes beside the grave of a relative, November 1, at Manila's military cemetery where hundreds gathered to mark All Saints Day. (Source: Getty Editorial)
FILE PHOTO: A Filipino family sit with a pile of picnic boxes beside the grave of a relative, November 1, at Manila's military cemetery where hundreds gathered to mark All Saints Day. (Source: Getty Editorial)

That is why we celebrate the longest Christmas in the world, and why despite being in different parts of the world, some Filipinos still find their way back to their hometowns on Undas and Holy Week.

Ana Catalina Paje is a development journalist passionate about grassroots communication geared towards genuine social change. She also writes about showbiz, lifestyle, and all things Pinoy pride. The views expressed are her own.

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