All Saint’s day, a religious celebration and popular tradition

Chrysanthemum with candles in a cemetary

A religious celebration to honor all saints, November 1st has become the day when we pay our respects to those who have passed away with Chrysanthemum flowers. It is the time to gather as a family to flower the tombs of the dead. What is the meaning of this tradition?

Other flowers loaded with meaning:

History of All Saint’s Day

All Saint’s Day goes back a long way. Even though many might think so, it doesn’t stem from the Bible. Actually, the tradition appeared in the VIIth century to commemorate Christian martyrs. The Middle Ages, in the year 835, is when the French King Louis the Pious (son of Charlemagne) instituted the feast of All Saints on November 1st. Following that, the feast spread to the entire Western civilization. It officially became a great Christian gathering in the XVIth century. At the beginning of the XXth century, Pope Pius the Xth strongly invited the faithful to attend mass on that day.

The fact of praying to the saints whose light shows the path for humanity, bears testimony during All Saint’s Day to the Christian’s hope in the face of death, which is that eternal life follows after life on earth. This is probably the reason why All Saint’s Day, as centuries came and went, merged with the feast that honors those who have passed away, the date of which is November 2nd on the religious calendar.

All Saint’s Day, a holiday that is big for business

These two dates being so close led to a practical confusion. Since November 1st was an official holiday but not the day after, it became customary to visit the cemetery on All Saint’s Day. This was indeed the only free time available to bedeck the tombs of the departed with flowers. In the XVIIIth century, cemeteries transfered further out of city centers. More common family tombs meant that the deceased weren’t necessarily buried where they lived but where they came from instead. So the increased distance when visiting the dead from the day-to-day routine resulted in a need for more introspection. This slowly became more important to people than celebrating the original All Saint’s Day.

During the XXth century, what was initially a religious celebration became more of a popular tradition. Today, All Saint’s Day is a day for many more than only believers. For many families, members often live further and further apart. This special day is often a time to gather to honor the remembrance of those who have passed away. School holidays generally occurring around this date make it easier to travel to meet family members. This social phenomenon has a heavy influence on the mercantile world. All Saint’s Day has become a highlight of florists’ year, as well as funeral homes, caterers and department stores.

Fabienne Lisse

Pink chrysanthemums for tombs

Chrysanthemums on All Saint’s Day on social media

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Candlelight by Danie Blind under Pixabay license
Pink cluster of flowers by Goran Horvat under Pixabay license
Rows of Chrysanthemums (also on social media) by Gábor Adonyi under Pixabay license