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The festival of All Saints, also sometimes known as All Saints' Day, All Hallows or Hallowmas ("hallows" meaning "saints," and "mas" meaning "Mass"), is a feast celebrated November 1 in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. Halloween is the day preceding it, and is so named because it is "The Eve of All Hallows". All Saints is also a Christian formula invoking all the faithful saints and martyrs, known or unknown.
In the early Church, Christians would celebrate the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ (known as the saint's "birth day") by serving an All-Night Vigil, and then celebrating the Eucharist over their tomb or place of martyrdom. In the fourth century, neighbouring dioceses began to transfer relics, and to celebrate the feast days of specific martyrs in common. Frequently, a number of Christians would suffer martyrdom on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all.
A commemoration of "All Martyrs" began to be celebrated as early as the year 270, although no specific month or date are mentioned in existing records. The first trace of a general celebration on a specific day is attested in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. There is mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and the custom is also referred to in the 74th Homily of St. John Chrysostom (†407), who speaks of a "feast of martyrs of the whole world." As early as 411, there is found among the Chaldean Christians a general commemoration of all Confessors (Commemoratio Confessorum), celebrated on the Friday after Easter.
The Western Christian holiday of All Saints Day (called Festum omnium sanctorum in Latin) falls on November 1, followed by All Souls' Day on November 2, and is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church, with a vigil and an octave.
The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Church of England and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the first Saturday of November. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada and the Wesleyan Church.
In Portugal, Spain and Mexico, ofrendas (offerings) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives.
In Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Austria and Germany, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.
In the Philippines, the day is spent visiting the graves of deceased relatives, where they offer prayers, lay flowers, and light candles, often in a picnic-like atmosphere.
In English speaking countries, the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn "For All the Saints" by William Walsham How. The most familiar tune for this hymn is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams.