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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

14 September 2006

Holy Cross and All Saints’ Days

Q: What is the story behind Holy Cross Day? Was there a particular saint which began the celebrating of All Saints’ Day? What is the history of All Saints’ Day and the connection to Halloween?

A: Holy Cross Day is a commemoration of the purported discovery of what were said to be fragments of the true cross upon which Christ was crucified by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. It became a major celebration in the western Church, involving processions and celebrations. Its appeal may have been due in large part to the time of year (September 14) when it was observed. Good Friday, the day remembering Christ’s death on the cross, was judged to be too solemn and somber for such a joyful festival.

All Saints’ Day, which remembers the “giants” of the Faith, especially those officially canonized by either the Eastern Church or Roman Catholicism, may have been given its November 1 spot on the Christian calendar in part to combat pagan celebrations such as Samhain among the Celtic peoples. Even after conversion, many of the old ways remained among some converts, and so the Eve of All Hallows (Hallowed, Holy, and Saint all being related words) became a time when some believed that unholy creatures (ghosts, demons, and the like) were loosed upon the land.

The day chosen to commemorate All Saints’ is just that — all saints not having their own feast days are included. No particular saint formed its basis. Indeed, already at an early time, the Church calendar was so full of saints’ days that the “ordinary” days were disappearing.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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