Day Of The Dead - All Souls Day In Europe

by marciag

While the US is happily preparing for Halloween, here in Europe we are preparing for a more somber celebration: the Day Of The Dead, also called All Souls' Day.

What Is All Souls' Day?

All Souls' Day n Europe is a Christian tradition that stems mostly from the Catholic church, but it is also practiced in other Christian churches (Evanghelists, Protestants,, etc) when our dead are remembered.

This is a somber tradition, nothing at all like the American Halloween. And while the Halloween is only known under this name, All Souls' Day is known in English under a wide variety of names, including:

All Souls' Day, Day of the Dead, Feast of All Souls, and The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed - which in fact is the official name given by the Roman Catholic Church (the name in Latin is: Commemoratio Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum).

Among ourselves we call it, however, The Day Of The Dead, because it's the easiest to remember and it actually best describes this day: it is the day of the departed souls, it is when the living spend their day remembering the dead. This is the day when the dead return to us for one day before heading from cleansing Purgatory up to Heaven.

As I am Hungarian by origin, in Hungary and Transylvania we call it Hallottak Napja, which translated to English means exactly that: the Day of the Dead. In some parts of Hungary they even call the entire week Week of the Dead.

(image public domain from

Are you celebrating the Day Of The Dead in your parts of the world?

How The Day Of The Dead Is Celebrated In Europe

Years ago I've never even heard of Halloween. Now, of course, the whole world knows about it, but as a child, for me this time of end of October - early November was a sad period when I saw my parents and grandparents dress all in black, be somber, bake cakes, have flowers and candles around and prepare to go to the church and then to the cemetery to visit the graves of our dead.

While All Souls' Day is celebrated on November 2nd in Europe, which is the next day after the All Saints Day (November 1), the whole month of November is quite a somber month for us.

On November 1, the women are busy baking bread and cakes which on November 2nd are distributed among the beggars who are gathered at the cemetery gates. They receive these cakes donations and are asked to remember the departed ones as well.

After the church ceremony, the priest leads the congregation to the cemetery (which is usually just at the end of the church or at the one side of it). Together they visit all the graves, leave flowers, say a prayer, light a candle, while all this time you can hear the church bells non-stop.

As a curiosity, if you visit the Hungarian website for the Day of the Dead, the only thing you see is a picture of a lit candle. Even today people visit this site and say a prayer for the dead.

The Origins And Rites Of The Day Of The Dead In Europe

The Day Of The Dead Is celebrated in various parts of the world (China, Latin American, etc) and it has a diferent origin depending on the location. In Europe, the celebration was first adopted in France and only after it has been included in the church in Rome towards the end of the XIIIth century.

In history this day was the celebration of the dead that are still believed to be in Purgatory after death. This day cleans them and gives them clear passage to Heaven.

While these days younger generations don't take it quite as seriously as our ancestors, during the older times there were many restrictions imposed on the living during this day, many rites to follow.

For example you were not allowed to work. You could not work your own field if you had a farm. This was to not disturb the dead in the earth.

You could also not wash during the entire week. It is said that the dead end up in the water and the clothes will become yellow.

In many homes, during the Day of the Dead, an extra plate was put on the table. It was said that the dead would visit their homes this day and they would sit at the table along with the living for supper. The food placed in front of the empty plates for the dead usually consisted of salt, bread and water (and in cases red wine). Also there was usually a candle lit on the table, since fire purifies everything.

Learn More About The All Souls' Day

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What If You Can't Go To The Cemetery This Day?

If somebody is unable to go to the cemetery during The Day Of The Dead, then they should light a candle and say a prayer for the dead while thinking about their departed relatives and friends throughout the day.

Updated: 10/29/2011, marciag
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Ragtimelil on 08/15/2012

Thank you so much for this article. I am somewhat offended by the gory, ugly side of Halloween here and try to remember my ancestors on this day.

Holistic_Health on 10/29/2011

I think it's a good idea to have a national day of remembrance. Maybe in the US we're too diverse for everyone to be on the same page, but we do it for veterans.

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