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All Saints' Day

All Saints' Day 2018 and 2019

All Saints Day, also called All Hallows Day, is a national holiday in Austria and is observed every November 1st, as in many other Roman Catholic countries.

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It is a day to honour remember Christian saints and martyrs of the past, and the following day (November 2nd) is All Souls Day, a day to pray and give alms in the hopes of helping the departed escape more quickly from purgatory.

Austria is overwhelmingly a Catholic country, though it is also a very secular country where only some 10 percent attend mass regularly. All Saints Day is also a primarily Catholic holiday, though certain Protestants observe it as well. The day has its roots in the early days of the Church, when special feast days were set aside for particular martyrs. As the number of martyrs grew, however, it became impractical to have a separate day for each one, so in the 7th Century, the Catholic Church declared an official feast day for all saints on May 13th. In the 8th Century, the holiday was moved to its current date.

In Austria, it is believed that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is pulled back, or at least “made thinner,” during All Saints Day and the whole period of “All Souls Week.” At noon, the church bells ring out to announce the day, and many attend mass before heading to the graveyards to decorate graves of deceased loved ones with flowers and candles. Many times, marigolds and chrysanthemums and other autumn flowers are used, being pre-dried or formed into wreaths.

Families also gather together on this day, and in some Austrian villages, it is believed that the dead also gather together on All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) to hold family celebrations of their own. Therefore, to aid lost loved ones in finding their way in the dark, people carry lit lanterns in processions through the graveyards.

Another tradition in Austria is to help the living poor on All Saints Day. Food is first designated for deceased relatives, but that it go not to waste, it is often later given to the needy. Children also go door to door on All Saints Day and receive small gifts in return for singing a song.

Should you be in Austria during All Saints Day, some things to do include:

  • Go to mass. There are many old churches in Austria that display beautiful architecture, but the most famous of them is Saint Stephen’s, located in central Vienna. There will be the usual elements of the mass, along with appropriate sermonizing on the importance of remembering the saints of the past.
  • Stop by the largest graveyard in Vienna, the “Zentralfriedhof” Cemetery, to see the graves that are dressed up to “look like the Garden of Eden.” This is supposed to help the deceased find Paradise. The event draws thousands annually, and there is music and much picnicking.
  • Visit Melk, on the Danube in northern Austria, where you can see the gigantic and time-honoured monastery of “Melk Abbey.” The town also has other sights worth seeing, including remains of the old city wall and moat and Medieval houses with courtyards and paintings on their walls to show you what the building was used for. There is a 400-year-old bread store and a post office built in 1792.

All Saints Day is a perfect time to learn of Austria’s religious traditions and history, and you can explore the culture generally as well while already there.