How did Halloween get its name? From All Saints Day, which falls on today (Nov. 1). The original name was All Hallows Day, or Hallowmas, which means pretty much the same. It’s shortened from the official name, the Solemnity of All Saints.
The root of the observance came from martyrdom, especially in the first five centuries of the Christian era. Churches began honoring members who were killed for their faith, saying Eucharist at their graves on the anniversaries of their deaths; but the task became harder as more died. So by the fourth century, they established one day to honor them all.
The holiday took its present form in the eighth century, when Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1 as the day to remember the apostles, saints and martyrs. The day was picked to supplant Samhain, a Celtic festival for the end of summer, when the dead returned to visit. Many pagans reacted by simply moving their observance to the previous night. Hence the name All Hallows Evening, or Halloween.
All Saints Day is observed not only in Roman Catholic circles but also Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and Wesleyan churches. Whether they see deceased members as especially holy or not, believers emphasize a spiritual bond between Christians in this world and the next.
— James D. Davis
The somber High Holy Days, which ended on Oct. 4, give way tonight to Sukkot, the colorful Feast of Tabernacles. One of the three “Pilgrim Festivals” — the others are Passover and Shavuot — Sukkot recalls the Israelites’ travels in the Sinai desert after their liberation from slavery in Egypt.
The eight-day festival takes its name from the sukkah , a hut made by many Jewish families and synagogues. Loosely thatched and crudely built, the sukkah reminds Jews of their wandering ancestors’ meager shelters.
Fruits and flowers are hung from the sukkah rafters, recalling the festival’s other significance: gratitude to God for the fall harvest in the Holy Land, for which Israelis still celebrate it. Each morning of Sukkot, traditional Jews recite a blessing while holding four kinds of Israeli plants: a lulav or palm frond, an etrog or citron, and branches of myrtle and willow.
Sukkot has been called the Jewish Thanksgiving and may even have been its model. The American Pilgrims were avid students of the Hebrew Scriptures, even comparing their crossing of the Atlantic to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea. The Pilgrims may well have adapted Sukkot to the New World as well.
The seventh day of Sukkot is Hoshana Rabba, or Great Help. In traditional synagogues on this day, the congregation takes the lulav and etrog in a procession of seven circuits, singing prayers for salvation. Some Jews call this day the “little Yom Kippur,” one more chance to gain God’s favor.
The last day of Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly. It is a time to pray for rain in the Holy Land to assure good crops. It is also one of four times during the year for Yizkor memorial prayers honoring the dead.
Yet another event is sometimes celebrated on the same day in many synagogues: Simhat Torah, the jubilant Rejoicing Over the Law. On Simhat Torah, the last lines are read from the giant pulpit Torah scroll in each synagogue. Then the scroll is rewound for another annual cycle of readings — and the rabbi carries it in procession around the synagogue, amid singing and dancing.
— James D. Davis
A billion and a half Muslims today celebrate the Eid al-Adha or Festival of Sacrifice, one of the two most important days on the Islamic calendar.
The festival commemorates a story in the Quran, the Islamic holy book, in which Abraham offers his son as a sacrifice on God’s command. At the last moment God stops him and provides a sheep instead. The Hadith, the collection of sayings by the prophet Muhammad, says the boy was Ishmael, considered to be the ancestor of all Arabs.
Observances include a two-hour service starting with salat or prayer, followed by a sermon. Muslim families traditionally have been expected to sacrifice animals for the holy day. However, they may instead donate money to charitable Islamic groups overseas that slaughter livestock, then give the meat to the poor.
Eid al-Adha also marks the culmination of the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Making the Hajj at least once during a lifetime, if possible, is one of the five ‘‘pillars” or basic requirements of Islam.
— James D. Davis
The setting sun tonight ushers in Yom Kippur, the awesome Day of Atonement for Jews. Yom Kippur is the last of the High Holy Days, which began at sundown Sept. 24 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
The holy days are a time to examine one’s life, repent of shortcomings and resolve to correct them. Tradition says that God holds people’s lives in the balance during these ‘‘10 Days of Repentance” before determining their fate for the coming year.
Tonight’s service features the Kol Nidre, a prayer set to sad medieval music. The prayer asks for release from ‘‘all vows” — the translation of Kol Nidre — to God that have not been kept.
All day tomorrow, the faithful will fast and attend a succession of synagogue services, including Yizkor memorial prayers for the dead. Traditional prayers include Al Het, a list of sins whose initials form the Hebrew alphabet. As the worshiper recites the list, he strikes his chest to emphasize repentance.
Last service of the day is Neilah, signaling the closing of heaven’s gates and the sealing of everyone’s fate for another year.
Although non-Jews might view the High Holy Days as guilt-ridden, rabbis say the observance actually shows divine mercy. They point out that het, usually translated “sin,” is an archery term that means to miss the mark. And shuva, repentance, is almost identical to teshuva, to turn — as in returning to right living.
— James D. Davis
The chilling blasts of the ram’s horn tonight will signal Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, for the world’s Jews. Rosh Hashana, starting the Hebrew year 5775, opens the solemn 10-day period known as the High Holy Days.
Also called Yamim Noraim, or Days of Awe, the holy days are a pause in time when the faithful fast and pray for pardon from their sins over the past year. Jewish tradition says God scrutinizes each person, waiting to see who is worthy of good or bad fortune for the next year.
Liberal Jews likewise use the High Holy Days as a time to review their lives and resolve to be better persons. Area synagogues often rent community auditoriums to handle the overflow of worshipers who seldom attend temple otherwise.
The High Holy Days end this year on Oct. 4 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That day-long series of services ends with a final blast from the ram’s horn, closing God’s books and sealing everyone’s fate for the year.
— James D. Davis
Christians celebrate today as Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter, the greatest holiday of the Christian year, ratifies for believers the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God.
As related in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the body of Jesus was wrapped and buried in a rocky tomb near Jerusalem. Women came three days later to embalm the corpse, but found it missing. Jesus then began appearing to various groups of his followers, with the commission to ‘‘make disciples of all nations.”
Sunrise services — in parks, on beaches, even in cemeteries — are common Easter Sunday celebrations. The events are often sponsored by two or more churches, or even by whole ministerial associations.
This year, Protestant and Catholic Christians celebrate Easter on the same day as Eastern Orthodox believers, although they compute the date differently. The convergence happens about once every four years.
For most Eastern Orthodox, the holy day began last night with the Resurrection Service. At midnight, the pastor carries a lighted candle, a flame that is passed on to his congregants’ candles. Then the pastor and choir sing hymns outside the church and return for the Pascha, the Easter liturgy.
Today, the Orthodox hold an Agape service, from the Greek word for “love.” During the service, the resurrection story in the Bible is read aloud in many languages. Greek Orthodox churches bless and distribute red eggs at the end of the service to symbolize the resurrection.
— James D. Davis
The world’s quarter-billion Eastern Orthodox Christians will begin celebrating tonight as Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead, a week after their fellow believers in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
The founding events are the same: Three days after Jesus’ corpse was entombed, women came to embalm it, but found the tomb open and empty. Jesus then appeared to them, then to his disciples, then to crowds of hundreds, before ascending into heaven.
For most Orthodox, the climax starts late tonight with the Resurrection Service. At midnight, the pastor carries a lighted candle in the darkened sanctuary to proclaim, “Come, receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night …”
The flame is passed on to his congregants’ candles. Then the pastor and choir sing hymns outside the church and return for the Pascha, the Easter liturgy.
Eastern churches — Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Coptic and other branches — usually celebrate Easter a week or two after their Protestant and Catholic brethren. They reckon the date after the Julian calendar under a formula no longer used by Western churches. This year, however, the eastern and western dates coincide.
Sunday worship features an Agape service, in which the biblical story of Jesus’ resurrection is read in several languages. Greek Orthodox churches bless and distribute red eggs at the end of the service to symbolize the resurrection.
— James D. Davis