Word of the Week: Allerheiligen

Nov 2, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Allerheiligen

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1223-24), National Gallery, London Enlarge image The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1223-24), tempera on wood, 31,9 x 63,5 cm, National Gallery, London (© National Gallery, London/Wikimedia Commons)

The spooky and sugar-charged good times had by all on Halloween precedes "Allerheiligen," or All Saints' Day, which is observed in many Christian countries on November 1 in honor of all the saints, known and unknown.

Celebrated annually on October 31, Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve, is observed on the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows - also known as Hallowmas or Hallowtide - or All Saints. Scholarly opinions are divided on the true origins of this now secularized costume and candy extravaganza. Some claim it was influenced by western European harvest festivals and festivals of the dead, with possible pagan and in particular Celtic roots. Yet others maintain that it originated independently thereof and has Christian roots.

Costumed revelers traipse through Berlin's Tierpark on Halloween, October 31, 2012. Enlarge image Costumed revelers traipse through Berlin's Tierpark on Halloween, October 31, 2012. (© picture-alliance/dpa) Either way, Halloween is thought to have been influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints' Day on November 1 and All Souls' Day on November 2. All Saints is also observed on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity. In the Catholic Church and many Anglican churches, All Souls' Day - or "Allerseelen" in German - commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven.

In the United States, All Saints' Day is observed in particular among the descendents of French settlers in Louisiana, home to the New Orleans Saints football team.

"Possibly nowhere in America is All Saints' Day observed so strikingly as among the Louisiana French. For days preceding it, each family will clean, whitewash or paint the tombs, prepare artificial flowers, design wreaths and place these on the tombs," states an excerpt from "Your Home, A Church in Miniature" at CatholicCulture.org. "Among the financially better fixed, chrysanthemums and dahlias are used in decorating the graves."

A stone angel in the Melatenfriedhof cemetary in Cologne, Germany. Enlarge image A stone angel in the Melatenfriedhof cemetary in Cologne, Germany. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Reformation Day, meanwhile, is a religious holiday celebrated on October 31 - particularly by Lutheran and some Reformed church communities - in remembrance of the Protestant Reformation inspired by German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546), and the day he nailed his 95 theses onto a church door in Wittenberg. It is a civic holiday in five eastern German states.

American churches often transfer the holiday so that it falls on the Sunday (called Reformation Sunday) on or before October 31, with All Saints' Day moved to the Sunday on or after November 1.

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