This day is celebrated on November 1st as a day to remember the dead in most cultures around the world. In my El Salvadoran heritage, we know this day to be a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church. Generally, we go to Mass in the morning and then go to the cemetery to visit our passed relatives for the duration of the day. Every day for years my mother and I have gone to pay our respects to family buried in Colma City which is near San Francisco. We deliver white roses to my Abuelos, Tias and Tios. My mom told me once that the white rose symbolized death and the birth of a new life. I was closest with my Abuelita and her favorite flowers were pink roses, so I would always make sure a bouquet was dropped off for her on this special day.
Here are some examples of how different countries have made their own unique All Saints Day traditions.
Portugal and Brazil: Pão-por-Deus children go door to door and collect cakes, pomegranates and nuts similar to the American version of Halloween.
Sweden, Poland, and Germany: People will light candles in the cemeteries to remember those lost and have now gone to a better place.
Philippines: “Undas” or Todos los Santos literally means “All Saints”. Both October 31st and November 1st are celebrated by spending the night at the cemeteries eating, drinking, lighting candles, saying prayers and offering flowers.
What the White Rose symbolizes:
Ancient Greece: It was believed that all roses were white until Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty pricked herself on a thorn; that rose in turn came the red rose.
England: At the wedding of Queen Victoria in the 1840’s white roses were predominant and are now considered to be a wedding flower. It symbolizes the reputation of women in society as clean, untainted, pure and innocent.
Ancient Rome: White rose bushes were planted at the graves of deceased young women to indicate their virginity and innocence.
Germany: During World War II, “The White Rose”, an anti-Nazi student political group was set up in Munich. The group was created on ideals of political freedom which also symbolized secrecy, since they couldn’t be public during the Nazi Regime. The White Rose also represented loyalty because the students remained true to what they stood for until their death. When discovered most members were killed and the rose stood for purity of youth.
Italy: In the 16th century, the Pope declared that a rose be carved in confession booths to symbolize confidentiality, secrecy and privacy. In time it also came to be synonymous with spirituality and holy union between those who have passed and life after death.
For centuries this time of year has become a special time to remember loved ones who have passed on. It’s no surprise that people want to believe their ancestors and other family members are all now in a better place; a special place as suggested by the white roses that are placed upon graves around the world.