New Orleans has a way of celebrating life like no other city — even in death. From jazz funerals to cemeteries that attract tourists, there’s something beautiful about how New Orleans can find joy in some of life’s toughest moments. No time is that more evident than during All Saints’ Day. This November 1 holiday serves as a reminder that New Orleans is a special place for the living and the dead.
The Beginning of All Saints’ Day
Like many things in New Orleans, the French-influenced the inception of All Saints’ Day in the city. Originally known as La Touissant, All Saints’ Day is a traditionally Catholic Holiday where people get together to bid their loved ones farewell as they pass to the other side.
The typical traditions include prayer, whitewashing tombs and leaving personalized mementos, beads or flowers. This allows the deceased loved ones to know they were visited. In some ways, it’s considered a duty of the living to do these things. But the city of New Orleans has always found joy in the ritual — especially as time went on.
A Social Affair
If you get enough people together in New Orleans — no matter what it’s for — they’re bound to turn it into a good time. And that’s exactly what happened with All Saints’ Day. By the 19th century, the holiday became about more than just remembering and celebrating loved ones — it became about celebrating community as well.
Instead of just bringing flowers and beads, people would pack whole picnics and spend all day at the cemeteries. People ate, drank, played music and danced while passing on stories of their ancestors to the younger generations. So, while the tone of the holiday has changed a bit over the years, the heart of it has always stayed the same.
The Tradition Continues
To this day, All Saints’ Day continues to be a major holiday in New Orleans. You’ll see it in the candlelit cemeteries and feel it in the brass bands playing around town. But other remembrance holidays are celebrated as well, like All Souls’ Day on November 2. Because when you live in a place so rich in culture and history — with a fervent need to celebrate life and loved ones — you’ll find plenty of ways to do just that in New Orleans.