Keep Christ in Halloween
How to make these ‘days of the dead’ holy
By Maryan Vander Woude
It’s the time of year when the costume bin is emptied; every closet in my house is raided; and cereal boxes are cut, painted and crafted into various accessories – all for this year’s costume. It’s All Hallow’s Eve! It kicks off a trifecta of celebrations each with many traditions: Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
Judging by the commercials, the party stores don’t seem to know about the Catholic side of these celebrations, so how can we not lose sight of the importance of the saints in the midst of the witches? Let’s think a bit about the background of these feasts.
Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) precedes All Saints Day, but some say its history is shrouded in pagan superstitions of demons roaming the skies to welcome the dark nights of winter; Celtic folks donning scary guises to trick the demons from bothering them, and much more. All Saints Day began as the feast of Mary and the Martyrs, but emerged as All Saints Day to celebrate the “hallowed” victorious in heaven. November 2, All Souls Day or “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” the last of the trifecta, is a day to offer many Masses for the Poor Souls with priests adorned in black vestments, encouraging visits to cemeteries to gain indulgences for the faithful departed.
These three days are steeped in the reality that we all are going to die, be laid to rest in the ground, and our soul face God’s judgment. It’s no wonder that there are some scary elements involved!
And it’s no wonder that over many centuries the traditions of these days have become entangled!
So what’s a Catholic to do? Do we celebrate pagan activities? Shouldn’t we just focus on the last two days: All Saints and All Souls – the real, liturgical feast days? Here are some thoughts on our options:
Skip it! Some folks don’t like children to be confused by mixing gory, pagan traditions with Christian holy days and skip Halloween altogether and just host All Saints Day parties, complete with saints costumes and candy. That’s an option.
‘Baptize’ the Culture! My priest brother-in-law encouraged his parishioners to dress as saints and promised extra candy for those who did. And even more candy for those dressed as some of the gory martyrs! St. Bartholomew was flayed, so he said he’d love to see a trick-or-treater holding St. Bartholomew’s skin at his door.
Decorate for the Poor Souls! Friends of ours would decorate their lawn with tombstones of loved ones with their death anniversary. This would remind their kids to pray for the faithful departed during November, the month of Poor Souls! And along those lines –
Visit the ‘Ghosts’ in the Graveyard! Speaking of Poor Souls, by definition, a ghost is “the soul of a dead person.” All Souls Day is devoted to them! So take your kids to the cemetery to gain a plenary indulgence for the faithful departed waiting in Purgatory to gain heaven.
Live it up all three days! This is the option we choose. On Halloween, we take the boys trick or treating in the neighborhood dressed up, but nothing offensive, pagan or satanic. So far we haven’t been very original in our dress-up choices; I have a bin full of various superhero costumes. Although two years ago, my 4-year-old wanted to be a Knight, but not one with shining armor. He wanted to be a Knight of Columbus. (He saw the Knights in full regalia in Mass at our parish once, and he was enamored with these spiritual superheroes complete with swords, right in his own church!) I chuckled at his request, but with a suit, a sword, a cardboard, box, and a feathered boa (of the wrong color, but he didn’t know), Iequipped my little man with his favorite knight’s uniform.
On All Saints’ Day, we participate in celebrations dressed as saints. Sometimes the kids picked a saint for Halloween, so they wear their costume twice. Sometimes they pick a costume that can do double duty as both a saint or another character. For example, this year Robin Hood will become St. Hubert, and my king will become King St. Louis IX. Sometimes they want to be two completely different things like Tigger and St. Michael the Archangel – this is the most work for Mom, so I prefer the former options.
On November 2, we head for the cemeteries to pray for departed loved ones “and the deepest soul in purgatory who has no one to pray for them.” And none of my kids are afraid of ghosts; in fact, we spend the rest of the month praying for them.
Maryan Vander Woude lives in Virginia with husband Dan and their seven children, and blogs about their adventures at A Lee in the Woudes.