I used to think that I had to keep all ghosts, witches, and monsters out of Halloween, no matter how cutesy. I don’t want to foster in my children an interest in the occult and I thought that keeping those things (things I loved before I had kids) out of our home was the best way to do it. Scary jack-o-lanterns and anything that was too creepy had to go. But then I realized that I was being unrealistic; my kids are going to see those images anyways and I so I needed to develop a plan for us to be in the world but not of it.
Now of course witchcraft, satan, voodoo, and creepy/mean jokes are bad. But it’s not necessarily good to completely remove the topic of death, which is what happens with a harvest party – no more skulls, ghosts, or graveyards, just straw bales and caramel apples. I understand being careful so as to not celebrate evil. I totally agree that in our culture Halloween is often a glorification of the unholy. But we shouldn’t sanitize the holiday so much that we remove reality. As I see it, Halloween offers us the opportunity to openly discuss death and evil – two subjects most Americans ignore as best they can.
So if my kids and I see tombstones or a ghost (like the giant, blow-up one holding bags of candy and popping out of a pumpkin at our local grocery store) we can talk about how people die, our bodies are buried, and our souls go to Heaven to be with Jesus. We can discuss how we should pray for the souls of the dead. We can memorize and recite as a family, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual Light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.” This, of course, is especially appropriate since Halloween directly precedes All Saints Day and All Souls Day. And as my children age (my oldest is only 3) all of these conversations can grow into discussions about Purgatory and Hell, judgement and salvation, and the resurrection of the dead.
Additionally, something as simple as a jack-o-lantern becomes a great opportunity to teach my children the Gospel. As the book My Happy Pumpkin (seriously a great resource if you have little kids!) puts it, we pick out a special pumpkin, clean out the goop inside, and let the light shine - sounds like a conversion story to me! Whether the carving is a smiling face or a scary image we can discuss how the candle is like Christ in our lives, shining out and overcoming the darkness.
In our home some costumes will be off-limits, but that doesn’t mean my kids are stuck being football players or princesses for the rest of their lives. Halloween, as the eve of All Hallows Day, is a great opportunity to talk about the communion of saints and we will probably find some good costume ideas from them. I don’t think we should do gore for gore’s sake, but I also think that, in this circumstance, there’s nothing wrong with a little blood. The martyrs died for their love of Christ. What a great thing to remind ourselves of as we traipse across the neighborhood.
So maybe we’ll take a white sheet, edge it with blue sharpie and send Mother Teresa out to get candy. But we might wrap someone up in white rags or toilet paper – not as a mummy – but as Lazarus. Maybe someone will be Padre Pio, with a black eye from being beat up by satan and hands marked with the stigmata. I can cover one of my boys in arrows, maybe with some blood dripping from the wounds, and wa-la – St. Sebastian! If I have a budding make-up artist in one of my kids they could create a wound on my daughter’s neck and she could be St. Cecilia. If you think this is weird I would like to remind you that images of St. Agatha show her carrying her breasts on a plate.
We’re Catholics, folks. We own weird, bizarre, and even slightly creepy. We reverence bone-y relics, we do exorcisms, we have holy cards of St. Peregrine showing off his cancerous leg. We look death and evil squarely in the eyes and say, “Oh, it’s you” and roll over on our beds to go back to sleep. We do this because we know that Christ has conquered death. Mary’s heel is squashing the serpent’s head. St. Michael has satan in chains, ready to cast him into Hell.
Halloween gives us the perfect chance to talk about these very things – and not just to our children, but to our friends and neighbors. If we re-claim Halloween we can make it something fun. We can even make it something triumphant and holy. That’s so much better than a harvest party.
And now I’d love to hear from you. How do you celebrate the holiday in your home? What’s your favorite saint costume? Halloween is 3 weeks away – there’s plenty of time to snatch an idea from here and create something for trick-or-treating!