It is October and a season of change. The weather cools, the leaves don their brightest colors before they fall, and ghosts and goblins perch themselves on shelves of every retail establishment, reminding us that, like it or not, Halloween is quickly approaching, while visions of costumes and candy dance in the heads of children everywhere as they ponder what image they most want to resemble.
We, as Catholics, are not immune to this strong cultural influence, however we must remind ourselves to take our children a step beyond the masks and candy and see what we are really celebrating.
After the Reformation, Catholic feast days such as the Feast of All Saint’s, were outlawed in England. Older pagan practices were reintroduced and quickly offered everyone of different creeds a substitute for the traditional processions, prayers and celebrations previously celebrated by Catholics. And this substitute quickly morphed into what is presently known as Halloween.
The Feast of All Saints is actually on November 1, but just as in Old Testament times, the evening before a celebrated day was always the beginning of the celebration. Parish communities would gather together, each member dressed as a Saint, and follow the priest in a procession through town. The priest would carry with him a relic of a Saint, which would be venerated by the people once they returned to the church. Prayers were said, and then the party would begin!
So what exactly do we celebrate on All Saint’s Day? We celebrate the Church Triumphant! Praise God for His wonderful plan of the communion of Saints, to help us and cheer us on as we ourselves head towards our heavenly home. The Saints are our family members who have succeeded in doing God’s will in this life so that they may enjoy His love in the next life. They have fought the good fight and have won!
When I first learned where the present day Halloween celebration came from, all desire to continue in the ways of “ghosts and goblins” disappeared. I suddenly wanted to give my children more than what the world offered them. I wanted them to celebrate the Saints instead of self. I wanted to teach them that anyone could reduce themselves to images portraying the 7 deadly sins. But it takes a special soul, strong and true, to courageously portray the virtues.
My husband and I prayerfully examined Halloween as it is celebrated today and asked ourselves: is this the kind of activity the Holy Family would have participated in? The answer, of course, was obvious, even before we asked it out loud. So we took a deep breath, turned away from the world and planned an All Saint’s Day party. And we have never looked back.
Usually this day is celebrated in the privacy of our own home, but one year we brought the celebration to our parish. Parents were reluctant to participate, assuming I suppose, that it would involve lectures and rosaries on their knees. But after some careful planning and presentations, they warily decided to come.
When the children arrived in their Saintly costumes, their parents traced life-sized outlines of their children on paper. The children dressed these images as the Saints they were dressed as and we hung these portraits on the wall. These Saintly images surrounded us for the rest of the evening, reminding us that the Saints in Heaven are always with us, cheering us on and joining us in our daily lives, if only we invite them in.
After everyone played Saint related games, the children began to “beg for alms.” The little Saints introduced themselves to each adult and gave a quick historical biography of the saintly life they represented. The adults would then give the Saint alms, which was, of course, a handful of candy.
After a hearty meal of pizza and potluck sides, older children were invited to give a short presentation on the Saint they were representing. The evening ended with teens and adults competing with short skits of their Saint for a $100 prize. Everyone prayed the Litany of the Saints and went home happy and a little more Catholic savvy as well.
Like the leaves on the trees, these children made a visible change for all to see. They donned the colorful garments of holiness and virtue, if only for a day, and received a small taste of the joyful and heavenly rewards that awaited them if they persevered in their faith. They met other Saints, courageous and kind, who struggled to overcome the superficial ways of the world for the sweeter, everlasting joys awaiting them in Heaven. And the parents, so skeptical in the beginning, witnessed a parish community coming together to joyfully celebrate an old Catholic tradition that, like a ghost of All Saint’s Day past, has banged and clanged in the attic long enough!
Cassandra Poppe is a homeschooling, homesteading wife and mother, attempting to raise 5 future Saints for the Church Triumphant. She is a columnist, author, and the founder of Intercessories Family Ministry. She also occasionally blogs as time permits.