“Kathy, why don’t you and the kids come to our church’s Harvest Festival?” asked my Evangelical friend. “There will be a bonfire, hay rides and candy for the kids.” It sounded great, and, since my husband had recently died, I didn’t relish trick or treating by myself with my little ones.
“Do the kids wear costumes?” I inquired.
“No, we definitely discourage that,” she said.
I knew that wasn’t for my family. My children adore dressing up and roaming the streets extorting candy from the good neighbors. Besides, I knew that a number of people in my friend’s fellowship saw Catholics and Halloween and Satanism as being all of the same cloth. To the extent that Halloween has become a celebration of death and ghoulishness, I can see their point.
If some Protestants think that Halloween is satanic, then I understand their retreat to church parties. However, many Catholics are also beginning to retreat from Halloween. Like Protestants, some have church parties. Others simply close their blinds and watch videos in a back room come All Hallow’s Eve. Because of what’s going on in the streets, I don’t entirely blame them. Yet, if Christmas Eve had somehow become a celebration of death, would Christians retreat to a back room and watch videos? I hope not.
So why should we, good Catholics, flee from this day? We should not. We should take back our “holy” Halloween.
One of the first things I did was to encourage clean and, when possible, holy costumes. One year, my then five-year-old son was determined to be a pirate. I suggested numerous alternatives to being a pirate but he wouldn’t hear of any. In exasperation he said, “But mom, firemen don’t carry swords.”
Now it was clear. What he really wanted to do was brandish a sword! I suggested he could be St. Michael the Archangel and still carry a sword, and he happily complied. (To those who ask what’s wrong with being a pirate, how would you feel if your child said he wanted to be a hijacker or terrorist?)
Although our family has high standards for costumes, I insist the children not make derogatory remarks about the choices of their friends. Last year, a child came over to trick or treat with us dressed as Count Dracula. It was strange taking a picture of a vampire and a nun, in full habit, together. At one point, the boy took off his vampire mask because it was hot. My daughter suddenly squealed in admiration, “You look like Bach!”
My son chimed in, “You do. You look like a composer.” Indeed the boy, sans mask and now dressed in a simple tuxedo, did look like a composer. That evening, by God’s grace, our group included a nun, an astronaut, a lion king and... Johann Sebastian Bach.
I was further inspired by the medieval All Soul’s Day custom of beggars knocking on doors for “soul cakes” in exchange for prayers for the household’s deceased. We created our own version. On my computer, I made up little strips that said: “Thank you for the treat. My family and I will be praying for you and the souls of your dearly departed loved ones during the month of November. Happy All Saints Day and happy All Souls Day!” I varied the message slightly for the second child. The children had fun the day of Halloween cutting up their messages, rolling them into tiny scrolls, and tying them with pretty satin ribbons.
Although I wanted my children to say “Prayer for a treat,” I didn’t push it, and they happily chanted “Trick or treat” like ordinary kids. People were surprised and delighted with the scrolls. One man said to my “nun” daughter, “Why, thank you, sister.”
She replied with a big grin, “Well, not yet.”
On the giving-out-treats part of the evening, I hand out candy along with stickers, purchased from a Christian supply store, with messages such as “Jesus loves you.” One year, as we were returning from trick or treating, we were behind a little boy whose mother was berating him with foul language. The boy ran ahead to our house where a friend was giving out treats. When the child returned, he was elated – literally jumping for joy as he showed his sticker to his now docile mother. “Look, Jesus loves me!” he said. My children, who had been stunned by the earlier bad language, quietly observed everything, and I know it made an impression upon them.
This year we plan to design holy cards explaining the Christian custom of Halloween, which is the eve of two feast days: All Saints and All Souls. These can be passed out by youngsters and treat givers alike. Packets of similar holy cards could be made available in parishes for parishioners to use with room on the back of the cards for the pastor’s name and number.
Our Halloweens have truly become joyful and holy events with the month of November dedicated to special prayer, not just for our own loved ones, but also for the souls of all our neighbors and their dearly departed.
The Church has always evangelized, in part, through the celebration of feasts. By taking back Halloween we can introduce our children to evangelization and begin to respond to our Holy Father’s call to re‑evangelize the West.