I love Halloween candy. I still remember getting all dressed up and heading out early to trick-or-treat with my friends so we would have time to hit two or three neighborhoods. My overflowing bag would sit in a corner of my bedroom, tempting me to have “just one more” every time I looked at it. The candy always seemed to disappear too fast, and Halloween has been my sweet tooth’s best friend ever since.
I grew up in a Catholic family and attended a Catholic elementary school, so I vaguely remember saint costumes and stories being mixed into the fog of my sugar-high haze. But dressing up in secular costumes, the occasional haunted house, and scary movies also held a place in many of my Halloweens past. The heavenly and the haunting often intermingled. The sacred and the secular walked side by side.
So as my own children grow up, I find that our Halloween traditions don’t veer too far from those of my own childhood. Their Catholic school hosts a “Fun Night” every year around this time–an evening of games, candy, and non-spooky costumes. The kids love it and the parents survive it. There are pumpkins and bats, spiders and ghosts, fun “haunted houses”, jousting pits, and bouncy houses. But in the midst of the chaos, there are always a few saint costumes and games with subtle references to their Catholic faith.
According to Scott P.Richert, the Catholicism expert at About.com, Halloween does not have pagan origins. The word “Halloween” is simply a contraction of “All Hallows Eve” which points to the solemnity of All Saints Day on November 1. Pope Gregory III instituted the feast and the vigil in the early eighth century.
Opposition to Halloween actually began as anti-Catholic attacks. Some falsely tried to associate the feast with the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, even though the timing of the celebrations was the only element they originally held in common. There have been times in our history that Christmas and Halloween have even been outlawed by non-Catholic governments. Today, commercialism is our worst enemy as it downplays the Christian roots of the feast and thrives on the gore and fright factor. (See http://catholicism.about.com/od/thecatholicfamily/p/Halloween.htm)
As Catholics, this spooky time of year is a time to celebrate. A time to remember our family of saints that waits for us in heaven. A time to see death as the beginning of life with our Lord, rather than just the end of life here on earth. So we search for ways to help the secular meet the sacred. We search for ways to welcome our beloved saints to walk among us.
While my children love to trick-or-treat, we stick with non-scary or religious themed costumes. Our home is decorated with extra statues and pictures of saints rather than ghosts and spider webs, my daughter’s Little Flowers Girls’ Club hosts an All Saints’ Day party, and we write down the names of deceased family members and friends in our family prayer journal.
The saints have always been our heavenly friends with very human qualities. They assure us that we, too, can get to heaven, even with a quick temper, an inclination to despair, or a selfish streak. They understand that while we live in this world, the secular and the sacred sometimes have to meet in order for the divine to transpire.
And so on Halloween, our family sends our little saints out for some candy with the hopes that they will bring a celestial light to all they meet, and show the world how to keep the hallowed in Halloween.