Archive for All Saints All Souls

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day Remind Us to Be Saints, Not Stars

“What if we took all the money and time we put into tutors and coaches and private lessons, and invested instead in making our children holy? Not well-known and praised and celebrated for what they do, but humble and meek and truly holy in who they are?”

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The other day, after volunteering in our son’s kindergarten classroom, my husband came home more anxious than when he’d left.

I expected to hear about the challenging craft he’d been directed to help with, or about the stress of leading five kindergarteners at once, or even about scissors or glue mishaps. But, no. My husband’s unease stemmed from none of this. It was, rather, the result of reading.

As a high school English teacher, leading a reading center should have been in my husband’s wheelhouse. And it was. What left him perturbed was what he witnessed.

“Did you know how well some of the kids in that class can read?” he asked.

“No,” I responded.

“Well, they can, some of them,” he answered.

I saw where this was going. It was headed down the road of concern about the fact that other kids were succeeding at something and our son was lagging slightly behind. It was aiming in the direction of talks we’d had about the successes our son’s peers had enjoyed in a variety of sports while we’d not yet signed our child up for even a single organized activity (because he didn’t want to).

The worry my husband was experiencing wasn’t unique to him. It is, I fear, an anxiety most parents today share: the need to have our kids succeed. And not just to succeed but to stand out in even the most successful crowds. To be stars.

We see it in the flourishing tutoring industry, with education centers popping up on nearly every street corner. We see it in the need for more sports centers, recreational teams, and travel leagues, increasingly sought out when our kids are still at remarkably young ages. We see it in the popularity of reality entertainment shows like American Idol and The Voice, where contestants give up nearly everything in their lives for a chance at fame and financial freedom.

But, while we see and hear a lot about encouraging our kids’ academic, athletic and artistic prowess, we hardly hear much about their spiritual growth. While we hear a lot of concern for our children’s bodily wellness and financial security, we hear very little about the wellness and security of their souls.

Oh, sure, we say, of course I want that, too. But, it comes as an afterthought. As a runner-up desire to the first place hope of forming our kids in the way of fame and fortune.

And that’s what worries me. I am deeply concerned about the tremendous importance we, as a society, place on our children’s earthly glory and what little importance we place on their eternal glory. The priorities we have for our children couldn’t be more backwards, and for me this came to light as I participated in the Halloween weekend.

For the past two years, my parish has hosted a Back from the Dead cemetery walk. Along the graveyard path, attendees “meet” saints like Edith Stein, St. Gianna and St. Therese of Lisieux. They also “meet” souls who are in Purgatory. This single walk brings together Halloween (graveyards, the dead), All Saints’ Day (the saints we meet on the walk), and All Souls’ Day (the stories of the souls in Purgatory). And this year, on the walk, I met the faults of my own soul and began to think deeply (or more deeply than usual) about the souls of my children.

Because I’d been slowly starting to veer from the narrow way. The start of my son’s elementary school years saw me stepping out on the popular path of worrying about earthly gain and successes. (My husband wasn’t the only one sizing our son’s skills up to those of his peers). We were in danger, I realized as I listened to the stories of saints and sinners, of taking our kids along for this ride.

As I meandered through the graveyard, I pondered more deeply on a question my pastor had just posed in the day’s homily: what would happen if we sacrificed and suffered for our children’s eternal glory instead of their earthly glory? If we took all the money and time we put into tutors and coaches and private lessons, and invested instead in making our children holy? Not well-known and praised and celebrated for what they do, but humble and meek and truly holy in who they are?

I left the walk grateful that we have a time of year such as Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to remind us of our mortality and the afterlife. To call us to meditate not on the things of this world but to meditate on those of another, more permanent world. For by thinking of the next world, we can better live in this one.

Would You Boycott Christmas? Why Catholic families should celebrate Halloween!

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I raised my nine children in the shadow of  other dedicated Catholic mothers, mostly homeschoolers, who thought Halloween was evil, dedicated to witches. Their children were not allowed to celebrate with their neighbors but went to a church basement to celebrate All Saints Eve.

This church was an hour away from us. More importantly, I felt my children suffered enough  because of a perceived alienation from their peers. At our tiny, Catholic, country school, everyone dressed up for the day and often joined friends afterward to go door to door. I did not want to deny my kids the joy and creative fun which surrounded this cultural, childhood tradition.

If you have any concerns about observing Halloween with your children, please read It’s Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween by Father Steve Grunow over at Word on Fire. I wish I had been able to read Father Steve Grunow’s research and commentary thirty years ago. He would have saved me a lot of grief because, although I let my kids celebrate Halloween, often dressed as a saint, I felt guilty.  I learned something new, something liberating, which freed me from decades of guilt.


October 31st,  November 1st and 2nd, are the “Days of the Dead” because Catholics pray for, or remember, those who have passed through the thin veil which separates life from death.  All Hallows’ Eve, on the evening of October 31 is the night before All Saints’ Day on  November 1st. Then, on the day after All Hallows’, we remember souls who are in Purgatory.


The  True Origins of Halloween

We often hear that Halloween is a pagan holiday but this is not true.

All Souls Day originated with the Bishop of Cluny, who in A.D. 1048, decreed that the Benedictines of Cluny pray for the souls in Purgatory on this day. The practice spread until Pope Sylvester II recommended it for the entire Latin Church.

In Irish popular piety, the evening before, Halloween (All Hallows or “Hallows’ Eve”) became a day of remembering the dead who are damned. These customs spread, starting the popular focus of Halloween on evil, scary characters and the fate of damned souls.

The customs of Halloween are a mixture of Catholic popular devotions and regional French, Irish, and English customs. Dressing up comes from the French. Carved Jack-o-lanterns come from the Irish. English Catholics initiated the custom of begging from door to door. Children would go door to door begging their neighbors for a “Soul Cake.” In turn, they would say a prayer for those neighbors’ dead saying, “A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!” Customary foods for Halloween include cider, nuts, popcorn, and apples.

Just as Christmas is still Christmas  despite our culture’s attempt to ruin it, Halloween is still a holy day for Catholics despite our culture’s desire to make it something ugly. As Catholics, when we boycott Halloween, we pull back from our own festival. Rather than withdraw or label Halloween as evil, let’s reclaim our Catholic roots and celebrate Halloween with joy.

Saintly Peg Dolls

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Our peg dolls are smiling from the table. Little hands reach up to collect a few. Then we chat about who this saint was and is. Have you heard about the rage of saint dolls for Catholic children?

Meet some of our peg dolls.

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peg doll2

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I’ve been painting small pegs of wood for many years. Sometimes I do a few at a time.   Imagine the simplicity of having a small image of a saint that mom would allow a child to carry around! The thrill of having your own likeness of a saint for your very own! My young children love it! I hear them play in the voice and character of each saint. It’s an awesome way to work out the understanding of what you have learned about a saint. We are encouraged to grow in faith and virtue as we learn about someone who strived before us.

Last summer I painted 20 of the same saint and traded dolls with some other moms. I began with a gentle sanding of the wood with fine grit sand paper. Then a gentle buffing with a cloth. Next required some study and imagination to translate 2D images depicting a saint into a 3D simple drawing. Each layer of paint was given to the wood with adequate time to draw.   I wondered if it was similar to how an icon is written. There was much time waiting for the paint to dry. When I had finished with all the paint, I gave three coats of protectant to the dolls. Again this required a waiting for the paint to dry between each layer. I was learning patience and so were my children!

Now these saints grace our children’s tables and move throughout the house as reminders. These saints are showing us how to be more like Jesus whether in our work or in our play.


Would you like to make your own saintly peg dolls? Here are some resources:

Paint a Peg Saint Tutorial. This is a great step-by-step tutorial for getting started on your saintly peg collection.

Easy Peg Dolls. Lacy at Catholic Icing has made it easy for anybody to make saint peg dolls. She offers patterns of the saint’s body to decoupage onto your peg, then you only need to paint the head.

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween

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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.

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tierney halloween henry

According to Scott P.Richert, the Catholicism expert at, 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

tierney saintsAs 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.

Considering Halloween

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This week on CAPC I’ve asked some of our staff writers to contribute their thoughts about Halloween — and by extension All Saints and All Souls Day. Many Catholic parents are torn about Halloween.  Should we participate? Is Halloween intrinsically evil? What’s with the ghosts and witches? Where does all this stuff come from?  All week I’ll be posting CAPC staff’s contributions and responses to these questions.

Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Halloween. I love the harvest atmosphere of many Halloween parties and events, but the whole sub-culture around Halloween seems to become increasingly dark each year.  A few years ago I want into a Halloween costume shop to get my daughter a Dorothy costume and I saw mechanical zombie babies with blood oozing from their eyes. Why? Not funny or interesting; just scary and disturbing.

Kim's dog in her Halloween costume

Kim’s dog in her Halloween costume

But my kids like to play make believe and there is something special about Halloween in my neighborhood. I don’t want my kids to miss out on that. So we trick or treat every year.  We even dress our dog up in a costume and take her trick or treating with us. There is nothing scary or disturbing about a Labradoodle in a bumble bee costume! (At least not to  humans . . . I’m not sure what Labradoodles think of this arrangement.)  This year my sister and her family are coming to stay overnight on Halloween and we’re all going trick-or-treating together. Cousins, candy, cocoa, and a sleepover all in one night!

As a few of our contributors will explain this week, Halloween has Catholic roots and even some of the scary stuff makes sense when you learn the history of the day. Did you know that ghosts first became associated with Halloween in Ireland because they believed that if somebody died one year and you held a grudge against him, then the next year he would appear to you on the night before All Saints: that’s right, All Hallows Eve or Halloween.  Skeletons and skulls give me the creeps and I assumed they were rooted in the occult, but guess what? Many Catholic countries like Mexico use symbols of death like skulls on All Souls Day to remind them of death and those who have died.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I don’t want to think about the inevitability of death. I’m okay with cute pumpkins and bumble bee costumes because they don’t challenge my comfort zone. Perhaps I want to hold on to some illusion that I will always be okay. I don’t want ghosts, witches, or devils decorating my house because I don’t want to invite confusion in my children’s minds about these things, but I am beginning to see that I shouldn’t automatically raise a brow when a Christian lets her child child dress as a ghost or when they put skull candles on their dinner tables.

I’m considering these things and I’m looking forward to reading what our other moms have to say this week.  I think my observation about American culture around Halloween will still hold at the end of the week: why are Americans so obsessed with vampires, zombies, and the undead?  It’s one thing to recognize the inevitability of death on the Day of the Dead and another to idolize demons and evil creatures, to think they are even sexy. That’s just so messed up. I think on some level the young people who are caught up in these things know that there is something more beyond this life, that it is only one short chapter in a journey and a sliver of some greater truth. It’s  unfortunate they are not given the freedom to surrender to the whole truth and promise of salvation and God’s love. Now that’s really scary.