There is nothing more delightful than the bright eyes of a child in costume, ready for an evening go trick-or-treating. However, in recent years, skepticism about Halloween has caused many to question how, and if, to celebrate it.
Here are points to consider from a Catholic perspective:
Halloween began in the Celtic countries, long before Christianity. The change from summer to winter was a significant time for the ancient Celts. The final harvest was gathered and celebrated, the dark and cold were coming on, and so their daily lives changed as work went from outdoor to indoor. Times of such changes were believed to have magical powers, and the fall of the year was seen as a time when the souls of the dead visited earth. There may have been bon fires and disguises used to scare off any ill-intentioned souls. Much later, Christian missionaries began converting the Celts, but of course, the people still experienced these seasonal changes and the need for the customs they had practiced. In the eighth century, the Church moved the feast of All Saints from May to November 1, and in the tenth century, created the feast of All Souls (November 2). Some historians feel these times were purposely chosen to incorporate the non-Christian customs of recognition of the souls of the dead with the Christian belief in heaven and an afterlife with God.
From then on, customs of the two intertwined in ways that were both holy and fun. For example, in medieval days, there was a custom called ‘souling’, in which people went from door to door, singing and asking for a ‘soul cake’, a sweet yeast bun with spices. In exchange, they promised to pray for the deceased family members of the household. Sound a bit like ‘trick-or-treat’? Other aspects of the Celtic festivities evolved until, in the United States and Canada, we have children wearing costumes to ‘frighten’ others and begging for treats. Skeletons and other symbols of death hang in windows of homes and stores near October 31st..
Many other cultures have festivities with similar emphasis on honoring ancestors around harvest time. In Mexico (as well as in other places), these same calendar days are called “Los Dias de los Muertos” (the Days of the Dead), in which families fondly remember their dead and enjoy treats such as sugar skulls. If you are a teacher or catechist, and you or some children in your class celebrate this way, don’t hesitate to bring these beautiful customs to the classroom.
Reasons to Celebrate:
- Children need Halloween!
Kids, preschoolers especially, learn about adult life by pretending to be someone else. This play may reflect the practical side of life, such as being a doctor, a mommy, or a pilot. It may also reflect the psychological sides of life: is the child dressed as a princess trying on a sense of power, exploring her feelings about femininity, or both? Does playing with plastic dinosaurs give a child a sense of control over things bigger than him or herself, or does it serve to help confront something very scary in the subconscious?
Halloween costumes offer kids the ultimate in this kind of play. How many of these costumes end up in toy boxes after Halloween and are then dragged out regularly during the rest of the year?
- We all need Halloween!
At some level we all must confront the fact of our mortality. Most of us do this on a subconscious level, children included. Halloween is about death. We see it in the withering of the flowers and the falling of the leaves. So at Halloween, we laugh at death. We hang up silly skeletons, use plastic skulls for candy dishes, put on costumes and eat junk. We do this and enjoy life on this side while we have it. For someday, we will all be part of that celebrated Communion of Saints.
Most great feasts of the Catholic Church are begun on the night, or “eve” before. The name “Halloween” comes from the words hallow or holy, and evening. So the Church has given us a two-day feast, and it starts on the eve of All Saints Day: October 31.
Of course, children understand Halloween early on, but what about All Saints and Souls Days? Certainly, children’s attention will be focused on Halloween. So, go with it! Celebrate Halloween as close to October 31st as possible and have fun! Hang up those skeletons, don those costumes!
Then, take the next few weeks of November to learn about the Community of Saints so the children will come to understand the significance of the two holy days following ‘trick-or-treating.’ Read saint stories (https://anneneuberger.com/product/a-circle-of-saints-stories-and-activities-for-children/), provide clothing for saint costumes. Have statues that children can handle and let them create dioramas or small displays. Talk about people whose names are saints names.
Bring out photos of people who have passed. Display these and talk of happy memories. Mention that you feel these people are now closer to God. Talk, play, and help children embrace their spiritual heritage by enjoying All Saints and All Souls all November!