All Hallows Tide

Sometimes I feel a little torn when it comes to celebrating holy days that are saturated with pagan traditions.  On one hand, I grew up celebrating most of the holidays with the traditional cultural traditions and I want my kids to experience that…I have lovely, happy memories of holidays as a child; on the other hand, I want my kids to have the opportunity to live in a faith infused environment…I want them surrounded by what is good and holy and beautiful and to be immersed in traditions that are rich in their Catholic heritage.  So often times, rather than choose between the two, I end up doing a whole lot of merging.  Halloween is no different.

A quick little history lesson…Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve is the night before All Saints Day (“Hallow” meaning…you guessed it, “holy” or in this case, “saint”).  As Meredith Gould points out in The Catholic Home, “Although Halloween has been secularized since the nineteenth century, Catholics have a long history of observing evening vigil before the Feast of All Saints.”  All Hallows’ Eve marks the beginning of the triduum of All Hallows Tide, which is the time when the church remembers the dead…saints, martyrs, and all the faithfully departed.  Many of the traditions (trick-or-treating, included!) stem from ancient traditions, some rooted in Christianity, some rooted in paganism.  For an excellent read, refer to Mary Reed Newland’s The Year and Our Children or read an excerpt from her book by heading over to CatholicCulture.org.  The issue isn’t so much that Christianity and Halloween are in opposition to one anther, the issue is more one of education and understanding what the focus of All Hallows Eve should be and then making that connection for our children.

That being said, we, over here, are not immune to the cultural influences of Halloween.  On the contrary, there are some things I just like to do with the kids (much to the chagrin, I am sure, of many fellow Catholics).  In the days preceding Halloween, we do quite a bit of cultural Halloweeny (is that a word?!) things…we make jack-o-lantern collages, paint ghosts, decorate the house to look a little spooky, listen to Wee Sing Halloween, read lots of silly and scary Halloween stories, spend some time at the pumpkin patch and corn maze and of course, use an evening to watch The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  Sometimes I explain the connection and sometimes we just bask in the moment.

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The day of Halloween arrives bright and early (or in this year’s case, dark and early as a huge thunderstorm rolled in and woke all the little critters) and we begin by reading Father Philip Tells a Ghost Story and Moonlight Miracle.  The rest of the day is spent carving jack-o-lanterns and eagerly awaiting Halloween night when we can join all the other little ghosts and goblins as we go door-to-door trick-or-treating.

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Our Halloween costumes are usually secular (although we try to veer from anything extremely scary or devilish)…from super heroes to knights to strawberries.  Halloween night arrives and we don our costumes, grab our jack-o-lantern buckets and we’re off.

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We come home, buckets filled to the brim with candy, eat a piece (or two) and head to bed.  But here is where our Halloween differs from the majority of all those tuckered out little trick-or-treaters.  We go to bed with the anticipation of what’s to come…we know that we have only just begun our All Hallows Tide celebration.  Tomorrow we will celebrate All Saints Day.

All Saints Day is a joyful celebration around here!  We usually begin with Mass and then we come home to celebrate.  Some years our celebration has been as simple as saint stories (including a reading of I Sing a Song of the Saints of God) and some coloring, other years our celebration has been a bit more elaborate.  Most years involve getting all the saint dolls out and singing a liturgy of the saints.

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This year we decided to expand our celebration and throw an All Saints Day party.  The kids each chose and dressed up as a saint.  Joseph was Saint George, William was Saint William, and Andrew chose Saint Patrick (although I noticed that halfway through the party Joseph and Andrew had traded costumes).  The supplies were bought, the games were prepared and the guests arrived.

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There were Saint Guessing Jars…

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Pin the Shamrock on Saint Patrick…

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Works of Mercy stations…

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Saint Anthony’s Treasure Box…

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Saint Isidore’s Potato Sack Races…

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Saint George’s Sword Fighting…

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Saint Peter’s Keys to Heaven…

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Queen of All Saints Ring Toss…

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After the party, we worked on making our own saint dolls and had some afternoon saint treats (St. Isidore’s Pumpkin Swirl Bread (Pepperidge Farm special edition bread), St. Francis Tonsure Treats (chocolate frosted doughnuts) and St. Cecelia’s Musical Keys (sugar wafers lined up as the white piano keys with mini hershey bars as the black keys).  And we may have had a little more saintly costume fun!

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Tomorrow our celebration will continue with All Souls Day.  The atmosphere shifts a little as we approach All Souls Day with a little more of a somber attitude, remembering those we have loved and lost and praying for their dearly departed souls to make their way to Heaven.  All Souls Day is always accompanied by reading The Spirit of Tio Fernando and a visit to the cemetery.  Our cemetery has statues for the Stations of the Cross, so we usually pray our way past those.

Our All Hallows Tide celebration is complete.  I judge our celebration’s success based on one factor alone…do my children approach death as a celebration?   Do they realize that there is no need to fear death itself, but rather to embrace it as a part of our Christian journey?  If the answer is yes, we have succeeded.  This year’s celebration?  A success indeed.

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