Halloween Unchained

Young kids carving Halloween jack-o-lanterns

by Anthony Digmann

Has Halloween ever made you feel uncomfortable, like something is just not quite right? If that’s the case, your intuition is on to something, but there’s a lot we can do as Catholics to redeem what our culture has misconstrued with this sacred holiday — etymologically, “holy day.” Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is simply the night before the holy day of All Saints.

It is a sacred vigil, just like Christmas Eve, and both All Saints and Christmas are so special that they are among the six Holy Days of Obligation for American Catholics. Originating over 1400 years ago in the early church, All Saints Day is dedicated to recognizing those who have gone before us and enjoy eternal life, especially the Saints formally recognized by the Church for having practiced heroic virtue. The Saints are both inspirations for our own spiritual growth and practical intercessors on our behalf, so this day is of inestimable importance.

Unfortunately, much of our culture spends Halloween celebrating darkness, even evil in some respects. Elements of the occult and macabre are lauded, despite being completely contradictory to the positive spiritual significance of the evening. We see children dressed as witches, demons, or in immodest costumes, which are all condemned by Sacred Scripture and

“Saint Cyprian and the demon,” 14th-century manuscript of the “Golden Legend.” Photo: Public Domain

the Catechism of the Catholic Church. St. Paul encourages us, “Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light” (Rm 13:12), and we can certainly do much to improve the current situation.

As Catholics we are called to redeem things of the world, and recovering the significance and sacredness of this holy night that has been tragically corrupted is within our power, especially by the grace of God. Rather than giving in to occult and macabre decorations or imagery, we can be intentionally Catholic, even evangelize through counter-cultural costumes, treats, and decorations that call attention to the real reason for Halloween.

With the treats we give to children, we could also include Catholic sacramentals like holy water bottles filled and blessed. Medals would be wonderfully appropriate, especially St. Benedict or St. Michael medals. What child wouldn’t be excited to get a glow-in-dark rosary? These would be great either full length or as a simple finger rosary. Scapulars with an explanation of what they are about could make a positive impact as well. I was given my first brown scapular from my Lutheran grandmother who bought them from an inexpensive bulk order magazine, so some sacramentals may be popular even beyond exclusively Catholic circles. Finally, holy cards of saints and prayers could be another welcome addition in children’s baskets or with small gifts for our coworkers.

Costumes could include Saints like a boy dressed like St. Francis who can even bring the family pet along while walking the neighborhood. St. Patrick’s legend of driving out snakes could validate a costume including rubber snakes and dressing like a bishop. We have a lot of royalty in the canon of Saints, so a St. Elizabeth of Hungary or St. Louis of France would be well represented. Have a girl who wants a sword? We have that covered with St. Joan of Arc, and boys can be St. Michael the Archangel. Girls can also be a doctor as one of my favorites, St. Gianna Molla, whose adult Italian son I had the pleasure of meeting when we were struggling to conceive children.

Let’s remember to share the reason of the holiday with children and even co-workers and friends as well. Christians are familiar with the phrases “Keep Christ in Christmas” hand “Remember the Reason for the Season,” so similar approaches would be welcome with regard to Halloween. We can talk about what Halloween actually means and how it originated, as well as share the Catholic beliefs about the Saints and how they are both models and intercessors for us. If we have statues of Saints, this would be a great time to make a place of honor for them in our homes, and invoke their help in our lives, especially with our children or grandchildren present to explain devotion to the Saints.

By incorporating some of these creative strategies, Halloween could not only be redeemed as a holy vigil before All Saints Day, but it could also serve as a unique opportunity to share and celebrate Catholic devotions and history. Many of our neighbors and friends may be surprised to learn that Halloween is a Catholic holiday, but greeting them on the street with, “Happy All Saints Eve!” has the potential to get them thinking more deeply about the celebration at hand. In the workplace we can share stories of our favorite Saints and possibly even inspire virtue among our colleagues. Who wouldn’t want more of that?

May we redeem Halloween for what it is and allow God’s grace to flow through what we do into the world and lives of those around us. As the holiday approaches, let’s follow the wisdom of St. Paul: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). May God bless you abundantly on this All Hallows Eve and always!

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