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Family Strategies to Keep the ‘All Hallows’ in Halloween

It’s almost like a Triduum:

November 1 is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation. Make sure and go to Mass today, and ask for the intercession of all those in heaven — canonized and uncanonized alike.

November 2 is All Souls Day. The tradition today is to visit a graveyard and pray for the dead. Remind your children that it is a Christian duty to pray for the souls in purgatory.

But before all of it begins is October 31 – Halloween. What the heck do you do then?

The holiday can be a challenge for Catholics, with its emphasis on gore and ghouls. There are many strategies families have for coping with them. We have tried all of them.

One Strategy: Baptize Halloween

Halloween isn’t hard to baptize. The only reason we have “Halloween” at all is because we have All Saints Day, with “All Hallows Eve,” as the vigil.

In fact, that makes it one of the oldest feasts in the Church. It even had a spooky side, right from the beginning. In the early 600s, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to all the saints — at the time, only martyrs counted. Legend tells how relics from many other churches were brought to the Pantheon that day. So on the first Halloween wagonloads of bones lined the streets of Rome.

It is also a long custom in the Church to acknowledge and own the scariness of life. There are gargoyles on cathedrals, skulls and bones in monasteries, “Day of the Dead” celebrations in Latin America, and much, much more.

Scariness is nothing to be scared of. Just be sure your children know the full story of why we do what we do on Halloween.

Nonetheless, many Catholic families want to make a stand against the extremes to which the culture has gone in celebrating Halloween. Here are some other strategies.

The HOLY-ween Strategy. One way to handle Halloween is to dress the kids as saints. We used to attend the “Holyween” party at our Connecticut parish, dressing kids up as saints.

That didn’t mean they were all dressed as priests or nuns. They could be soldiers by dressing as St. Michael, St. Joan of Arc or St. George. There were saints who princesesses, kings, hobos and American Indians. The downside was that our Connecticut kids never got to experience trick or treating, that grand exercise in community charity.

The Purgatory Strategy.

Another strategy is to embrace Catholicism’s own tradition of ghosts and gargoyles and let the kids dress up like souls in Purgatory or martyrs (at the moment of martyrdom!). We actually haven’t had the guts to go “full-gore” on this one, but we have had a St. Lucy holding eyeballs, and for years we have dressed up our lawn with skeletons and gravestones with signs that say “Pray for the Souls in Purgatory.”

The Tasteful Trick-or-Treater.

What we have been doing now is the “tasteful trick or treater.” The kids dress up like football players (Kansas City Chiefs!) or a juice box (a spray-painted box with head and arm holes), a raisin (a black garbage bag with a head hole) etc., then go door to door.

Whatever the strategy, remember to pray

One long custom we have is playing “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” on Halloween. It’s lyrics are hopeful, its melody is beautiful, but it helps keep the right focus each Halloween.  Here are two verses to whet the appetite:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the pow’rs of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

Image: Wikimedia

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Fatima Family Handbook and What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. He writes weekly for the National Catholic Register and Aleteia. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Catholic Digest. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and has nine children.