In my early childhood, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. My mom had a strong aversion to anything that stank of the demonic — even if it was only her imagination. Nothing that resembled a witch, vampire, demon, or even a skeleton was allowed in our home, and media — especially movies — were restricted to G-ratings for much longer than most families.
We were a Catholic family that attended a weekly Baptist Sunday school for their emphasis on Scripture study, and that afforded us a handy Halloween alternative each year: Fall Festival.
While other kids were out trick-or-treating as ghouls, we were at the Baptist church hall, dressed as Road Runner or a pea pod as we bobbed for apples, swung at thematic piñatas, and did fall arts and crafts.
As we got a little older, we began to trick-or-treat, but other standard Halloween traditions like spooky decorations or scary movies were never welcome in our home.
There’s a lot of debate in Christian circles surrounding whether it’s appropriate to celebrate Halloween, and misinformation about the origins of the holiday is equally widespread. I’m not here to recount a detailed history or tell families what to do, but I will say this: regardless of the pagan traditions that gradually entwined themselves with All Hallow’s Eve («Hallow-e’en» in one of its later forms), the day was originally set aside to prepare for the Holy Day of Obligation that followed: All Saint’s Day.
There’s no reason to surrender a day of spiritual preparation to coincidental timing of peripheral pagan celebrations. Christ came to redeem! Even if secular Halloween has devolved towards the demonic, we Christians can and should purify our own traditions and use them as tools to evangelize and grow in holiness.
If it’s something your family wants to do, there are ways to return Halloween to an occasion for Christ. Here are just a few ideas for family traditions that honor God:
1. Memento mori
Memento mori (In Latin, literally remember death) is the medieval Christian practice of reflecting on one’s mortality. Twitter has seen a resurgence in the popularity of this contemplative tradition in the form of the hashtag #MementoMori, thanks largely to the efforts of Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP. Some people wear jewelry with the likeness of a skull or carry a small replica in their pocket to remind themselves that they should be preparing always for death.
What better time to think and pray about our inevitable encounter with God than the night we prepare to celebrate those who already see his face? Besides, thanks to secular Halloween traditions, there’s no shortage of decorative skulls to use as visual aids and opportunities for evangelization. Reclaim spooky imagery and teach your children to understand to Whom they belong.
2. Dress up with a purpose
Scary masks were originally intended to frighten off evil spirits the night before the holy day. Today, though, trick-or-treating as an evil creature more often has the effect of glorifying them. It’s not necessarily a sin to dress up as say, vampires, but there are many more wholesome things for our kids to emulate.
Saints are a popular option in Catholic circles (and they can be reused the next day for All Saints Day!), or why not dress up your child as his or her role model, or a brave character from solid Christian literature like the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or G.K. Chesterton? In this way, we can prepare ourselves for All Saints Day by heeding St. Paul’s imperative in Philippians 4:8 to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.
3. Rejoice in creation
Autumn is filled with incredible colors and sights — it’s something to celebrate! The day before we celebrate the lives of the saints, celebrate the beautiful world created by God to help lead them (and us) to holiness! Break out those cookbooks and Pinterest boards. Make seasonal meals and treats as a family, delivering some of them to local nursing homes, hospitals or households in need.
In place of spooky decorations, create (or purchase) garlands of colorful autumnal leaves, acorn wreaths and the like. Kids love to see their handiwork displayed around the house — why not try your hand at a family arts and crafts night? Halloween is one night, but fall is a season. These can stay up all the way to Thanksgiving!
4. Pray a Hallow-novena
It was a poor attempt at a pun, but you get the idea. On November 1st, we celebrate all the saints and Saints, known and unknown; ask for their intercession! Pick a novena to your favorite saint, the family’s patron or even this general All Saints novena written for the occasion! Start it on October 23rd to finish it by Halloween, or October 24th to stretch until the holy day itself.
5. Commit to a Halloween resolution
The evening before All Saints Day, make resolutions to grow in holiness as a family and as individuals. Perhaps it’s committing to a spiritual practice or creating more space for quality time at home. Start practicing that resolution on All Saints Day and ask the intercession of all those holy men and women. Lots of convenient markers are coming up in the calendar; check the strength of your commitment again when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around.
— Forest (Hempen) Barnette
Marketing and Communications Associate