If you are anything like me, I still get excited about Halloween each year. Perhaps it is the nostalgia for the elaborate planning of Halloween costumes. It was fun to find a costume or put on a mask and be something other than who I was. It was a chance to hang out with my friends, go door to door and meet the neighbours that I had never met, and, let's face it, it was an opportunity for some free candy. It was a yearly ritual.
Speaking of a yearly ritual, who can forget the sincerity of Linus in his pumpkin patch as he eagerly awaits the Great Pumpkin, only to the be disappointed again and again.
|It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
I was at a thrift store on the weekend and as I was looking through the aisles of costumes, it was evident that Halloween is a major part of our mainstream culture. In fact, statistically according to the Huffington Post (2010), it is the second highest grossing holiday next to Christmas.
Today's culture has a particular fascination around death, horror and the apocalypse. All you have to do is check out the latest listings for the movie theatre or tune into the ever so popular series, The Walking Dead. Halloween seems to be everywhere all throughout the year.
So, how many of us know the beginnings of this secular holiday and how many of us are aware that this holiday is not so secular after all?
The celebration of Halloween started as an ancient Celtic tradition among those living in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany and it took place on the eve of the Celtic new year and beginning of winter. The term for the festival celebrating the Celtic new years' eve was Samhain (pronounced sah-ween) and celebrated the belief that at this time of year the veil between the living and the ghosts of the dead was at its thinnest. To scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks, light bonfires and carve faces in turnips to use as lanterns. They would also travel from home to home to collect food and supplies for the winter months. When the Romans entered the scene, they added their own traditions such as bobbing for apples and drinking cider (any of this sound familiar?).
The Christian elements of Halloween entered in 835 AD when Pope Gregory IV announced that the Solemnity of All Saints would take place on November 1 and that the Church would celebrate All Souls Day on November 2. The night before the Solemnity of All Saints, became known as "All Hallows Eve" (hallow being an old fashioned word for holy) and is now more commonly known as Halloween. Christian missionaries to the countries that celebrated Samhain would have evangelized in such a way that they connected the themes of the living and the dead to the very themes of these Church feasts. These feasts were intended to remember those who died, whether or not they are officially recognized by the Church.
If we take our students back to the roots of this holiday of all Hallow's Eve, we have an incredible opportunity to open the door to the Church's teachings about life and death and how we are called to live as saints here on earth and in heaven with God.
When we think of the word saint, we might automatically think about a person who lived many years ago and has no connection to our lives today. Saints can often seem remote, unreachable and something other than what we are. Perhaps similar to some Halloween costume choices, the saints are like superheroes - in that they are someone who we look up to and want to model our lives after. Although the saints are like superheroes, I have come to learn that they are not so remote from my life after all. They are ordinary people who lived their lives in extraordinary ways.
Sainthood is not a calling for a select few. We are all called to be holy. The word saint comes from the Latin "sanctus" which means "holy." God's command in Leviticus 11:44 is, "Keep yourselves holy, because I am holy." Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are naturally called to be set apart for God both in this life and in the life to come.
The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls remind us about our Church's belief in life, death and life after death. However we need not wait to be reminded of this once a year - we profess these beliefs each Sunday at Mass in the Apostle's Creed. We believe that here on earth we are united with those in heaven, the communion of saints. With Christ's death on the cross, He has redeemed the world. We believe that we will share in His resurrection and will spend eternity with Him in heaven.
As Catholics we have so many traditions that stem back from centuries ago and the celebration of Halloween is no exception. It is important that we continue to pass along the roots of our customs and traditions so that the meaning is not loss and become just a night about getting free candy. Jesus has conquered the evil of the world and calls us to share our light to illuminate the darkness of the night. He calls us to remove our invisible masks, that we wear each day, in order to be who he called us to be. One of my favourite saint quotes comes from St. Catherine of Siena who said, "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."
As we approach Halloween, The Solemnity of All Saints and All Souls Day, may you have the courage to continue to discover who God meant you to be - a holy and living sign of His presence in the world.
Campus Minister to Youth
King's University College/Christ the King Parish
Questions for discussion with your students:
- Why do you believe Halloween is so popular? What are the pros and cons of how our society practices Halloween? What elements of faith are found within our tradition of going trick or treating? (i.e. community, going door to door, people making donations to each other, etc)
- How would you define a saint? Do you believe you are called to be a saint? If so, how does this impact how you live your life?
- At your celebration of Confirmation, did your home parish ask you to choose a saint's name and, if so, why is this saint is important to you?
- Reflect on the life of someone you know personally who you believe is a saint (living or dead) and how they live a holy life.
- How can we make the ordinary moments in our live extraordinary through our faith in Jesus?
Other ideas for your classroom:
- Host an All Hallows Eve Party in your classroom and reinact some of the original traditions, including going door to door in your school.
- Have your students do some research into the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead (also known as "Dia de los Muertos").
- If your students are still of the age to go Trick or Treating on Halloween, have them collect food for your local food bank or collect a donation for a charity that your school is currently supporting.
- Have your students research their favourite saint and in their class presentation, have them dress in character and present in the first person.
- Have your students compile a classroom "Communion of Saints" booklet in which they remember family or friends who have passed away. Pray for these people during the month of November.
Resources used in this article are found on the following sites:
Light Up the Night! A Halloween Bonfire Copyright © Center for Ministry Development, 2015.