Continuing in the vein of the past two posts which centred around Halloween, this, too, is a defense of the holiday–for children, this time.
Maybe I was an odd child, but I really loved dressing up when I was younger. (I still do, but that’s a topic to tackle later.) I loved getting dressed up and pretending to be someone else. Halloween was the perfect excuse to do this because I could coordinate my dressing-up with my friends, and we could all be someone else together, and it would be fun! Plus, there was candy involved. What’s not to like about that? I loved Halloween so much that I would spend weeks coming up with costume ideas and pitching them to my mom. She heard me out, and frequently shot me down, but did so nicely. (Like the time I was about… seven? and wanted to wear sparkly gold high heels as part of a fairy princess costume. That got vetoed. I was insistent. She was the mom.)
The point of any and all Halloween-related childhood anecdotes would be this: imagination is magical to a child. There is something unbelievably special about being small and thinking that you’re really a princess or an evil witch for a night. As a rather perceptive child, I knew when grown-ups were just “playing along” with me to make me feel better, so I would often up the ante to catch them off guard. In hindsight I think they were probably just really happy to see me so happy–I love seeing children play now that I’m an old and grizzly grown-up. Nonetheless, why on earth would I take away the opportunity to let a child’s imagination run a little wild for a night?
I’m not going to say don’t dress your kid up as a saint. I’m going to say don’t force your kid to dress up as a saint. However, I haven’t done Joan of Arc yet, and if I ever find myself with excessive free time (ha), you can bet I’ll be making that armour. Point being, sometimes they might think it’s actually cool to dress up as a saint! And that is, I guess, the ultimate goal. Make them think the saints are cool enough to be emulated on the same level as the fairy princess or superhero. Frankly, if I hadn’t been Elizabeth of Hungary for every saint report I ever had to do, I’d totally have been her for Halloween as a kid. I mean, she was a freaking PRINCESS who would probably carry around a basket of bread or roses. Long flowy dress, crown, and automatic prop to double as a trick-or-treat bag? What’s not to like about that?
A conversation with one of my friends reminded me that not everyone in the “Christian” camp believes in the perpetual spiritual war between good and evil. This is one of those perks of being Catholic (and another thing which makes most Protestants think we’re all completely mad)–I can say to you, with a perfectly straight face, that we are in the midst of a battleground at this very moment. The war is raging all around us and we are an inherent part of it whether or not we want to be (because as humans we’re inherently spiritual creatures but that’s another Catholic pre-supposition).
Come Halloween-time, it’s a very common practice of Protestants and Catholics alike to “sterilise” the holiday by making it only about saints and churchy things–or making it not exist at all. This is the 180-degree turn from the secular world’s tendency to utterly defile Halloween and turn it into a festival of lust. I take issue with both approaches to Halloween.
Obviously, caving to the secular ideals turns the entire night into an occasion of sin. But it is almost equally detrimental to completely saint-wash the day and ignore the fact that there is a darker side to the world–one we don’t see. All Hallow’s Eve is, technically, the vigil celebration of All Saint’s Day. In the dark vigil hours, however, we should face the darkness. As with Easter Vigil, where the service begins in darkness and ends in light, All Hallows Eve does the same–over longer time and on a much less dramatic scale. The night before All Saint’s Day is dark (because it’s night, and it’s October). And with darkness comes uncertainty–a certain degree of mystery. It is that mystery which keeps children dressing up year after year, and having people ask them who or what they are. In the dark before the light, they can be someone or something else, just for a little while. The mystery turns into magic for them.
This is turning into a post on mystery now, which could easily lead into a discussion of the Eucharist–so I think I’ll leave that for another day.
I may be busy and I may be crazed but Halloween is coming up and I am absolutely determined to have a really good costume this year. It is, after all, my absolute favourite holiday.
…yes, my dear Catholic readers, my favourite holiday is Halloween. Not Easter. Not Christmas. Halloween. Now before you go calling me a pagan, let me quickly point out that the respectable Leah Libresco ALSO loves Halloween and seems to be getting on just fine as a newly minted Catholic. There’s my obligatory finger-pointing taken care of; now for some of my actual justification.
This time of year, there is always a debate going on in the Catholic world. To celebrate Halloween or not? and if we celebrate it, do we make the kids dress up as saints and traipse through the neighbourhood in their robes and crowns with their super-symbolic candy buckets?
As a former witch (of every variation), flower child, ragdoll-Sally, bat, princess (of several flavours), galaxy, Ariel, and Mom-only-knows what else,* I object wholeheartedly to this proposal. Halloween is the day to dress up and pretend to be someone or something else. While I have not repeated a costume in my entire life (and I don’t plan to start any time soon!), my sister was a cat for at least four years running. And she was an adorable cat, too. But being a cat has nothing to do with saints or All Hallows Eve or souls. It does, however, have to do with the fact that on one day a year, we have a chance to put on a mask and costume and transform ourselves.
So, with 29 days left until Halloween, I’m hoping to write up a series of short posts about the holiday and why it’s not terrible to celebrate it.
*Mom made a lot of my costumes for a long time.