Don’t be scared of Halloween

SONY DSCHalloween: What a great holiday! It beats the heck out of Arbor Day six ways to Sunday. Around this time every year, I’m asked by Christian parents about the appropriateness of their children dressing up as Spiderman or cowboys or fairy princesses.

Every year I give them the same response: Halloween’s supposed occult connections are superficial and misleading. Halloween is steeped in Catholic theology and piety, and besides, it’s just so much damn fun. We couldn’t have arranged a more perfect synthesis of devotion and festivity had we tried. When you get to the core of what the holiday is, you find an overwhelmingly Catholic Christian holiday. It should be recognized and celebrated as such-warts, spider webs, and all.

Symbolically and historically, Halloween is associated with the supernatural, death, and spooky things, but its evolution from its ancient origins to its current permutation is interesting to note.

It’s been said that Halloween was originally a Celtic holiday called Samhain. It is true the ancient Celts celebrated a minor holiday on October 31 dedicated to the harvest, but they also celebrated a festival on the last day of almost every month of the year. Further, Samhain was celebrated only among Irish pagans. It would be odd if the Catholic Church, in an attempt to Christianize the holiday, skipped over all of the other numerous pagan tribes and their harvest holidays to annoy the Irish pagans.

In the Christian calendar November 1 is All Saints Day, or “All Hallows’ Day.” The word “Halloween” is simply the abbreviated form of “All Hallows’ Eve,” the vigil celebration in anticipation of the feast day.

In the early fourth century, All Saints Day was a way to commemorate the martyrs, but later all of the saints were included in the festival. All Souls Day is our day to remember those who have fallen asleep in Christ who weren’t officially recognized as saints.

St. Augustine reminds us, “If we had no care for the dead, we would not be in the habit of praying for them.” We are all weak creatures, and none of us are holy enough to stand before the throne of God. Thus we need the prayers of others. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are meant to remind us of the need to be humble before God and each other.

By the time All Saints Day was moved to November 1 (731) and All Souls Day was added to the calendar (998), Europe had already long been Christianized. Halloween was not a matter of appeasement, an evangelization scheme, or strong-arming against Celtic pagans, despite the protests of modern-day neo-pagans and “witches.”

The practice of dressing in costumes for All Souls Day originated in France during the 14th and 15th centuries. During the Black Death epidemics, artists would depict the Danse Macabre, “Dance of Death,” on cemetery walls and coffins. The images would depict the devil or the personification of Death leading the recently deceased into a tomb. A custom arose in France of reenacting Danse Macabre on All Souls Day. It was believed that the demons out that night would be fooled by the masked party-goers and move on in search for a place devoid of their co-diabolics.

Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, commemorates the unsuccessful Catholic uprising intended to blow up the British parliament and overthrow King James I’s government in 1605. Small children would don masks and go about begging “a penny for the Guy,” the hapless keeper of the gunpowder intended for the revolution. Adult revelers would demand beer and cakes. Tricks and treats, indeed! The custom of dressing in masquerade and asking for small presents migrated easily to All Hallows’ Eve.

As to Halloween’s supposed pre-Christian origins, Thursday and Friday are named after the Norse gods Thor and Frigga, and we got the idea for Christmas trees from religions that predate Christianity. But you would be hard-pressed to find a Christian willing to give up his tree or rename the days of the week. We shouldn’t be so hard on Halloween, either.

How much more Catholic a holiday can anyone hope for? Let’s resolve to take back the holiday and celebrate it as it was originally intended: a spiritual preparation for the two more important holidays following it: All Souls Day and All Saints Day. For years, my parish school has had the delightful custom of asking students to dress as their favorite saints for their Halloween party.

Now that we’re on the same page about Halloween historically speaking, the question still remains: Should we be dressing as ghouls and witches? I’ve never been a big fan of gore, but a pair of plastic vampire teeth and some fake blood is hardly going to traumatize anyone’s child.

Recently some parishes have decided to host so-called “harvest parties.” These are “Halloween-lite” parties, sans mentions of death and general creepiness. But by avoiding discussion of death, an important part of our theology as Christians, we miss important celebratory opportunities.

Let’s not run scared with our dog costume’s tail between our legs. God doesn’t mind if we have a laugh or two or even a good scare every now and again. If not, God wouldn’t have invented roller coasters. Being scared is actually a lot of fun. It’s as innocuous as practical jokes on April Fool’s Day and barbecues on the Fourth of July.

Mexican Catholics haven’t had a problem reconciling frightening images with profound faith during their celebrations of the Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos). The Day of the Dead is their way of celebrating All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Mexican Catholics dress in costumes and decorate their homes with skulls, skeletons, tombstones, coffins, and candles. They even go so far as to picnic in cemeteries, and they seem to be handling it well. There’s no reason the rest of the Catholic world can’t.

Despite the protestation of our “pagan” brothers and sisters, witches don’t actually exist. That is, I’ve yet to meet anyone who can actually alter the weather, curdle milk simply by looking at it, or make wells run dry. I’ve met some folks who claim to do these things and more, but they are only fooling themselves.

That being the case, our kids can dress as witches as easily as any two of them can be the front and back ends of a unicorn; they don’t exist, either. I say, masquerade and masquerade boldly! Let the macabre flow! If dressing as a saint is your thing, then so be it, but there’s no problem going as your favorite scary alien monster.

Halloween is a great time to get your scare on. If not now, when? Let’s indulge in the sticky, the creepy, and in things that go bump in the night on Halloween. This is our night to bump back. You can dress as a devil as long as you don’t succumb to the diabolical. If you dress as a demon, you are no more worshiping a demon than you are worshiping an angel if you dressed as your favorite cherub.

I will admit that some costumes are scandalous and show poor taste. Just because it’s a fun holiday doesn’t mean we should toss aside common sense, decency, and our ethics. Our society already oversexualizes children, and adults for that matter. Little Suzy shouldn’t be allowed to wear fishnet stockings under any circumstances, let alone on Halloween.

The more Christians become scared of this otherwise benign and harmless holiday, the more we empower those who wish to desacramentalize and even commercialize Christianity. Frankly, I believe there’s more damage caused by the commercialization of Halloween than there is in the supposed paganization of the holiday. I’d trust Christians with Halloween before I’d trust Walmart with it.

To Christians who refuse to join in on the festivities: A part of our prayer is rejoicing in God and throwing ourselves into the mysteries of our faith, which include life and death. That sounds like it has “Halloween” written all over it.{C}

This year, I’m planning on attending New York City’s huge Halloween celebration as St. Michael the Archangel. With any luck, my wings won’t get caught in the subway doors.

By Angelo Stagnaro,  a journalist, author, and stage magician who performs in Europe and North America. He is author of 12 books including A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics (Tau) – This article originally appeared in U.S. Catholic magazine.

At Home with Our Faith is Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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Why kids need true grit, part two

Cliff IMG_9304 copy(continued from last week)

Understand the importance of motivation. It can be tempting to look at the child next door who has a passion for soccer and wonder why our own child is picking dandelions in the field. Parents need to remember that there are many areas of childhood that are not required for a successful adulthood. Yes, motivation and effort are important, but no one wants to give their all to something of only marginal interest.

“Last year we signed our youngest up for swim team,” says Dave, father of two. “It was a struggle to get her involved. There was no motivating factor that could get her excited about it. We didn’t sign her up again.” Parents need to be able to let their children’s interests, not their own ambition, provide guidance.

Put effort toward faith development. Parents who have worked to develop a deeper faith life often are more appreciative of the effort needed in all areas of life.

“I think that we need to put in hard work when it comes to prayer,” says Emma, mother of three. “I’m not someone to whom prayer comes easily; it’s harder to ask for help than to give it. So I need to practice praying. I have to work at it.”

Brigid, the chaplain and teacher, agrees. “One of my greatest revelations was that discipline is required in one’s spiritual life. I had developed this notion that ‘Because it’s God, it should be easy,’ but I came to see that, like every other relationship of quality in my life, I had to give in order to receive,” she says. “I learned that I had to submit myself to a discipline of daily prayer and examination if I wanted to have a good relationship with God and God’s people.” Brigid explains that this caused her to place a greater value on training of any kind. “Athletic, music, homework completion—I have come to see the value of perseverance in all aspects of life,” she says.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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Why kids need true grit

boy climbing IMG_5852Brigid, a chaplain working in the oncology unit of a hospital, came to know a man undergoing treatment for cancer. He was unusually upbeat considering that the treatment he was undergoing was painful. “I asked him how he could remain so cheerful,” Brigid says. “He explained that he had played football
in high school and he had learned how to deal with pain in such a way that he did not let it interfere with reaching his goals.”

For Brigid, mother of four, the experience was one that stayed with her as she transitioned from hospital ministry to a career in teaching. “As a teacher, I have seen that perseverance is a critical factor in success. An average-ability student who has grit and perseverance can be more successful than a gifted student who takes his or her ability for granted and coasts,” she says.

How do we help children value putting forth a strong effort? Why are some children motivated to do their best and others shrug off hard work? For parents whose children fail to reach their potential, the question is excruciating.

“Watching our son almost flunk out of high school has been one of our most difficult experiences,” says Joseph, whose son scored in the top 1 percent nationally on standardized tests yet wouldn’t complete requirements for classes that didn’t interest him. “Once they’re in high school, there is not much a parent can do if the child doesn’t put forth effort.”

According to research out of Columbia University in New York, parents of elementary-aged children who want to raise kids who persevere in middle and high school need to be intentional about their own behavior when the kids are working. In their parenting book, NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children (Hatchett Book Group), authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain the Columbia study. Half of a group of 400 fifth-graders working on a puzzle were complimented on how smart they were as they finished it. The other half were complimented on their effort. Those complimented on their intelligence did significantly worse on the subsequent (more difficult) puzzles than their peers who were complimented on effort. “Those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort,” Bronson and Merryman say. “Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it with your natural gifts.”

Lead with your own effort. People very skilled at a specific task can make it look easy to the rest of us. Children may not know how hard we are trying at our job or in our relationships because we don’t want to burden them with our struggles. But Jennifer, mother of two, believes children need to see effort firsthand in order to understand it. “I want to pass on to my children that it takes effort to achieve what you want out of life and it takes practice to be good at something,” she says. “I do not shield my children from the effort I put into my daily life. I try to lead by example and hope they will learn.”   …continued next week

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

 

Me, teach my kids about God?

Dad, son, bike, RGB mjYxU8OIt may be easier than you think. Your partner in this is God, after all.

God is love. In any moment of love—smiling over an ice cream cone, a hug after a lost soccer game, a laugh between siblings—God is present. Say it out loud to your kids. “This love we are feeling right now, this peace—this is what we mean when we say God is love.”

Commit to your own faith development. Take a class, join a prayer group, read a spiritual book. Get yourself to a place where you have something to say about faith because of your own personal experience.

Expect the grace. When you and your children go to Mass or reconciliation, expect to see the grace of God as a result. Talk about the grace you each need for the difficult things in your life—and discuss with your children when you feel the grace of God and are able to better navigate those difficulties.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Take a moment of silence with your kids

Candle RGBmfIQkguFor most families, there is no such thing as a 10-minute pocket of silence during the day. Yet our faith tradition and science are coming together to agree that a time of sitting without thoughts—call it centering prayer, meditation, or strong sitting—is beneficial to both children and adults. Several studies have found meditation to reduce anxiety levels, improve self-awareness and self-control, and improve attention skills. The Bible says it like this: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
One method of many:
• Have each child sit cross-legged on a pillow facing a wall in a room, with eyes open and mouth closed.
• Gently explain that they should pick one sacred word—love, God, peace, Christ—and should let all thoughts flow out of their mind.
• Set the timer for one minute per year of the child’s age (or the average if you have several children).
• Approach centering prayer as a gift even if children don’t look forward to it—compliment them for any success they have in sitting quietly.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Teach your children well, part two

morguefile mom and baby(continued from last week, this is from our series on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This week, instructing the ignorant.) Maggie, mother of three grade schoolers, believes that teaching the Golden Rule is paramount. “There are times when I know one of my children has done something to make someone else feel left out or upset,” Maggie says. “I can draw on their experiences of when this happened to them to remind them that it doesn’t feel good, and they should only treat others how they want to be treated. I am far from perfect myself, but because I teach this to my children so often, I have become much more thoughtful toward others in my words and actions.”

John, father of five, says that his main instruction to his children is to pray at all times. “Often this seems to fall upon deaf ears,” he says. When his daughter was 9, however, she told him that when her class went on a field trip to a Marian shrine, she prayed for a lump that had been on her forehead to go away, and it did.

Whether or not this was a true miracle or just a case of his daughter’s body naturally healing itself wasn’t the point to John. For him, what mattered was that his daughter took her faith seriously enough to pray at the shrine. John was moved that his daughter would have a conversation with God aside from in church or with the family—about something that was a personal concern. “Humbled and grateful, I felt like I had passed on a bit of my own faith to my child,” John says.

Beth and Steve (not their real names) feel that their approach to marriage has taught their children about the sacrament. When the children were younger, the two attended Retrouvaille—a weekend experience for couples in struggling marriages. “We’ve explained  to our children that it wasn’t always easy for us to be married. Today we show that our marriage is very important to us by doing things that enrich our marriage at our church or other events,” Steve says. “We also have couples doing marriage preparation at our house while our children are home. Our children see that we respect the sacrament of marriage and want to help these new couples in their journey.”

Instruction leading to transformation—one lesson at a time.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Teach your children well

Madona_of_mercyThe first installment in our series asking parents to reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy–this week “Instructing the Ignorant.”

LaTonya and Jerrell, married 19 years, with three children between 5 and 15, bring opposite personalities to parenting. LaTonya is a take-charge person, with strong opinions of how children should behave, do homework, and use their free time. Jerrell, a researcher, describes himself as a “laid-back scientist” not only in his career, but in parenting as well. Slow to direct the kids, he prefers to watch them learn things on their own. Both see “instructing the ignorant” as a work of mercy that applies both in their own family and in the greater world.

“While we don’t really use the word ‘ignorant,’ I think the spirit of what we’re trying to do is instruct our kids in the right way to live,” says Jerrell. “My wife and I have really different styles, but our goal is the same—to raise kids to be adults whose morality and decisions are guided by their faith.”

LaTonya agrees. “My approach is to head off problems with the kids; my husband’s is to discuss the consequences afterward,” she says. “I think the main thing is that we both realize that children can learn something from every situation, and it’s our job to make sure that learning takes place and that kids aren’t going through their lives without thought.”

While few parents consciously consider this work of mercy as they go through day-to-day life, parents, more than most people, intuitively understand its power. “Instruction helps people to see things from a different point of view and invites them to conversion and transformation,” writes Patricia M. Vinje in The Encyclopedia of Catholicism (HarperCollins). For parents, transformation is the goal of parenting—we spend 18 years transforming the helpless baby we receive into a young adult able to meet life on his or her own. Good instruction leads to beautiful transformation.  …continued next week

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Image: Ravensburg Madonna of Mercy (1480s), Staatliche Museen, Berlin

 

 

 

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