I have mixed feelings on Halloween decorations and costumes. Some are cute, but others are troubling. What should I tell my teenagers when they ask about celebrating the holiday? (Allouez)
This question is one which I and many parents struggle with. How to embrace a holiday which has holy roots, and can be very fun for the family, while also not allowing the current culture to dominate. I see this as a parenting opportunity, where we can teach our children the origin and context of the holiday and help them to see the current cultural trends in light of that context.
A general Google search on the history of Halloween gives results that show that the eve of All Saints Day was celebrated as early as the eighth century. The word hallow is an Old English word for “saint,” which was used to identify All Hallows Eve, a holy day of obligation. It is also connected with the following day, All Souls Day, or the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.
These three days together make up a triduum of feasts called Allhallowtide. Just as with other holidays, Catholics have come to bless and adapt elements of former practices from non-Christian cultures (such as the Christmas tree which started out as a pre-Christian German tradition). On All Hallows Eve, over the centuries, families would celebrate by lighting bonfires and carving gourds (pumpkins) and going from house to house collecting treats and praying for the deceased.
These three days also help families to remember that this life is not the final destination, and we are connected in a profound way to those who have gone before us.
So how can a parent navigate a culture which has in many ways hijacked this holiday and filled it with very dark and graphic images of the macabre? This is where it becomes important to have open conversations with your children of all ages.
If your family chooses to celebrate Halloween, then, when the children are young, introduce them to the Catholic origins of the holiday. You can set boundaries on what kind of costumes you allow them to wear. Just as parents monitor and screen candy and treats they come home with, you can also screen their diet of Halloween videos, decorations and celebrations, and work to keep it in line with our Catholic values.
As the child gets older, the parenting and screening should still take place, but the conversations should shift to how we can live out our Catholic faith, even in this holiday celebration. The conversations can also focus on the realities of hell and evil in our world, and how to avoid it and not glorify it. Take this holiday in your home back from the culture and set the tone, especially with your teenage children, that our faith is the foundation of this holiday. Even in Halloween, we can be a light in the darkness and not allow the darkness to overcome it.
Tremblay is Marriage and Life Ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.
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