Wednesday, October 21, 2015

11 Ways to Have a Creepy, Cool, Catholic Halloween

There's a lot of controversy about Halloween. Some people say it's of the devil, other people say it's super Catholic, other people don't know a thing and don't care, etc. etc. Lately on social media, I've seen some people post links as if to prove a point without even taking the chance to have a conversation! So instead of popping a link here or there that proves or disproves the Catholicism of Halloween, I want to talk about it. I think we need to discuss how our Catholic Faith connects with Halloween, and how it informs what we do on this holiday. 

There's no question about the Catholic origins of Halloween. All Saints Day used to be celebrated on May 13, since the Pantheon church in Rome was consecrated (to commemorate Mary and all of the martyrs) on that day in the 600s. Also, May 13 was a pagan festival, so it was a way that the Church was baptizing the pagan culture with the saints. About a hundred years later, All Saints Day was celebrated when another church, dedicated to the saints, was consecrated on November 1. Then, in the 800s, Pope Gregory IV extended this celebration of All Saints Day to the whole church. Naturally, if we have All Saints Day, then we have an eve of All Saints Day. See, Catholics celebrate liturgical days from evening to evening. Hence, we have the Easter Vigil (where the Easter celebration begins the night before Sunday), the Christmas Vigil (where the Christmas celebration begins the night before), and Vigil Masses. The party starts the night before in each of these cases. All Saints Day is the same way-Halloween, or "All Hallow's Eve," is the beginning of the saintly party on October 31. 

On the flip side, there are pagan traditions and practices throughout the years that have developed, and some do happen on or around Halloween. Some scholars believe that All Saints Day was moved to November 1 partially to combat the pagan Samhain, and other scholars disagree with them. There are lots of people who do engage in demonic activities on Halloween. Even things that may seem innocent enough can become gateways and windows for demons to enter into our lives. So what's a Catholic to do? 

Some people just aren't into creepy elements and attend "Fall Festivals" for Halloween before breaking out the All Saints Day parties on November 1. I've read critiques of this practice, for some people claim that we must embrace the creepy on Halloween, but I disagree. If you're not into the creepy, then don't do it! (but still party like crazy) Other people look at secularized festivities as "all in good fun," and dress up as devils, witches, or vampires without a care or worry in the world. I once read an article where a man claimed that witches don't exist, and dressing up in a devil costume mocks Satan, so he argues that both of these costumes are good to wear! 

I personally have never felt that comfortable with the idea of dressing up as witches and demons-it always strikes me as rather strange when I show up to an event and see a bunch of very faithful Catholics running around in demonic costumes! I just doubt that dressing up as a demonic being is the best way to glorify God and celebrate the sanctity of Halloween. This isn't to say that gruesome creepiness is bad; macabre elements can be totally awesome if you're into that thing.  In these macabre elements, can we acknowledge who we are celebrating? Why dress up as evil creatures whom we should not be celebrating or glorifying when we can instead celebrate with thoroughly Catholic, extremely creepy wonderfulness? Why not kick the devil out and keep Christ in Halloween? 

1. Dress up in the creepiest, most gruesome saint costume imaginable. There are so many creepy, weird, and wonderful stories of the saints-especially those incorruptibles and martyrs! How about Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, who was beheaded-and then walked six kilometers, headless, before dying? Or what about Saint Catherine of Bologna, who after death was discovered to be flexible and fresh, and then seven years later, appeared to a nun at her convent and asked to be placed in a sitting position? Saint Erasmus/Saint Elmo was an early church martyr who survived tons of physical persecutions. Then, somewhere in the depths of history, people started saying that his intestines were pulled out and wound around a windlass. Who knows if that last part is true or not? Regardless, wouldn't that be a cool costume???? Be the tortured Saint Lucy with bloody, gouged out eyes! Or, you could be the holy, dying St. Faustina, who at her death was said to be "very ugly, very worn out, a real skeleton." Saints & martyrs really had guts (especially St. Erasmus) and courage in being faithful to Christ in their joys and sufferings, so let's show the world that fact! 

2. Read the dreams of Saint John Bosco. Until I actually read the whole volume,  I can contentedly read "The Road to Hell." Actually, I listened to it (I found it on youtube) while exercising the other day, which was a bit creepy and made me feel awesome. Creepy dreams that St. John Bosco had, all of which encourage us to be holier? Yes please! 

3. Read stories of the Eucharistic Miracles. I think it's easy to receive the Eucharist and not think about the fact that Hello, we are eating the Flesh and Blood of Christ! To help you remember this incredible blessing and gift, you should totally read about the various Eucharistic Miracles. The miracle of Santarem even includes a witch/sorceress, which totally adds to the creepiness level for your Halloween festivities. 

4. Watch Doctor Who. 

And, you know, I can drink coffee out of my super cute French Press
that now wears the dalek cover I made for it!!!!! 
Okay, so I know that this is not a Catholic show, but it does have a lot of good Catholic elements. I mean, the Doctor and his companions are continually fighting evil with good, bringing light and hope into darkness, and being generally awesome. I'm going to write more about Doctor Who and Halloween later in the month, so stay tuned for that! 
[edit: here's the link to the post about Doctor Who!]

5. One word: Dracula. Again, this book was not created by a Catholic, and Bram Stoker got some elements of Catholicism wrong. But, overall, the story is about God-in the Sacraments and sacramentals-conquering evil. Plus, the book reveals vampires for what they are: demoniacs, those possessed by the devil. I haven't seen the Dracula movies (if anyone knows a good, faithful adaptation to the book, let me know!) but I have seen Van Helsing a few times, which, though it has some elements I don't like, does show the triumph of God and goodness over evil. You can find my short review of the book Dracula here, and you can see a brief, interesting video on Dracula here.  Also, this Halloween would be a great time to pray for the soul of Vlad the Impaler, the real-life prince after which Dracula was named. 

6. Create a walk-through Catacombs tour. It wasn't until I was far away at college that my family's home school group created a Catacombs tour, so I totally missed out! But I got to hear cool stories, and here's the basic gist of what I know: a man holding a lantern walked groups of children through foggy, dark, candle-lit rooms and hallways, where the children could see tombs, and people dressed as saints. Some of the saints told a short story of how they died, and others just stood or laid there (from how I remember the story going). I was informed that one of the dads was dressed up in a cloak and was a muttering gravedigger with a shovel who banged around during the tour. I just found a blog post that has a couple of pictures from the event-so take a look! I definitely want to help create one of these someday; it seems like a cool event that could be adapted to any age group, and made as creepy or tame as you'd like it to be! 

7. Serve up some soul cakes. As the story goes, hundreds of years ago, peasants would go from door to door on Halloween. They would beg for "soul cakes," and in return for the food, would pray for the souls of the dead relatives of whoever gave them the cakes. 
"Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a plum, a peach, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us merry.
One for Peter, one for Paul, & three for Him who made us all."
8. Pray the Saint Michael Chaplet. Halloween, All Saints Day, & All Souls Day are all about the Communion of Saints, so asking the saints for their intercession is awesome. Saint Michael is especially who we connect with spiritual warfare, and since there are many people who dabble in the demonic on Halloween, why not take the chance to pray for them? 

9. Put a (fake) skull in your home. A religious sister friend of mine once told me that she really wanted a skull for the dining room table in their convent. Why not? All the cool Catholics have skulls around! 
St. Francis of Assisi in his tomb, c. 1630-34 by
Francisco de Zurbaran
This is the holy card that my parish keeps
 in the confessional! 
 Oh, is that not cool enough? Okay, then...

From our 2013 trip to Ambsam, Hall in Tirol, & Innsbruck

Whoa there, still not cool enough? Fine. You asked for it...

When I visited this church in Rome, I wasn't allowed to take pictures. But thankfully, thought to snap pictures of the postcards!
As this friend explained to me, many of the saints would keep a skull close to them as a reminder of their impending death, so that they would always think to live for God. Ever since hearing this awesomeness years ago, I have been on the lookout for a cool, realistic-looking, fake skull. Super-awesome skull, I will find you someday! 

10. Read The Screwtape Letters. This book is a brilliantly written volume by C. S. Lewis, and I honestly think everyone could benefit from it. This fictional book includes the correspondence of demons who are doing their dirty work, throwing temptations in the pathway of a person on Earth. It's a highly entertaining, informative book,  and it's perfect material to bring into your Halloween festivities! 

11. Let the celebrations, festivities, and sugar abound! I once read a well-intentioned article which said that Catholics should do penance and reparation on Halloween. This is a really nice thought, but I think it's also important to remember that All Saints Day-which begins with Halloween-is a Solemnity! So no matter what day of the week it is, we celebrate like it's Sunday, Christmas, or Easter. Solemnities are not for fasting. Solemnities are basically the Church telling you, "Hey, you're supposed to have a party and celebrate!" Whether you throw a party, attend a party, or curl up with a big bowl of candy and a movie, have a blast!!!! 

Despite my love for the liturgical year, I'm awful at planning things ahead of time, so this list includes things I have done or would like to do in the future! If y'all have any other ideas for celebrating a creepily awesome Catholic Halloween, I would love to hear 'em! 

Also, I  found a very interesting article on one priest's research and thoughts on Halloween, which I highly recommend reading: "It's Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween," by Fr. Steve Grunow


  1. This is a great list! Makes me want to reread The Screwtape Letters. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Ann-Marie! I know, right??? I totally need to re-read The Screwtape Letters-they are so good!!!!! I love C.S. Lewis.

  2. I. LOVE. THIS. POST. This is awesome! I love Halloween and had wanted to post something about it next week but I wasn't exactly sure what, but I might just have to post a link to here and be like "nope just go read AnneMarie's blog, she's got it all covered." Haha :). These are all awesome suggestions and I'll be sharing them with Andy, who doesn't really love Halloween because he's not into the creepy aspect of it, so I think he'll much prefer some of the things here. I may have to make those soul cakes! At first I was like ahhhhh why would you want to display a skull?? But then after reading the explanation of it, it totally makes sense. I'm definitely going to be doing some of the things on this list - great post!

    1. I'm so glad you love this!!!! I just love how many awesome things the Catholic Church has, like incorruptibles and whatnot, so any excuse to celebrate them, right? I hope that Andy likes some of these ideas, and that you two have a really cool Halloween celebration together! :) Yeah, I've never made soul cakes before (once I went to a party where they served Hot Cross Buns that were doubling as soul cakes), but I really want to do it this year, because they sound delicious and I love baking.

      Oh yes, I had the same reaction with the skull thing! Like, I went up to my religious sister-friend years ago, asking, "Sister, why does this saint (I think it was a picture of St. Jerome?) have a skull!" I thought it was really weird, but it definitely made a lot more sense when she explained it all. Another religious sister friend also pointed out that our beds are a good way to remind us of the coffins we'll eventually lie in, so there's lots of good opportunities to remember our mortality if we can't get our hands on skulls :)