Thursday, October 22, 2009

To Trick or Treat or not to Trick or Treat, That Is The Question...

Long Post Alert!  In answer to the questions I've received recently (from several quarters) about how we Halloween and why...  (Y'all had to know I couldn't do this briefly, no matter how hard I tried!)

The Great Halloween Question: it creases more foreheads and crosses more arms in my sheltered little world than the health care debate. Rivaled only by The Great Santa Claus Scandal in conservative Catholic circles, Trick or Treating often gets a "dividing line" distinction, separating the seriously practicing Catholics from the hobbyists. And I have just one word to say about that: Hooey.

That said, however, I'll tell you we personally don't practice the Ghosts and Ghouls version of Halloween. It's just not our family custom. When our oldest came of Trick or Treating age some eighteen or so years ago, we thought it all out -- the realities and ramifications, good and bad, and opted out. Like we opted out of a lot of things -- replacing them with others.

There are decisions that every family makes, consciously or not, that define the paths they take -- or make-- in this world. Some are little decisions -- things like whether we fold the towels like his mom or my mom, who gets to be the trash czar, and who gets to be the laundry czar... things that affect our day-to-day, and impact how smoothly our lives run, but which are of no real lasting importance. And then there are the huge decisions, like where we live, how we school our children, and what Faith we practice... things that affect our entire lives and sometimes our eternity, as well. But holiday customs? They fall somewhere in between, I think. They certainly have the potential to have lasting, even eternal effects on our family, for the good or for the bad. But it's all a matter of how we "play" them.

And we all figure that differently. We're bound to. We're supposed to. Every family is different, with its own unique combinations of personalities and experiences, and no two families will find the exact same path to heaven. No two saints followed the same path, either. They all followed Our Lord's footsteps, but the reality is that His footprints led the saints in wildly different directions on their way to Him. St. Bernadette achieved sanctity in the lowliest corner of France, while St. Ignatius wandered the world, converting thousands, and St. Catherine of Siena, by her counsel, saved the Church in her time -- all spectacularly holy people who achieved heaven in very different ways.
Likewise, though it's our unwavering belief that the Catholic Church (whole and undiluted) is the spiritual blueprint given to us by God, Himself, we've seen for ourselves how differently people can build off of that set of instructions and still come out with a holy product. Where we may tend to concentrate on one area of sanctity, another family excels in another.  Our Heavenly Father helps us to even things out, as we let Him, and in the end, it's all good.

Our particular path:  When we decided to home-teach our family, we were forced to deal with a lot of customs and thought processes we'd taken for granted our entire lives. We were both taught in conventional schools and Dan was a convert, so we were treading on new ground most of the time, figuring our way with practically every step. One of the most important philosophical questions we had to face early on was how and where life and education should intersect -- or whether they ought to intersect at all. Should they be almost mutually exclusive like conventional schooling is in reality, or should they coexist like life and breathing? We had to figure out for ourselves what our education goal was going to be and whether that goal was finite or infinite. Was it too narrow a purpose to want our kids just to do well on the SATs? -- Or to simply be better prepared for life than we felt we were when we got out of school? Was it too general to just say: We want all our children to save their souls?

Of course we wanted all of the above! But, we knew we needed to narrow it all down to a plan of action.

And what did we decide? Well, we leaned toward the infinite, with a side order of book learning. We decided that learning should be like breathing and that our Faith should be like our lungs, filtering everything. Our thinking was, and is, that if we raise good people, strong in faith and integrity, they'll be instigators more than participators in their own education; they'll understand the importance of making a living in the world, while not being of the world; they won't be movers and shakers, but doers and givers, who blaze their own paths heavenward. We decided we wanted to provide the kind of home that would teach our children to want to be saints.

OK. Sounds good enough, I guess. But how do we do that? Well, it's not anything like we think we've got it figured out. Not by a long shot. But, having the goal gives us something to think about... It gives us a star to use as a guidepost to tweak our course by. When it came time to work out our child-raising philosophy, the practical application of the idea got us thinking about how people really learn. What things leave the most indelible impressions in our lives growing up? What sights, sounds, and smells do we cradle close to our hearts; what events do we want to relive throughout our lives? What are memories made of? How can we make a Pavlovian connection for our children between good times and goodness?

And this is the related question we asked to work out our own family customs: What first comes to mind  when someone says "Happy Childhood Memories?" If you're like Dan and me, holidays are the first thing you think of. Family holiday traditions are A #1 on our list of happy thoughts, and I can't help but think that's probably true for many people (esp. the people who might be visiting here, reading this). But we wondered how we could build on the importance of those childhood memories to make the holidays meaningful in an even deeper way, adding to the fun and only taking away the distractions? What was it, for instance, that made Christmas morning special? Was it the pleasure of giving and receiving gifts with our loved ones or was it the fellow in the red suit? How could we best bring Christ into the picture for His birthday? How could we include Him in our thanksgiving on Turkey Day? Could Easter survive -- yay, even thrive -- without the Easter Bunny? And was there anything good about Halloween at all?

There's the question of the post...

Let it be known that I love a good ghost story as much as anyone -- maybe more! But I found out  that it's a different problem to have to figure out how to include a "feast day" for ghosts and devilry into our Catholic family life.  For our first few years, we shunned saecular Halloween, kept our porch light turned off, and attended our parish All Saints' Day party, content that we were doing the "right thing."  But, in our old age, learning the many shades of charity that are true tolerance, we've come to understand Halloween differently. We see now that if it's a once-a-year diversion that does not glorify evil, there's nothing inherently wrong with the good old American tradition of Trick-or-Treating on Halloween.  In fact, if we had neighbors close enough to come to our door, we'd pass out candy and enjoy doing it.  But, we don't go door to door ourselves, and likely never will.  Though we accept the Trick-or-Treating custom good humoredly these days, we still feel like we'd rather take the holiday "neutral" and make it something positive by celebrating the Catholic Feast of All Saints instead.  We have just as much fun at our yearly parish party, and the kids get just as much candy, i.e., too much.  But, we also get a chance to connect the lives of the saints with a fun event that will add wholesome images to the children's little brain banks.  It works for us; it makes us happy.  We hope it's a custom that adds to weight to the Catholic scale in the life of our family.

But, we don't think less of anyone else that doesn't celebrate the way we do.

There are a lot of lines in the sand to draw, and we have firmly done so on many different morality and dogma related issues where no confusion can be allowed to creep in to the children's minds.  But, Trick-or-Treating, as an innocent diversion for our neighbors, is a line we decorate with Autumn leaves and leave hanging over the door -- while we spend the evening at our All Saints' Day party.

And, it may sound like I'm being liberal (perish the thought!), but I have to admit I feel no qualms in wishing everyone a Happy Halloween and a Happy All Saints' Day in the same breath.


Heather said...

God Bless You!

dh said...

Just for the record, "laundry czar" was an easy one.

Lisa said...

It was a fair trade-off for the trash, in my mind, honey... &;o)

SQUELLY said...

Such an interesting post and very diplomatic - most of all though, thought provoking. Thanks for sharing this!

Aubrey said...

What a well written post. I've often wondered what other Catholics think of Santa Claus (I'm not crazy about it but we fill stockings anyway) and other things. I just hate for secular things to detract from the Jesus in whatever holiday it is that we're celebrating. I guess I didn't struggle much with Halloween; we don't address the ghosts and ghouls part--our kids generally dress as things that they admire (ballerinas, soldiers, spiderman, St. Therese) and we don't bring scary into it. Our parish strongly encourages dressing like saints and angels for All Saints Day and for other feast days throughout the year (especially our Titular Feast Day). It's a good place to be in.

Now I'm rambling, but I wanted to compliment your post and say that I agree with what you've written!

:) God bless +

MightyMom said...

oh you heathen!

sorry, just had to get that out of my system.

I dress the kids up. this year the oldest picked ghosts so they'll be cute little ghosts. but we don't trick or treat...not for any Catholic reason...rather because I believe that running around seeing how much candy you can amass feeds the sins of GREED and GLUTTONY. which bothers me greatly. So instead we GIVE candy to those who come by. The kids get oooo'd and aaahhh'd over and they get to see all the other little costumes, which they love. And they learn a little about "tis better to give than to receive"...I always hold a little bit of candy back for them so they don't feel slighted. ;-)