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.
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?
There's the question of the post...
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.