Days observed and celebrated by secular society can be events to be used to make connection to important faith-related concepts for children and families. In excerpts from the Celebrating Saints and Seasons, author Jeanne Hunt suggests ways parents and teachers can make Halloween and All Saints Day come alive for children in faith-filled and fun experiences.
Halloween's roots lie in an ancient pagan festival for the dead. While this autumn feast can be used for evil purposes, our culture celebrates it as an innocent night of begging and fun. We who believe in the light of the world can use it to celebrate the light. Hallow means holy, and the word Halloween refers to the night before the feast of All Saints Day. Emphasize all things good, joyful and pure. Let your children know that they are children of the light called to walk in the light.
Get a head start on Halloween preparations by spending an afternoon gathering dress-up goodies for your trick-or-treaters. Put old, funny-looking clothing, wigs, makeup, whatever you find in a box. On the day of Halloween get out your box and let children create their own characters. Encourage them to be funny and outrageous.
As an alternative to letting your children go begging, try hosting a party for your children and their friends. Give each child an empty bag. Let the party goers earn their treats by performing nice tricks for the adults. Be sure to provide lots of nutritious snacks for the bags as well as a few sweet surprises. Carve pumpkins, bob for apples, have a bonfire, enjoy the beauty of the autumn night without worrying about your children's safety.
Since this is the night before All Saints Day, it is a great idea to explore the family saints. Let your children find out who their patron saints are and why they are so honored. They may even choose to dress up like St. Joan of Arc, St. George the Dragon Slayer or St. Francis of Assisi. They could have fun letting their friends guess who they are by giving clues about their saint's life...for a treat of course!
Pumpkin Farm Visit
Take a trip to a pumpkin farm or country market to pick out the family pumpkin. Take along a loaf of pumpkin bread (see recipe following) and a jug of apple cider. When you get home with the family pumpkin(s), ask everyone to draw faces on paper. Let the family vote on the winning face(s) before the carving begins.
1-2/3 cup flour
1-1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water (or less)
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup pumpkin
Mix dry ingredients; add nuts. Mix in egg, oil, water and pumpkin. Stir until blended. Bake in a greased loaf pan (9" x 5" or 10" x 4") 60 to 70 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Whenever an opportunity arises to combine the sacred and the secular to enrich your students' faith, take advantage of it. Halloween provides just such an opportunity. Children have horrible, unspoken fears about "things that go bump in the night." This occasion is a perfect time to teach the simple gospel truth that the light does indeed outshine the darkness.
Ask each child to bring a candle to class. Clean out the inside of a large pumpkin. Carve a smiling face on the pumpkin. Talk about the joy of laughing together. Tell students that smiles, laughter and joy are simple gifts that God gives us to erase sadness and fear. Ask them how they feel when they see a scary pumpkin. How do they feel when they look at this smiling one? Decide together which one is the most like God. Then share with the class the wonder that each of us has within us the power to be a light just like Jesus. We become a light that can erase hatred, evil, pain and sadness. The light in us is just like Jesus' light. Put a large candle in your smiling jack-o-lantern. Darken the room if possible. Watch the flame as it fills the pumpkin and lights the room. Notice how much more intense the smile becomes with the light shining through. Ask children to hold their candles in front of them while you say this blessing:
God who created pumpkins and people,
bless our beautiful Halloween light.
This light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus shines through the darkness
and turns the night into day,
sadness into joy,
hate into love
and tears into smiles.
Bless the candles that we hold
Let them be a reminder that we are your candles
lighting up the smiles and hearts of our friends and family.
Bless the happy pumpkins we will carve for our candles,
that everyone who sees them might never be afraid of the darkness
because your wonderful light is with us.
You might close this prayer service with a rendition of "This Little Light of Mine" or another hymn about light.
All Saints Festival
Another enjoyable exercise for the school setting is to hold an All Saints festival for children and their families on the occasion of Halloween. Each class designs a fund-raising booth for the festival. Activities such as a ring toss, a fishing pond, "guess your weight" and so on are typical of this festival. The money raised could be sent to a favorite mission or charity. Conclude the festival with an outdoor parade in which all students dress up like their favorite saints and "parade" around the school neighborhood.