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Saints and Scary Masks

Kelly Conroy
MSM Class of 2013

(10/2011)  A girl with tan skin has her hair braided in pig-tails and bright lines of paint on her face. She is wearing a traditional Native American brown skirt and top along with a pair of moccasins. A boy next to her stands proudly in a silver suit of armor. He jabs his sword every which way in the air. Another girl is wearing high heels that are too big for her and a long, fancy burgundy gown with gold cording. A fake diamond crown on her head completes the look. Halloween costumes, you suppose? Actually, these are not ordinary Native American, soldier, or queen costumes.

These children are dressed up as Catholic Saints and the date is November 1st Ė the feast of All Saintsí Day. Children across the country look forward to October 31st as a day to dress-up and receive more treats than their moms would every buy, but the children in my home-schooling group and other Catholic children around the world remember the day after Halloween as the one of greater importance.

"Three facts about my saint are that she was the daughter of a Mowhawk warrior, she endured much hostility from family members for converting to Christianity, and she died at the age of twenty-four," the young girl states.

"I know, I know," a little girl in the back of the room raises her hand, "you must be Kateri Tekakwitha!"

The correct answer gave one point to the team on the left side of the room and the children cheered. All of the home-schooled children had been split up into two teams for the "Guess the Saint" game.

Some of the saints were pretty obvious. The soldier is a well-known costume for St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius suffered an injury as a soldier fighting for Spain and read religious works during his recovery time. He decided to turn away from a life of sin and led a group of men in humble living. After guessing Saint Elizabeth and Saint Isabel, two well-known Catholic queens, one child finally guessed Margaret of Scotland for the girl dressed as a queen. Margaret was a good and wise queen who brought virtue to both her husband and the country.

The "Guess the Saint" game isnít always so easy. Sometimes children dress as religious nuns or priests and take the name of an unfamiliar saint. For example, who has ever heard of Saint Apollonius or Saint Ermenberga? The "Guess the Saint" game inspires the children with stories about holy men and women who dedicated their lives to God and also allows them to have fun dressing-up.

Compare the scene of children dressed up as Saints to the story I am about to tell. It is Halloween night in the year 2002. The moon is shedding its light on the houses below and children, teens, and even some adults are getting dressed in their costumes. There are costumes for groups of friends like boxes of crayons in which everyone can be a different color! Groups of girls model all of the Disney princess costumes. There are the "perfect couple" costumes such as Woody and Jessie from the Toy Story movie. Some costumes are chose because they can be put together in a hurry. One of my favorites is the "black-eyed pea" costume in which you simply put black make-up around one eye and draw the letter "P" on a white t-shirt. Others have their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, or anyone else who can sew construct the perfect homemade costumes. Then, there are the really, really cute baby costumes including chubby bumblebees and pumpkins that make you just want to pinch their cheeks.

What is the craze with dressing as someone else for a day? For most people on Halloween, itís simply fun to be in a costume and it is the only way to receive free treats. But I think that dressing as someone else reflects on a deeper yearning too. How many of us want to be like someone else on certain occasions? Maybe we even want to be that person? Perhaps we want to sing like Keith Urban, or play tennis like Roger Federer, or look like the model on the cover of the magazine. These desires could simply stem from wanting to be excellent in some way or they could stem from jealousy and lack of self-worth.

Itís too bad there is no national "Dress-Up as Yourself" day. Even though we do "dress as ourselves" everyday, how much time do we spend trying to imitate others? We can learn from the skills of those around us, but constantly comparing ourselves to others is useless. We are unique individuals, created to become the best version of ourselves. I wonder what we would dress like if we were trying best to describe ourselves.

Now back to the story of Halloween night in 2002 Ė I am dressed up as a Cowgirl because I had everything that I needed for the costume at home, and the skirt and top were fairly cute. I always go trick-or-treating with the two boys who live across the street and my older sister. We began our trek down the road, prepared with our pillowcases to serve as candy bags. We gave multiple "Thank Youís" to the people who handed us full size candy bars. We politely gave our thanks to those who handed us the lollipops they had received free from the bank. When we reached houses with an empty basket and a "please take one" sign, we were not surprised that all of the candy was gone.

We were nearing the end of the trick-or-treating loop when we spotted (what looked like) a statue standing in one of our neighborís yards. We all looked with a shiver at this statue of a full grown man with ripped clothes, a scary mask, blood on his body, and a knife in his hand.

"Do you think he is real?" I asked my sister and my friends.

"No way," one of them replied, "Itís one of those trick Halloween statues."

"I dare you to go touch him," my sister tempted the boys.

One of my courageous neighbors took a step forward but as soon as he did, the hand of the statue with the knife moved. We shrieked, turned, and began to run. As I glanced over my shoulder, I realized that we were being followed by this man. We pounded up the front steps of the nearest house and did not wait for the door to be opened to enter the house. This scare ended our Halloween night and we called our parents to drive us home.

We never found out who had terribly frightened us that Halloween night. Most likely, it was someone with fake blood and a plastic knife who wanted to make some kids (like us) run. It is incidents like this that give a bad rap to the celebration of Halloween. But, this holiday was never supposed to incite evil or terror. It was actually initiated for quite the opposite reason!

Halloween is a contraction for All Hallowís Eve that was supposed to be a vigil night of preparation for the celebration of All Saintsí and All Soulsí Days. All Saintsí Day was instituted to honor the great number of martyrs that were killed during Diocletianís reign, and was eventually expanded to honor all saints. All Soulsí Day is a time of remembrance for all those we have known who have passed away. It is not unusual for secular holidays to be linked to Christian roots. For example, Valentineís Day came from the time of Saint Valentine and Christmas came from the words "Christ" and "Mass." Halloween is just another holiday based a Christian meaning.

If we ignore, forget, or push aside the religious meaning of the day, what will be the consequence? Halloween could be another reason that the line between good and evil becomes blurred. Dressing-up as evil witches could eventually desensitize children to the reality of evil. Parents need to take an active role in helping their children find what is good and true.

Should parents allow their children to participate in Halloween? I think it is more important to focus on how to celebrate Halloween rather than whether or not to have involvement. Halloween can be a fun, educational, and inspiring holiday, but it can also be a disaster. Remember the children in the saint costumes as you decide what to do this year!

Celebrated on November 2nd, itís easy to overlook All Soulsí Day in the previous daysí celebrations of All Saintsí Day and Halloween. However, I certainly hope that All Soulsí Day is not overlooked after I pass away. All Soulsí Day is a day dedicated to praying for and remembering our family and friends who have died.

Do you have any family members who have inspired you with their lives? Perhaps they did something unbelievable with their lives, or maybe they lived simply and tried to do their best everyday. Can you learn any lessons from their strengths and weaknesses? Are you grateful for the impact any of the decisions that your deceased family members made? We should also consider how our choices will affect the generations after us. Do you find any similarities between yourself and them? How can you grow from this knowledge?

November 2nd is a good time to celebrate those who have gone before us and pray for them. May your Halloween, All Saintsí Day, and All Soulsí Day this year be filled with everything that is good.

Read other articles by Kelly Conroy