School Halloweens not too scary

By Michelle Martin | Staff Writer
Sunday, October 27, 2013

If you want to see young children in cute Halloween costumes, chances are you need look no further than your local Catholic school.

While the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Catholic Schools does not have a policy about the observation of Halloween, many schools in the archdiocese report that students celebrate with classroom parties and that students — especially in preschool or the primary grades — are allowed to wear costumes and parade through the school.

That doesn’t mean that anything goes, however. At St. Ferdinand School, 3131 N. Mason Ave., students can come to school on Halloween dressed in orange and black or dressed as a saint or someone who does good, according to Lucine Mastalerz, the school’s principal. That would include super heroes, soldiers, police officers and other helpers.

“We try to emulate something good in the world,” Mastalerz said.

At St. Procopius School, 1625 S. Allport St., students are asked to dress as a favorite character from a book, and a school newsletter warns that students will be asked to change out of any costume deemed inappropriate.

At St. Emily School in Mount Prospect, students don’t have to dress as any particular kind of character, but students are asked to use good judgment.

“We don’t allow anything bloody or gory or anything like that,” said Mary Hemmelman, St. Emily’s principal. “We keep it on the lighter side.”

On the other hand, the teachers at St. Emily have all agreed to follow a theme this year.

“The teachers are dressing up representing states,” Hemmelman said. “The second-grade teachers came up with idea, and they all decided to do it.”

Hemmelman said that in the past, there was at least one family that did not like having the school celebrate Halloween because of fears that the holiday glorified the occult. That family, whose children are no longer in elementary school, kept them home on Halloween, she said.

Peter Tantillo, principal of Queen of All Saints School, 6230 N. Lemont Ave., said he has heard similar concerns at other schools where he has worked.

“I assured them that we observed the holiday in a very innocent and secular way,” said Tantillo, who is in his second year as principal at Queen of All Saints but has been a Catholic school principal for 31 years. “They were concerned that even the images of witches and ghosts on the decorations might prove misleading to kids.”

At Queen of All Saints, the youngest students — preschool through second grade — dress up and have a costume parade and inhouse trick-or-treating through the rest of the school. The treats, however, are not edible.

“We do not provide any treats, even for the older students who might have classroom parties that day,” Tantillo said. “We have a policy against the school providing any food.”

That’s because of concerns about food allergies or possibly serving contaminated food, he said.

At St. Ferdinand, classroom celebrations often include a story or a video, such as “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Mastalerz said. Then the older students usually have some free time to clean out their lockers.

At the end of the day, all of the students gather for a special blessing for trick-or-treaters and for all houses where they will be received, on the eve of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

“That’s one way we try to bring it back to the religious meaning,” Mastalerz said.

Indeed, the name of Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows Eve, or the eve of All Saints Day, whose observance began in the seventh century. Many Halloween customs, however, such as dressing in costume and carving jack-o-lanterns, have their roots in the Celtic pagan holiday of samhain, which combined a harvest festival with traditions intended to foil the evil spirits believed to be out and about at night.

The Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, also coincides with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Many schools, especially those with significant Latino populations, observe the Day of the Dead the day after Halloween.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican celebration, taking place Nov. 1-2, in which families remember loved ones who have died, often by creating a small altar with their deceased relatives’ pictures and items that serve as reminders, including favorite foods. Skeletons and skulls are among the primary Day of the Dead decorating motifs.