Michelle Martin

Monkeys and saints

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Teresa dressed up as a monkey for Halloween this year, same as last year. The costume still fit, and she likes it, and it’s darned cute. Caroline did a more conceptual costume: black and white clothes and makeup, with a panda hat, to signify that she was a panda.

Frank? He wore an orange shirt to school and answered the door to trick-or-treaters.

None of my kids has ever dressed up as anything really scary: no Freddy Kruegers or gory ax murderer victims or anything like that. Although I did like the idea of poking a toy knife through a box of Cheerios and going as a “Cereal Killer.”

Over the years, we’ve had all kinds of animals, sparkly fantasy characters like fairy princesses, occupation-based costumes such as doctors and firefighters and, one of my personal favorites, Thomas the Tank Engine. In our house, Halloween has always been about having fun and eating candy, not getting scared.

That’s a change from the origins of the holiday, when All Hallow’s Eve was a night to avoid the spirits that walked at the turning of the year. Masks and costumes were supposed to help trick spirits who would do harm.

While its name marks it as the day before All Saint’s Day, Halloween has never been seen as just a day to prepare for a holiday, as Christmas Eve was for Christmas. But just as Christmas Eve now sometimes seems to supplant Christmas Day in the festivities, Halloween is observed far more broadly than All Saints’ Day — and most people probably don’t think of it as a Christian holiday. Indeed, many evangelical Christians don’t celebrate Halloween because, they say, it celebrates the demonic and satanic.

Some Catholic schools have gone the other direction, encouraging students to dress up as saints either on Halloween itself or for All Saints’ Day. But with the martyrs, those costumes really can be just as gory.

This year, one suburban Chicago public school district announced that it would not observe the holiday at all: no costumes, no classroom parties, no passing out candy. The main reason given was that in the culturally diverse Skokie-Morton Grove Elementary District 69, too many students do not participate. Administrators also said they worry about allergic reactions to candy, and that the cost of costumes and candy can be a hardship for some families.

As for us, we’ll continue to celebrate in a lower-key way, without a lot of emphasis on ghosts and witches except as possible decorating motifs. We’ll spend an hour or so trick-or-treating and let the kids enjoy doing what’s normally not allowed: running around after dark, ringing strangers’ doorbells and demanding sweets. And we’ll let them eat too much candy for one night.

Then we’ll say prayers in gratitude for all the fun we had, and prepare to celebrate all the saints and think about those who have died as we observe the solemnities of All Saints and All Souls. And put away the monkey costume until next year.