What Scary Means to Me on Halloween

The street this morning – setting a nice spooky tone for the day.

I don’t really mind things that are a little scary on Halloween.  I’m not a big fan of gory, bloody and needlessly violent, but I don’t mind a little creepy, a little spooky and a little macabre as I start my Halloween festivities.

I think that scary stories still have a part in our society.  I think that embracing the things that goes bump in the night helps us learn to face the larger fears that we’ll be faced with in later years.  So I’m not to bothered at ghosts and ghouls appearing in windows and trees this time of year.

Now, for some it’s different.  They see these spooky things – witches, vampires, zombies – and perhaps due to a different experience with their inclusion only see some unholy (and I don’t use that word lightly) glorification of those things.  However, in my mind it’s a little different. 

I see them as signs of victory.  I see them as signs that there really is no fear of these frightening things being real or at most having any sort of real power.   I can hang skeletons because I have no fear that someone can conjure them to life.  I can dress as a witch because I know in my heart that in the end magic useless and hollow.

“Because what are these children’s games and scary movies and fake cobwebs and plastic skeletons saying? They are saying that the great powers, like the Thessalian witches who boasted they could draw down the moon, are nowadays only fit to be fodder for little girls who want to eat candy. The spirits and demons which made people shiver in fear and stay safely indoors beside their fire are decorations for houses and shops. The rituals of propitiation which safeguarded humans for millennia are no longer needed, because these powers are defeated and broken.”
 These scary things we used to fear have so little power over us that we dress small children in adorable costumes and the let make it into one big farce.  We no longer bar the door at night from the evil things that roam around on All Hallow’s Eve, rather we open our doors wide to any stranger that rings our doorbell and taunts us with an innocent “Trick or Treat” and share goodies and pleasantries.
My mother keeps a wall hanging up this time of year with this little quip:
“On the eve of All Saints Day, Jack O’Lanterns light the way.
God’s children need no longer fear the ghosts and goblins gathered here.
For evil ghouls with icy breath must bow to Him who conquered death.”

Halloween, Purgatory and the Danse Macabre

(Disclaimer:  How you decide to celebrate holidays in your home is your decision.  What others can incorporate with little trouble does not work as easily in a different family.  How ever you choose to celebrate the last day in October is what is best for your family.  The following is just a little food for thought.)

I will admit that I love Halloween.  Growing up as a Protestant it was simply a secular holiday.  Trunk or Treat hadn’t been invented yet and a most Halloween Costumes, unless you were lucky at begging your parents, came from your house and not a store.  There were still Halloween Parties and not “Fall Festivals”.  It was simply a day to dress up, roam around the neighborhood and score some free candy.

These days Halloween is crux of a great debate – safety, religion, consumerism and sexuality issues are often the hot topics on blogs and news sites around this time of year.  For me Halloween has become something a little deeper and more important with the addition of the full range of Hallowmas into my life.  I love having days set aside to remember those who’ve gone before us and All Saint’s Mass is one of my favorites of the year.

It is important to me, just as it is with Christmas, Easter and other Holy Days, to find a sensible balance between the secular and the Holy.  The balance that works between the two is different with each family, but for us there is still room for Halloween, Santa, All Saints and Jesus.

From my viewpoint a big part of the schism of Halloween falls between Catholic and Protestant lines.  The Catholics I know, though there are some that shun the day all together, seem to have an easier time finding a middle ground.  Often this is made easier with dual purpose Halloween and All Saints costumes.  The Protestants always seem to have a harder time.  Anything that has the glimmer of the supernatural and anything magical or mystical needs to be shunned.

This year I came across an interesting section about Halloween traditions (on wikipedia of all places, so we’ll just take everything with a grain of salt from here on in).  This article talked about the older traditions of Halloween when there was a belief that on Hallowmas, particularly All Hallow’s Eve, the souls of the dead that were trapped in Purgatory were allowed to roam around seeking either vengeance or a small chance at returning to their homes and their loved ones.  In France this was the Danse Macabre, whose original purpose was to show the fragility of life and vain glorification of our earthly lives.  One of the sources suggests that early Jack O’Lanterns were meant to guide these souls to the homes they were being celebrated in and that costumes were a way of disguising yourself from those who might have a bone to pick.

Vengeful souls aside I rather love the idea of these soul’s being called home for one more night.  I love the idea of a loved ones soul seeking out there home on a night when their stories are being share and their favorite meal being eaten.  Call me a romantic for the macabre I guess.

The blurb on wikipedia (I know, I know) also mentioned how, during the Reformation, Halloween was attacked as something wicked because of the theological differences concerning Purgatory.  These Protestants concluded that because Purgatory didn’t exist the things roaming around on All Hallow’s Eve couldn’t be the souls of our loved one or crotchety neighbors, but rather they had to be something evil and wicked.  Note that they didn’t come out and say there was nothing strange going on on October the 31st, but that because there was not intermediate state for souls awaiting heaven the things making that night a little more interesting had to be evil in nature.

Catholicism has a long tradition of the mystical side of religion.  We’re not talking seances and tarot cards, but rather an extraordinary way of connecting with God and this included things that were a little hard to explain or even believe.  This allows for a lot of wiggle room when it comes to possibly believing that the souls of your loved ones could be roaming around town in a few nights time. 

To me this wiggle room gives me the room to celebrate Halloween while still making room for the more serious days that follow.  We can make Jack O’Lanterns and set them out to potentially guide beloved souls back to their homes.  We can dress in costumes and roam around town and joke about the tricks those people might want to play on us and wonder if we’ve done a good enough job disguising ourselves.  We can buy candy, make treats and put up decorations that have special meaning while still having fun with the neighbors.

We can celebrate Halloween with the fun and frivolity that is expected from society at large while still honoring our traditions and making the Night about something a little bit deeper than plastic masks and sugar highs.  Just like a deeper celebration of Christmas requires a little belief that not only something special and a little out of our range of understanding happened a long time ago, but that something truly special continues to happen.  We can open our eyes and hearts to the idea that maybe, just maybe something a little deeper is happening on the Eve of the thirty-first of October.

My Teacher

Today at lunch Henry was playing with a necklace I was wearing.  He asked me “Mama, that you ce-cer?”  Normally very good at deciphering his vocabulary I had no idea what a “ce-cer” was.  I made many attempts, until finally I asked “Teacher?” to which he responded with an enthusiastic “Yeah!  That you ce-cer?”

“Mama, is that your teacher?”
Yes, I told him, I guess it is.

The necklace I was wearing is fairly new.  I purchased it on Wednesday, October 16th.  It is a tiny medal, no bigger than my thumbnail, the person on it is barely visible unless you’re up close.  I’m not even one of outward signs and symbols like this, but on Wednesday I had the firm desire to make this purchase

I bought it to have something to hold on to at a doctors appointment that afternoon and cling to it I did, literally. Barring a miracle I received the same news I did back on May 28th.  I was heartbroken and devastated.  I am heartbroken and devastated.

I have no idea where I’m going next.  I have no idea, yet, what this all means to me and my family.  I feel lost in my own life.  Mostly I feel like a failure.

But I hear they say when the student is ready the teacher appears.

So, St. Gerard of Majella.  Patron saint of Unborn Children and Expectant Mothers whose Feast Day is October 16th.

 I’m ready for my lesson.

The Reveal

Some of you know, and most of you don’t, that I’ve had a secret little projects in the works for the past few months.  It was an idea that has developed slowly ever since last years “Little Holy Days” Link Up.  As much fun as the link up was there was a need, in our community, for something a little bit more.

After hearing a group of friends on my Catholic Women’s Facebook group lamenting the fact that there were no magazines dedicated to inspiring Liturgical Year living within the family I knew it was time to put my idea into action.

So I’m pleased to officially announce-

The title for the project was inspired by the Thomas Moore (the poet, not the saint) quote  
“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”
Though Ordinary Acts will be a small project at first I’m hoping over time that it will grow into something really amazing.  Currently I am compiling articles and ideas for four categories – Faith, Celebration, Life and Prayer to be officially released November 26th, just in time for the New Liturgical Year and the Advent/Christmas Season.  Volume One will take us through until the beginning of February.
We plan on releasing 4 more Volumes over the course of the 2013/2014 Liturgical Year to coincide with the major divisions of the  Liturgical Calendar (to be announced at a later date).  The goal is to release them with enough time that you have at least a week or two to plan and implement any ideas you might find into your own life.  

But Wait!  This sounds great, but I’m not Catholic!  And that’s okay, this a resource for anyone interested in living out the Christian Liturgical Year – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, it doesn’t matter.  We already have at least one Orthodox Catholic, a couple Protestants and even my favorite Mennonite sharing for the first Volume.  While some traditions or celebrations might not work for your denomination I’m hoping to offer a range of ideas and information that all will find something to help inspire their celebrations.

For now I have released a few teaser articles for the Fall portion of the Liturgical Year to give you a taste of things to come.

Please peruse at your leisure –

The website is a work in progress, so please feel free to let me know any problems or tweaks that could help us along.
There are buttons for following the website already up to make sure you don’t miss out on the grand reveal in November.  I’m excited to share this project with you and see where it takes us.

10 Easy Ways Your Family Can Celebrate the Feast of St. Francis

 Image from Monastery Icons

I’ve always loved St. Francis.  He’s a Saint who speaks to so many no matter their religious leanings.  I loved that he was called to rebuild the Church, was an example of simple living and care for weaker creatures.

 Image from Pinterest, no direct source

If you’d like to recognize this simple, loving man on October 4th here are some ideas that don’t require a lot of time or preparation.

  • Volunteer at the Local Animal Shelter – particularly a good idea for older children.  Call ahead to know their requirements and needs.
  • Give to the Local Animal Shelter – most shelters keep a running list online or in their office of goods currently needed.  Set a spending limit and let your children help pick out the items to take.
  • Set up a bird feeder or squirrel feeder in your backyard – or clean out and restock ones you already have.
  • Schedule check-ups for family pets – today’s a good day to remind yourself to make sure everyone’s shots and dental cleanings are up to date.
  • Freshen up your pets food, water and bedding – it’s a good time before it gets cold to check out any outside kennels, pens, etc. for repairs before the winter.
  • Offer to do the three above for an elderly relative or neighbor – the extra care helps the pet and the person.
  • Become a member (or renew a subscription) to a Wildlife Conservatory or donate to a local Zoo or Wildlife Preserve – let your kids pick out a project that speaks to them.
  • Make your own bird feeders – spread peanut butter on bagels, roll in birdseed and hand on a tree or large bush.  Call around to local grocery store or bakery and you might get a good deal on day old bagels!  I’ve pinned a few ideas on my Liturgical Year – Fall board
  • Read the Canticle of the Sun together!  We love this version,Brother Sun, Sister Moon
  • Volunteer some time (perhaps during the whole month) to do some acts of service at your church – many churches need help preparing the ground for winter around this time of year and St. Francis himself was told to “Rebuild the Church!”.

If you’d like more ideas check out Sarah @ Two O’s + More: Celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

    I’m off to my brother-in-laws’ wedding this weekend so I’ll see you back sometime next week!  Hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

    If you’d like to pin this to Pinterest, just hover your mouse over any image and you’ll get a Pin It Button!

    Preparing the Pantry: Essential Equipment

    Thank you for coming back for the last installment of my Preparing the Pantry Series:  Essential Equipment.  You can find parts One, Two and Three here.

    I find that having good equipment is just as important as having a nicely stocked pantry – it allows me to try to new recipes as well as cook and preserve a variety of things with out too much worry.

    For the absolute Essentials I find these items are a must.

    1. Quality Pots and Pans (preferably without non-stick coatings)
    2. A Cast Iron Skillet and/or Dutch Oven
    3. Casserole/Baking Dishes
    4. Cutting Board
    5. The Basic Utensils -Vegetable Peeler, Can Opener, Spatulas, etc.
    6. Quality set of Metal and Wooden cooking Spoons
    7. Wet and Dry Measuring Cups and Spoons
    8. Cookie Sheets
    9. Mixing Bowls (I love my vintage pyrex)
    10. Colander
    11. Food Processor (great for chopping veggies or making baby food and everything in between)
    12. Quality set of Knives
    13. Muffin Tins
    14. Crockpot
    15. Pie Plate

     These are items that I love having around, but aren’t necessarily essentials.

    1. Air Popcorn Popper
    2. Bread Machine
    3. Dehydrator
    4. Grilling Tools
    5. Cookie Cutters
    6. Blender
    7. Canning Equipment

    If you’re going to have a pantry or store food in anyway quality storage containers are going to be an investment well worth your time. We keep a variety of plastic containers around the house for short term storage, but I am of the Ball Plastic Freezer Jar and using the Mason Jars (they now sell Plastic Lids for the jars) for canning, dry storage and frozen storage (just remember to leave head room for expansion) .

    If you really want to invest (or making a lucky consignment/thrift find like my mother) I do recommend a Vacuum Sealer.  My mother found a barely used vacuum sealer for about $20 and it’s quite the handy tool.  Plus if you package your fresh fruit and vegetable with extra space in the package they are resealable.

    Cooking Gear is often something well worth the investment – the last thing you want is something essential giving out during the prep on the Thanksgiving Day.

    What are your favorite things to cook with?