Catholic Activity: Halloween Party
Here are some suggestions for celebrating Halloween, including appropriate costumes, games, and stories.
Our family's Halloween parties are now planned around the custom of begging for soul cakes. Among the neighborhood children who attend, Catholics together with non-Catholics, there is no one who is not intrigued to learn the stories of these customs and join in the prayers and the fun.
Frying doughnuts is a big undertaking, but this one time of the year we have a doughnut session — the day before Halloween. Soul cakes need not be doughnuts, but we like to tell Mrs. Berger's story; and this, of course, leads to much tasting to see if one does think of eternity at every bite. Other refreshments for the party are natural sweets — apples, nuts, popcorn — all perfect companions to the soul cakes.
Next, costumes. Saint costumes have been much in vogue in our circle since the rediscovery of Christian Halloween. These are lots of fun to make, but if you are having non-Catholic children who do not know about patron saints, a full course on the subject is not possible before the party. You might suggest that these come as some departed soul, one of those from eternity who come to warn the living to mend their ways. This gives much leeway and justifies the inevitable cowboys and space cadets. Cowboys do eventually depart, I am confident, and space cadets look as though they already have.
A rhymed invitation tells everybody that this is a real party and also keeps enough of the familiar Halloween ghostliness to enhance the rest, which sounds a little unfamiliar. Our invitation goes like this:
Come to keep vigil on All Hallows' Even,
With Monica, Jamie, Peter and Stephen,
With John, Philip, Christopher, dressed up like souls;
Bring berries of red to help warn off the ghouls.
Come knock at the door and beg for soul cakes,
Pray hard for the souls, for the prayers that it takes
To speed them to Heav'n go too often unsaid,
And who prays for poor souls will ne'er want for bread.
This hints at what is going to happen. Followed by a telephone call or a note to the mothers of the guests, it gives everyone time to get the "feel of it." This is important. If it isn't clearly explained how they will beg at the door and say a prayer for the dead, the party will disintegrate right there with the "gimmes."
The berries of red and their use have their origin 'way back when holly and evergreens bearing red berries were used to remind the Christians of the blood of Christ and the burning love of Mary for her Child. It is not hard for country children to find a spray of red berries, but even in the city there is bittersweet on sale at the streetcorner; or if you live near a barberry hedge, you might prevail on the owner to let you have a sprig — and to show your good will tell him that it is a wise way to ward off witches.
An old witch patrols the lawn at our house this night, riding a broomstick and fleeing in fright from the groups of guests, terrified at the sight of the berries. Barred from the house by these berries (some of which are combined with autumn leaves and fastened to the front door in a swag), she has to be content to hoot and screech, pop out from behind trees; and when the time comes, bade by what she knows is the truth, she gives directions for begging at the door.
I am forced to tell ye this, miserable dearies, whether I would or no; so mark it well. If ye pray for the dead, they are released sooner from their torment of waiting in Purgatory and sped on the wings of light to their eternal reward. So go and knock and the woman will open to your knock, and sing as loud as ye can: 'A soul cake, a soul cake, a prayer for a soul cake!' She will bear on her arm a basket of cakes and tell ye for whom ye are to pray. And may ye all choke on every crumb and find praying and eating at one and the same time as miserable as the torment I endure forever riding hungry on my broomstick!
Everyone is delighted by her useless malice, and finds that simultaneous praying and eating is not difficult. Better yet, bade by the woman of the house, they pray before they eat (much more respectful). They pray for grandfathers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and all the souls in Purgatory. The Catholic children and the non-Catholic children say together for their dead the one prayer they share in common, the Our Father; and after the voices of the Catholic children have died away, the rest continue with "for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever." This, incidentally, was appended to the Our Father long before the so-called Reformation; it is one of those liturgical additions that was eventually dropped for the sake of purity. Knowing this helps eliminate some of the irritation Catholics feel when hearing it. It is not something the Protestants dreamed up just to be difficult.
Around the house to the various doors (because we live in the country we must confine our party to one house), and then inside for the celebration. In the city, children could go to several houses close together, or to several apartment doors. The old witch, spying one door without red berries, makes a last appearance cackling and greeting the guests from behind the puppet show. She shakes the children's hands with a wet glove and presses an ice cube in each unsuspecting palm, whereupon they shriek and scream and pile through the door into the living room to duck for apples, chase them on strings, eat popcorn and soul cakes, and drink cider.
If there are many small children, plan the party for them — and let the older children help give it. If there are more older children, it is best to plan the party for them. Sometimes it will work both ways, but more often than not, widely divergent age groups do not combine successfully for parties because the same games and entertainments do not appeal to both. If you have both small fry and older children, you might plan with the mothers of the neighborhood to hold two parties — one for little children at one house, one for older children at another.
For very small children, ducking for apples, apples on strings, refreshments, the chance to make noise and antics in their costumes, can be nicely gathered up and rounded off by reading one or two stories. If they have come in saint costumes, the outstanding game can be telling your saint's story — after the others have guessed who you are.
For older children or even adults, "A Trayful of Saints" is a good game. On a tray place a dozen or more objects that symbolize familiar saints. For example: key — St. Peter; flower — Little Flower; rose — St. Rose of Lima; dog — St. Dominic; bird — St. Francis of Assisi; cross — St. Helena; crown — St. Elizabeth of Hungary; eagle — St. John the Evangelist; shell — St. James; Sacred Heart — St. Margaret Mary Alacoque; kitchen utensil — St. Martha; half coat (paper cut-out) — St. Martin of Tours. Go slowly from one guest to another, giving them time to memorize what is on the tray. Then pass out paper and pencils and have them list what they remember, and what saint they think they symbolize.
Charades depicting outstanding events in the lives of the saints are always fun at such a party, and ghost stories are in order when the apple ducking is done and people are sitting around the fire.
Here is one for the little ones who may not be quite ready for those of the grimmer sort. This one is told by Granny Newland and it is true, about a Jack Doyle who lived with his grandmother in Antrim, which is where St. Kevin's well is with the two hollows in the stone from where he rested his elbows at prayer, and they were forever after filled with water. Many's the time she went as a child and tried to dry them out but the water was back in a wink.
Anyway, Jack lived with his grandmother, who was always growling because he came in so late at night. This night he was late again and hurrying home past the Blind Piers, where it was said there was always a ghost with blinking lights (but that's another story). So he began to get nervous. He started to run and when he started to run he heard a noise right behind him. He ran faster and the faster he ran, the louder the noise behind him, until finally he reached his grandmother's house in such a sweat it was rolling off him in great drops, and he fell in the kitchen over the half-door. His grandmother was sitting on a low stool in front of the fire saying her beads and she began to cross herself and call on all the saints and angels and the Blessed Mother of God to come to her protection. When Jack explained why he was in such a fit she gave a look and thought a thought, What do you think it was?
The stiff buckram lining in his brand-new coat.
Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956