Every Halloween, it seems, I come across some students or parents who are unaware of the roots of this holiday, and so here again is my post from last Halloween for those who may have missed it.
I love reading scary, spooky Halloween stories to children at this
time of year, but I am always surprised at the number of students who
are completely unaware of the roots of this holiday, and even of the
derivation of the word itself. At a recent school visit, in answer to
my question about the meaning of hallow, the only child who raised his
hand to answer, said, “empty,” obviously confusing it with hollow. I
suppose that is not at all surprising, given the number of people in the
media who pronounce it “Holloween.”
Ever since I came to America, I find that some
teachers and parents are somewhat wary of focusing, or even of
acknowledging the ghoulish aspect of this holiday, while some go so far
as to maintain that it is at odds with the Christian Faith.
I think it provides a wonderful opportunity to talk to children about the whole notion of good versus evil. Here is what I tell the children before I
launch into my stack of spooky stories.
means Holy Evening from the old English- Hallow – Holy, and een –
contraction of eve or evening. Of course, as most people know (or at
least I think they do), this holiday has its roots in the ancient
Celtic/Druid/ belief that this was the time of year when evil sprits
roamed the earth. In order to keep the dark forces at bay, people
dressed up in costumes to “fool” the wandering souls. With the advent
of Christianity, the Celts still retained many of their ancient rituals
(jack o lantern to ward off the evil sprits, dressing up in costumes and
going from house to house – guising) and simply blended them into their
new found Christian practices – going to Mass to celebrate the lives of
the Saints and offering up special prayers for the dead. Incidentally,
the reason St. Patrick was so successful at bringing Christianity to
Ireland, was that the Celtic people were already completely attuned to
the idea of “other worlds” – Heaven and Hell, because they already
believed in the “little people,” and they already knew that often times
that which you cannot see is actually more real than what you can see.
this Hallowed night then, I think it is good to read a ghost story or
two, because the next day on the glorious feast of All Saints (one of my
favorite holy days), I know that I will say a special prayer to all
those “big” saints like Patrick and Joseph, Teresa and Bridget who
filled this world with their goodness and grace and light. And I will
pray also to all those “little” saints – all those holy men and women
who have touched my life with their particular goodness, grace, and
light – my mum and my dad, all my dear Irish aunties and uncles, and
even those wonderful writers, like C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and
Thomas Merton, whose words continue to feed and nourish me.
To miss this opportunity of sharing with children that we know without a shadow of a doubt that goodness and grace will
always trump the forces of evil and darkness, would indeed make this a
very “hollow” festival! So, light the lanterns, tell the spooky tales,
don the wizards’ robes and witches’ hats, and have a
Happy HALLOW –
This book by Jenny Nimmo is an all-time favorite with kids at schools – very scary story from Scotland, with a great ending that beautifully illustrates the power of grace and goodness over the forces of evil! Great for grades 5 and up.