Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is one of the oldest holidays observed throughout the world. It falls on the eve of All Hallows’ Day, or All Saints’ Day, November 1, which is a celebratory day to honor all of the saints, known and unknown, who have attained Heaven. November 2, All Souls’ Day, was established with the intention of praying for all of the souls of those who had died and were still awaiting their entrance into Heaven. Therefore, we spend All Souls’ Day praying for the souls of the faithfully departed who are in purgatory. In fact, we continue this prayer for those we've loved and lost throughout November.
While the practices and traditions may look a bit different depending on where you are in the world, the commonality is that this span of three days can be a busy time for people of all ages, cultures, and religions. For children in North America the tradition of dressing in costume on Halloween and going from door to door to collect treats is referred to as “trick-or-treating.” In Europe this tradition is referred to as “guising.” One well-known cultural tradition, originating in Mexico, is the celebration of the “Day of the Dead” where these days are spent celebrating and remembering loved ones who are no longer living. Of course, in the Catholic Church, these days are commonly spent praying and honoring our faithfully departed.
Growing up without a religious affiliation I was unaware of the importance of these days in the Catholic Church. Thus, when I was visited in the hospital by one of my closest friends after the birth of my first and only child, I did not understand why she, as a devout Roman Catholic, was so excited over the fact that my daughter was born on “All Saints’ Day.” Prior to the birth of my daughter, to me this day had no special meaning. It wasn’t until years later, after I had found my home in the Church, that I learned about the importance of these days and realized just how miraculous God’s plan is.
I love to sit back this time of year and reflect on the irony of the expression “trick or treat,” as it relates to my life. When I was pregnant with my child and my mother passed away, I can only describe that timing of events as a horrible, horrible trick being played. Then I was gifted with the most beautiful treat, the birth of my daughter. I can clearly remember sharing this story with some friends that I had made on my first mission trip in Africa. As Catholics, they were quite familiar with the importance of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, and they too were in awe at how God always sends treats to follow the tricks ~ sometimes cruel tricks ~ in our lives.
Even on this first mission trip, I felt culture-shock and perhaps more than a bit homesick, almost as if I was being tricked, but then God sent another wonderful treat my way, quite literally. I remember when I shared with my mission friends in Africa that, prior to becoming Catholic, November 1 was simply the day after Halloween to me. When I went on to explain North American Halloween and our traditions, the women were amazed by the idea of “trick-or-treat.” As I explained the concept to them, I thought to myself just how funny it really does sound. Little children dressing up as animals, characters, other people, or even inanimate objects while walking up to doors and expecting treats to be thrown in their bags did seem like a silly, yet fortunate tradition.
After sharing this story I decided to retire for the night. I was laying on my mattress on the ground of my room, journaling by candlelight, when I heard a knock at my door. Much to my surprise it was a friend that I had made by the name of Norma. Norma was a young Nigerian girl whom I had met on this trip. Earlier that night Norma was there when I was sharing my stories and explaining the idea of trick-or-treat. I remember her asking me earlier, “What treat would you hope to get?” As an adult, 8,000+ miles away from home who had not been trick-or-treating in a very, very long time, I thought of what snack I was missing most from back home and jokingly blurted out “popcorn”! As I opened the door to the room in which I was staying, Norma stood there holding corn that she had put over the fire and turned into popcorn for me, and she said the phrase “trick-or-treat” with a huge smile on her face.
This act of kindness and small taste of home will be a memory that I will cherish forever. This truly was the treat that I had needed following the trick of my first mission trip. In fact, knowing that someone had listened that well to my storytelling and had cared that much to go out of her way to give me, of all people, a treat still makes me speechless to this day. This encounter reassured me that my voice was being heard and that good people are the ones who are listening to my stories. So, I returned home after that trip, and I continued to use my voice to share my stories, hoping that good people, with big hearts like Norma would be listening, and the rest is history!
I like to think that every resource I have provided the people of Africa over the years was perceived as a “treat” to some of the most deserving individuals whom I have ever met. May we always channel the joy of children receiving treats on Halloween night, and let us spread that joy by providing treats to children in need in the Pope's missions.
Until next time!
Did you know that the tradition of carving faces into vegetables dates back hundreds of years? Celtic people wanted to light the way to their homes for the good spirits, so as part of their autumn-time celebration they would carve faces into vegetables such as turnips and squash. Now we do this with pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns!
You too can participate in this classic tradition while also raising money to help children in the Pope's missions ~ and stay safe at home during these challenging COVID-19 times. Just set a date and time for your virtual pumpkin-carving contest, and have an adult find a way to collect donations digitally to be part of that fun!
Everyone can then carve their special pumpkins and showcase them during a virtual pumpkin-carving party! At the end of the party, everyone can vote on a winner, and the winner can send what was collected to help children in the Pope's missions through the Missionary Childhood Association.
“Hol(l)y Headlines!” ~ a bit of a play on words ~ is an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" call to build missionary momentum as part of our ongoing effort to educate and motivate the next generation of the Catholic Church's missionaries. The blog's author, Holly Benner, is National Coordinator for the Missionary Childhood Association. She's also the mission education coordinator in her home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She has a passion for the missions and experience in making mission real at the diocesan level. For 10 years, Holly traveled frequently to Africa as president of a faith-based non-profit that she founded, one focused on developing sustainable water resources among poor communities.