QUAERITUR: Explain devil to very small children

Can some parents help with this?

From a reader:

My four yr. old grandson saw a “devil” Halloween outfit and asked his parents alot of questions to his parents.

They asked me to explain things about the devil to him. Kids in preschool liken Satan like a bad super hero foe. Some of these poor misguided children ( and parents who should know better ) actually want to be a devil for Halloween. ( I do not like Halloween – it isn’t what it should be…… unless we dress the children like saints !)

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  1. For a proper Catholic perspective on Halloween, see this article by Catholic author Rod Bennett, here: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/2120849/posts.

    Catholics who fear Halloween because of its pagan origins risk becoming Evangelicals in their moral outlook, or even worse, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Money quote from Bennett’s article: “Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, profess to despise everything associated with our pre-Christian past. They especially despise the practices of the Catholic Church that redeem various elements of that pre-Christian past. They teach their disciples to hate and fear all holy days and holidays alike, and will have nothing to do with either Christmas or Easter for precisely the same reasons that Evangelicals are now despising Halloween.

    “And this is the reason I have found it worthwhile to mount, from time to time, a Christian defense of Halloween. Because one day — perhaps not too long from now — my own friends and relatives are going to feel forced, by their own careless presuppositions, to drop the other shoe on all holidays, to spend December without Christmas, and springtime without Easter, to go to a ballgame and refuse to sing the National Anthem.”

  2. traditionalorganist says:

    Halloween is a tricky time (no pun intended!). I think that it is perfectly innocent for a child to want to dress up as something scary. This is fun and I believe objectively harmless. I do believe, however, that dressing up as the devil is treading dangerous ground. Kids like to play spooky ghosts or goblins. The key is to stick to “spooky” and to avoid truly “scary.” I think when costumes become way to realistic and gory, the boundary gets crossed. I would never allow my kids to dress up as the devil because the devil is not spooky or fun to imitate. I think the best way to approach the subject with kids is to explain to them the reality of the Devil. He is not some super villain, but the master of deceit, full of cunning. Perhaps it would be best to encourage the children to dress as warriors in the battle against the devil. And that does not limit it to Saints, but to soldiers or knights, etc.

  3. priests wife says:

    For very small children- you might not want to even say that a devil was an angel who disobeyed God- you don’t want the two concepts connected and equalized in a young brain.

    So….” a devil is someone who doesn’t like God and who tries to make people do bad things. And in our family, we don’t dress up like bad things. Do you want to be a farmer, a policeman, a knight, a soldier, a pumpkin, a fireman, a pig, a hobbit, a robot….”

  4. swamp_rabbit says:

    I have two young ones and I think we’re going to take the saints route…

    Of course, I’d like to point out that lots of “traditional” depictions of the saints are pretty gory!

    “Son, which saint would you like to dress as this Halloween?”
    “Saint Sebastian, dad!”
    “And you, my daughter?”
    “Saint Lucy!”


  5. Nathan says:

    The comments have given good advice so far. With my boys (the girls were, honestly, easier in this regard), it worked to leverage the “bad super hero foe” to a degree. I haven’t found my four-year-olds to be able to comprehend death, judgement, heaven and hell in any depth, but they can understand that the devil is an evil thing who wants all of us not to go to heaven.

    The best thing to come out of these discussions for us was to use them as an opportunity to teach the St. Michael the Archangel prayer. In general, the little boys really like shouting “BE our PROTECTION against the WICKEDNESS and SNARES of the DEVIL” and “BY the POWER of GOD CAST into HELL Satan and all the WICKED spirits…” It also helps to have a dad or grand-dad who can really get them into it.

    In Christ,

  6. My oldest is four and we haven’t really had to deal yet with the question of the devil. I also get very frustrated at Halloween because of this kind of thing.

    I think part of the key of trying to explain things like this is in putting it in terms they understand. So, I think, when it comes up, it would go something like this: “A devil is worst bad guy there is but whereas the evil queen in Snow White is not real, the devil is real. He is a very very bad guy who is real and he tries to keep everyone away from Jesus. He tries to make people do bad things and he likes to hurt people. So it is important to pray to your guardian angel to protect you from him and it is important to always stay as close to Jesus as you can.”

    I do love the idea of using the opportunity to introduce St. Michael and his prayer.

  7. RichR says:

    My 7 year old is coming of age (age of reason), and he has been concerned about the devil. He understands that there is the possibility of not going to Heaven, and that the Devil wants that to happen to you. What he has found comfort in is that:

    1) God is always stronger than the Devil
    2) God will always give you help to beat the Devil if you just ask Him
    3) You can always ask Him
    4) God loves you and wants you to go to Heaven
    5) St. Michael and Guardian Angels are soldiers for God

    As far as Halloween goes, we stick to simple things: astronauts, firemen, pumpkins, etc……

    I look forward to the years to come, because my men’s Gregorian chant group is looking to re-claim All Hallow’s E’en with a slightly spooky Vespers (ie, incense, dim lights, accounts of martyrs’ deaths, candles, chant with good acoustics in the sanctuary, etc…..). We’re looking to give it that real Medieval ethos….. It will be great because it will be something people can bring their Protestant friends to, and it may even draw in the gore-seekers who want to know what the holiday is really about….but still want that eerie environment that has always surrounded the day. The Dominicans in D.C. do this, and it is a hot ticket item on Halloween…..and a good evangelization tool.

  8. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Tell them that devil means liar. The devil is something that tells you that what is bad is good or that what is good is bad.

  9. Jamus says:

    “… unless we dress the children like saints !” – partially answers the question.

    A kid dressed up as a saint will seem out of place to most of the other T-or-T-ers and their folks, and it would be an impossible load on an unprepared tyke to expect him (inclusive) to be able to explain what saint he (incl) is being and why. But it would be worth the attempt.

    In my own case, I position several cardboard representations around my front entrance of various saints and wallow a little in the teaching moment when I’m asked the obvious questions: “O I’m glad you asked! Tonite is Halloween, you see; this is Hallowed Frank, that’s Hallowed Pete, here we have Hallowed Rocky…” etc.

    ‘Course, around here (Southern CA) I most often find myself saying things more like “Aquí se encuentra San Francisco, ahí Santa Barbara, el otro está San Pedro” etc. In this second case, it’s encouraging how many adults pick right up on what’s going on. More, I’d say than among Anglos.

    Sad to say, a great many just ignore what’s going on, so I remark in upbeat fashion on the charming ghoul-and/or-princess attire and give ’em their swag and call it good, all the while muttering under my breath “Hail Mary…”

  10. Margo says:

    I am not a parent, but I did recently write an article on my blog which expresses my thoughts on this subject. http://therosarytrail.com/halloween-and-satan/

  11. Titus says:

    Hmm, for some reason I can’t find a good article on the subject, although I know I’ve seen them before. Frankly, I think the Free Republic one devotes too much space to (entirely accurate and well-deserved) deprecation of Protestantism and J.W.s, and too little to the Christian history of the celebration.

    But if I recall, All Hallow’s Eve has long been a time for hijinks and ghost costumes. The first two days in November are devoted to triumphant (in their respective states) members of the Church; local customs in many places assigned the vigil of those days to the vanquished. So scary costumes and decorations were utilized either to ward off the evil spirits out on such a day, or to remind the populace of that third possible destination for the soul at death. Maybe considering a day to be assigned to the damned was a bad idea, but it’s part of the cultural history of the Church. Taken in that light, the question of dressing up is more complex. Obviously, one would not want to dress up as a demon or a fictitious evil creature (e.g., a vampire) with the intention of imitating these things, holding them out as worthy of any sort of respect, or considering them “fun.” On the other hand, if the morality-play element is part of the celebration is preserved, it might not be entirely improper to dress up as an evil being—not because evil beings are fun—but because the reminder of the existence of evil and its servants is part of what Halloween is supposed to be about. Good luck drawing that distinction with children.

    Re: explaining the devil to children. This isn’t hard: “the devil is an evil spirit; he hates God and he hates you. He attempts to convince you to do things that are wrong.” etc. You don’t have to explain Satan’s life history, but a child is able to understand that an angel is a good spiritual being, to which the evil spiritual beings that are demons may properly be analogized.

  12. digdigby says:

    Don’t fall for the Chick pamphlet arguments against Halloween as a Satanic holiday to be avoided. Halloween is the greatest! After dressing as super heroes and witches and getting sick on candy it is rather hard to regard it as a ‘sacred Wicca holiday’ when you grow up. Make fun of the devil, he has NO sense of humor.

  13. apagano says:

    We don’t celebrate Halloween. We don’t dress the kids up and we tried not even handing out candy, but people came to the door anyway so now we hand out the candy. My personal objection to Halloween isn’t even really it’s beginnings, but how it is celebrated NOW. There are skeletons, witches, demons….. everywhere. Most, not all, people are celebrating the gore and evil of it all. We don’t want our family participating in something that celebrates evil, which is what it has become whether people are doing it purposefully or not.

    And with explaining the devil….. it’s hard. Our son is almost 3.5 and has questions about the devil. We try and explain that he doesn’t love God, that he doesn’t want us to love God. That he is a bad spirit. We taught him a little about spirits, that the devil is a bad spirit and the angles are good spirits. Who knows how much he actually understands, but he’ll say something sometimes that makes us really think he gets it.

  14. Caro_c says:

    A word of caution. We know what we tell our own children, but what do they tell their friends??
    I remember being called into play- school because my son Michael (age 3) was frightening the other children with tales of the Devil and St Michael. My son had heard the story so many times that he didn’t bat an eyelid, but it was all very new, real and frightening for his friends.

  15. In response, Apagano, I would repeat what digdigby said, and add to it something I wrote three years ago on my (now defunct) blog:

    “Anyway, today is Halloween, a most glorious holiday. A good Catholic holiday, for this is the day that we honor the age-old truth that the devil, like all who are besotted with pride, cannot stand being mocked. So we mock him, with silly costumes and mischievous pranks and door-to-door begging, and have a wild old time doing so. Tomorrow we go to Mass to honor the saints in the Church Triumphant and ask their intercession for us in the Church Militant; and we will spend the rest of November offering up suffrages for the poor souls in Purgatory — the Church Suffering. But tonight, we celebrate our mortality, while not forgetting that even in death we retain hope in the Resurrection.”

    And to repeat what Rod Bennett wrote in the link I posted above, we risk becoming like Jehovah’s Witnesses if we shun Halloween. It is a short route from that to shunning actual Church feasts, and before you know it you “spend December without Christmas, and springtime without Easter.”

  16. Elly says:

    I can see how dressing up as someone good can be a good substitute but what about trick or treating? For me that was the best part of Halloween and I wouldn’t want to deny my children that fun if it isn’t necessary to do so.

  17. JohnE says:

    A couple years ago my 5-yr-old son dressed up as a zebra. When I took his picture he made an ugly face so I asked him “What was that?” He said, “I’m a deranged zebra.” I don’t know how he even knew that word “deranged”.
    At least for boys, I think it’s a little like not buying toy guns — they’ll just use a stick or their fingers or something else, and they know it’s not for real. We keep away from the gross and gore with the Halloween costumes, but he went as a scary-looking alien last year. I try to keep it in perspective and tell him the point is to make fun of fearful things, because we have God and the Saints on our side.
    I thought about doing some sort of Saint costume, but I guess I don’t have any good ideas. I think of the Saints as pretty much looking like regular people, maybe dressed in a robe or some clothes from the period in which they lived. I don’t think the kids are going to get too excited about that.

  18. AnAmericanMother says:

    Been there, done that.

    Swamp rabbit, funny you should mention St. Lucy. My daughter was St. Lucy one year, with her eyes on a plate. There are plenty of fun costumes that have nothing to do with the devil — just off the top of my head, the kids have done soldiers, firemen, Luke Skywalker, a ghost, a samurai, a necromancer (ok, that’s borderline, but it was from a science fiction story), Papagena from the Magic Flute, Jean Valjean, Fr. Alexander Anderson (a loony quasi-Catholic priest from a Japanese manga), a Russian soldier, and St. Martin de Tours.

    Hasn’t seemed to bother anybody or be a bad influence.

  19. Alice says:

    I don’t know why you couldn’t tell a four year old the story of St. Michael driving Lucifer out of heaven and how Satan wants to keep people from having what he lost. A few years ago I taught VBS for 5-6 year olds and a couple of the children had heard the story of how St. Michael drove Lucifer out of heaven into hell from their grandparents. (I think Grandma was watching the kids for the summer.) They thought it was an AWESOME story. The boys also thought that fiery hell would be awesome (until I explained to them that THEY would burn too if they went to hell). Nobody wanted to go to hell after that! :)

    As far as Hallowe’en goes, my parents were anti-Hallowe’en until I was in high school and our Indult priest LOVED Hallowe’en. After that they lightened up and we used Hallowe’en as a day to remember the reality of evil and to have fun dressing up as everything from witches to saints. I’ve been making my son a Cardinal costume and both my husband and I will dress up too. (I’ve been toying with the idea of being the nebulous Spirit of Vatican II ;))

  20. Steve T. says:

    I was forced to deal with this issue very prematurely, when a doltish babysitter left on Fantasia and apparently went off to blab on her cell, and left my 4-year-old and my 3-year-old twins to watch. Flying horsies! A real favorite! But she left it to run through the Night on Bald Mountain sequence. You know, the one where the Devil summons the dead from graves, riverbeds, and the pit of Hell to cavort for his amusement?

    My wife and I came home to shell-shocked children. No “bad super hero foe” for them—the Devil is depicted as horrifying (as he is), and surrounded by ghosts. Not fun, just scary. What saved us was the end of Fantasia, where the church bells force the demons and ghosts to slither back into their graves, and then a procession of monks (or nuns, I can’t tell) holding candles process through the woods to the strains of Gounod’s Ave Maria.

    I went back to the scene where the church bell begins to ring, and the Devil shows distraction and pain at each stroke. I made them watch as all the bad, scary things went away as the church bell rang, explaining that even though the Devil was big and scary and ugly, God was way, way more powerful than the Devil could ever hope to be, and that since God loves us, he gives us the power to drive away the Devil when we need to, by saying prayers, by going to Mass, by sending priests to protect us. And I got to expose them to the Ave Maria, and tell them about how the Blessed Mother would protect us from devils as Exterminatrix of Heresies, and showed them this picture of Our Mother about to lay the beat-down on a nasty grabbing at a child looking to her for help (http://www.flickr.com/photos/americanpapist/2306311109/). And I showed them the classic picture of St. Michael standing on the Devil, poised to stab him.

    Come to think of it, that pretty much marks the start of my fledgling Traditionalism.

  21. tobiasmurphy says:

    My kids are going as a shepherd (2 year old boy) and a lamb (11 month old girl).

    For a 4-year-old, I would say that the devil is an angel who disobeyed God, his Father. Thus, I teach a doctrinal and moral lesson (though not in completely nuanced terms). I would then add that the devil is jealous of us and tries to get us to do bad things, so we need to say “no!” to the devil. Then I’d get them to practice saying “no!” then I’d tell them about St. Michael and offer to get them a St. Michael costume for Halloween.

  22. Mike says:

    1. I wouldn’t let my kids dress as devils.
    2. I wouldn’t advise my kids to dress as saints.
    3. I would advise them to have fun.
    4. After nightly prayers, I would add the St. Michael’s prayer.

    My kids are older, though they will go out–oldest is 17, don’t know if he will.
    Once at my school Halloween party, there was a lady “reading fortunes”, a palm-reader. Just pretend.
    I didn’t like that at all. It hasn’t happened again. Our chaplain also didn’t like it–after it was done!

  23. lizfromFL says:

    My oldest was always interested in St.Michael from when he was very little (maybe 3?) and so I told him about it. He loved the painting we have of him striking down the devil. I don’t remember having a “formal” conversation about it. When you read the lives of the saints books (of which we have many, many) the devil comes up a lot and the kids just pick it up.

    My kids dress for Halloween – but no devils allowed. Also no “horror” characters. They can do swamp things, aliens, plain ghosts – but nothing bloody or killers or anything like that. Luckily they are leery of that anyway. This year my oldest is Phantom of the Opera from the Red Death scene. My youngest is a king. My husband said Henry the 8th, but my son said “no way he fights with the pope.” LOL “I’ll be King Arthur.”

  24. Supertradmum says:

    Most children understand things of the spiritual life more readily than adults. I taught Montessori for years and most of the young ones understood “evil” and “good” and those who were Catholic or Anglican knew all about St. Michael fighting the devil. These concepts help the young ones understand other things they may come across. If they are being taken to Church and the Mass on a regular basis, they will hear things which will begin a series of questions.

    We underestimate little children. Protecting them from the Truth is not only dangerous, but creates a false sense of reality. Children should be encouraged to discuss evil, by reading Catholic children’s Bibles with pictures, showing Adam and Eve being cast out of Eden, for example, or the Egyptian hosts being drowned in the sea.

    The psalms are a great tool for evangelizing the very young as well. When my son was little about seven, he dressed up as his patron St. Edmund Campion, fully understanding that the great saint was killed for his faith. I dressed up as St. Rose of Lima, one of my patrons, as a child, and I knew that she had disfigured her fact in order not to be asked to marry. I thought that was “cool”. This is our Faith and our Heritage. Pass it on…

  25. Supertradmum says:

    sorry, face, not fact. And, in addition, one of my brothers dressed up at St. Paul, with a sword, the symbol of his martyrdom. He was about eight.

  26. mike cliffson says:

    I support RICHR above
    Our youngest – of more than ten – is sevenish too.(Just cause we’re experienced doesn’t mean that we’re right, Holier than thou, less sinful etc of course!)
    A grandparent wrote, and here grandparents can reinforce parents, often fill in gaps (night prayer) but going dead against them may need some negociation,faith, prayer,fasting, and almsgiving (Cf. Our Lord re some devils ! Idon’ t mean your offspring and their spouses can be demons, but they can be hard nuts to crack…)I’m assuming you have a shared basic faith….?The grandchild is baptized..?
    The hard balance is that they BE aware of the devil’s and hell’s existance, but not dwell or brood , in complete confidence in Jesus- and the dwelling and brooding can come quite early from outside (3to5,say)thanks to school, siblings, TV, halloween…. RichR above puts it, quote
    “1) God is always stronger than the Devil
    2) God will always give you help to beat the Devil if you just ask Him
    3) You can always ask Him
    4) God loves you and wants you to go to Heaven
    5) St. Michael and Guardian Angels are soldiers for God” unquote
    You can put off the truth – limit the moment to “God is all mighty, he loves you, and he’s protecting you tonight” but don’t tell lies, such as “Dont worry the devil doesn’t exist”
    I would add. 1That age is not too young for them to have learnt the ourfather anyway,and hail mary for evening prayers before bed- some people disagree, and say teach 2 to 3 year olds a simple little child’s parayer that won’t overburden them. I might agree, if the world weren’t catequizing them. My advice: Given the circumstances, start now.Joyfully, encouragingly, slowly, not grimly and angrily. “A sad christian is a sad example of a christian”. This IS important! At the end of a long day when you’re at snapping point, summoning up joy for bedtime prayers may well be impossible(camel /eye of needle) so you know whose arms to collapse onto and into! : You WILL be helped. (And to our present point thatright association of Joy and love with God their fount etc, will be in the greatest contrast to worry about the devil, even tho in itself that diminish not a jot abolutely, it will relatively.)

    2.Explain about the child’s own guardian angel.If you have your own personal experience of your guardian angel, tell the child, if not, askaround.(ONLY find on internet if reliable-be careful, there’s internet stories on guardian angels that are abit fishy.Not a good idea to tell a child what it may later discover to be fiction, however pious.)
    3-4ish was when my parents also taught me the archangel Michael prayer, which was oft a comfort to me as a child.
    3Nightmares: teach the child to say “Jesus,” or just “jesus help me.”This is NOT necessarily a magic wand for goodbye nightmares, so don’t give upteaching and telling the truth, for the child’s own development so that each nightmare in turn become the past , correctly labelled; nightmares as such when getting habitual can have causes that need attention.
    4. Be confident ,(alright superstition is a fine line, check up theology on use of sacramentals if you need) in the use of Holy water. If you’ve got some from Lourdes, so much the better.
    5. The whole house and bedroom : Cruxifixes, statues of our lady, Portraits of the saints .(your pp will bless them if they haven’t been). Again, FAR more important are a child’s surroundings than you might think. They’re what’s at HOME. Quitesmall kid’s bedrooms have spiderman bedspreads, superhero posters Thomas tank-engine wall paper – if you haven’t given them, the other grandparents will have – There are plenty of things, especialy to be visible from the head end of the bed : Christ reigning in glory from the cross, Our Lady of Fatima, The child’s patron saint(s) … We’ve also put up god- parents and others ‘ gifts of “Our lady /Disney pricess blends”, or “baby Jesus with rabbits”, about which Ive been a bit doubtful -Fr Z might have something to say about that I expect!But if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.
    And a child’s bible or NT, in the bedroom, yes I know, he or she cant read yet,.So what? ?And Is there a bible in the house a touch prominent? Another pair of hard-to-refuuse grandad gifts!
    Oh, and has the house been blessed? If not , about time, and it’s something a kid will remember, even if seemingly distracted and badly behaved, esp if the priest takes time to explain to kid what he’s doing on one side. Again, in general, AND getting the devil into the right perpective in this case)
    (the above Mostly just prevatII catholic culture, so anyone for whom avoiding the label of ignorant & superstitious from balding liberal catholics who’ve been thru the wash too often is more important than a child’s personal and spiritual fulfillment, maybe better find different advice.)
    II Halloween – fain would I rant, but reflect:
    Other feasts were and are also observed by our baptized brethren -leaving out Christ and sticking to external trappings is something secular and relatively recent: Christmas and Easter. Even when the puritans banned celebrating Christmas, they were not denying Christ’s birth etc. (broadbrushstoke, I know.)
    But Luther condemned praying for the dead, SO that ONLY Catholics have been c elebrating all saints and all souls religiously. For 500 yrs now.
    NON catholic tradition has had500 yrs the youths high jinks, the pranks the scary stories and a lot of nasty stuff ONLY. There is a gaping hole in its attitude to death, in the idea that hallowed ground is scary, etc. Quite unlike Christmas. (and it’s what he – (the devil) and THEY (not our separated brethren, mostly) want to do with Christmas BTW)- And modern Lil’ kids dressed up and “sanitized” halloween is not yet a century old.
    AND -it may well only have been (some) Canadian Catholics in (some parts of ) Canada, I cannot yet PROVE that USA Halloween innovators of a nearly century ago dragging the little ones into it and dressing them up was consciously motivated by Copying?Envy? but there was at the leat and the latest an independant and coterminous N.American Catholic custom on All hallow’s eve, before Mass two days running, not only to dress up as saints, but particularly as martyrs, particularly as as yet uncanonized British martyrs, and ACT OUT thier martyrdoms (Artistic dying, papiermache heads, nice ketchup blood even) AND their glorious reception in heaven! Barns, church halls, schools… . with of course nice kiddie nosh., Apple bobbing even. Try it.Might even be MORE fun.
    If you’re to have life around a feast (cf Fr z’s recipes, since this is his blog) , why not be Catholic abt it?
    Sticking my neck out: I do not trust the hibernian gup abt the jack o lantern being Christianized by as boggy a tale as ever I heard: spend the money on Good Irish whisky , or put the effort into making poteen, instead.
    Those acknowledging English forebears, in culture , if not in the flesh, there’s a very old adage: If you must needs sup with the devil, use a very long spoon. Your modern halloween strikes me more like sharing your drink with him with a short straw each , or even getting into bed with him.
    More could be said.

  27. Girgadis says:

    I’m pretty sure my own mother taught me about the devil well before I went to school. I have vivid memories of our talks about not only the devil but the Blessed Mother and the saints. My mother began with the fall of Adam and Eve and explained how the devil disguised himself as a serpent to trick Eve. She taught me that Lucifer was an angel who grew jealous of God and was consumed with hatred to the point where he had to be thrown out of Heaven by St. Michael. I don’t ever recall being confused or mystified by anything she taught me. Terrifying kids is never a good idea but in the same way that we teach our children not to go near strangers, etc. I think it’s necessary that they know early on about the devil, provided they receive age-appropriate instruction. At the Catholic grade school my children attended, an All Saints Pageant was held on the day before Halloween with the first-grade dressing up as their favorite saints. For awhile it was held on Halloween but eventually the school got the message that there’s not much learning happening when kids are pre-occupied with trick or treating. That little pageant was one of the most precious memories I have of their early years in school, especially the sweet innocence of all the children in their homemade costumes and the adorable little bio each would give of their respective saint.

  28. FXR2 says:

    We encourage a devotion to St. Michael the Archangel in out family. The St. Michael Prayer is one of the prayers we say at bedtime every night. We have statues and pictures of St. Michael in all of our childrens’ rooms. Our children know that Satan or the Devil is real and was a disobedient angel. In every picture, or statue of St. Michael he is holding at spear or sword point, or standing on or otherwise casting out Satan, the Devil or a dragon, representing Satan. This is a part of out faith, and we do not dwell on it, but point out that St. Michael and and our Lord will protect them. Our children, have not asked to be devils for Halloween, but one did ask to be a vampire. We allowed him to be a count, just not a vampire.
    We attend an All Saints Party and the costumes can usually be doubled as both secular costumes and as saints.
    For what it is worth St. Michael and St. George are the super hereos, not Satan. Give the kids a chance, they understand more than you think!


  29. I think the saint pageants are very cute and fun; but I also think there’s no shame in dressing up as a scary bad guy to go trick-or-treating, or as a mundane person for that matter. But pretending to be a scary, non-virtuous person and having other people pretend to be scared, or be pleasurably scared, is one of the most basic forms of play.

    Breathes there a dad with soul so dead,
    That never to his child hath said,
    “I’m gonna eat you! RAAAAAAAWR!”

    Halloween is our designated pre-holy-day night of masks and play, in this culture. It’s sad that most of us outside New Orleans or Mobile don’t have pre-Lent Carnival, but that’s what happens when most people don’t do Lent. We don’t dress up and run around with lit squashes for St. Martin’s Day or St. Catherine’s Day, because the historical harvest/slaughter time in the US is wrong for us having enough food to throw a big party; just as we don’t do any of the earlier party dates because it’s not cold and dark enough then to throw a pre-or post-holy day party, and the harvest isn’t all in yet.

    Good taste and morality do kick in, however. I’m no Halloween libertarian. Not too much gore, definitely nothing sexually revealing, and I don’t care how old you are. Even if you’re not Christian, natural law should reveal these things to you.

  30. 1. As far as explaining the devil to small children, I liked the way that my children’s pre-school teacher, a very saintly full-habited Carmelite sister, explained it to them. She said: “the devil is a bad angel, which means he doesn’t like Jesus and doesn’t ever do what Jesus says…this makes him stupid. In fact, he is the only person that you are allowed to call ‘stupid’. He likes to whisper in your ear and try to convince you to do bad things, but you don’t have to listen. Since Jesus gave you his ‘God power’ [grace] when you were baptised, when you are thinking of doing something bad you can just say “stupid bad angel” and use that God power to flick him right off of your shoulder. Everbody try it!”

    It is simple, not frightening and concentrates on the devil’s ordinary action in the world, temptation. This is where most of us fight with him…so this is the most useful thing to educate children about. Plus, it makes me happy to think of a room on 3 and 4 year old childeren yelling a chorus of “the bad angel is stupid” — it just says it all.

    2. In my opinion as a dad of four, halloween, if not taken too seriously, is just a silly cultural phenomenon. It can be fun. We keep it lighthearted (no blood and gore). I particularly like the tradition at our parish school of letting kids dress up for both halloween (as the non-gory, non-scary character of their choice) and then dress up as a saint for All-Saints Day and go to Mass. Its a little hard on mom and dad in the costume aquiring department, but it makes a good contrast between these two different kinds of holidays.

  31. Peggy R says:

    Our older son learned about “evil” and “the devil” from a kid in his class 2 years ago. So, our boy was in K. I had already been telling our kids about their patron saints, but I wasn’t ready to talk about the devil directly. I didn’t want them too curious about evil. I wanted to talk more about following Jesus, loving and obeying God, avoiding sin. They have some backwards reactive behaviors–a real underlying issue. (Long story.) As it happens our other boy is Michael. So, I talked to them about St. Michael driving Satan out of heaven. We even have a children’s book which depicts this on a page. So, it was perfect.

    We stress to the kids that we have our patron saints and guardian angels to protect us from harm & from listening to the devil. Yes, God is infinitely more powerful, we need only ask His help. When our oldest went to his first overnight party a couple weeks ago, he was calm confident and mature. He told me his angel would be there to take care of him.

    We just went to a kids’ party where about 3/4 of the children were in black as spirits, skeletons; some were ninja’s too. My kids like being superheroes. They were both Spiderman 3 years in a row–the 3rd year was black Spiderman! Last year was Darth Vader and young Annakin. I was uncomfortable w/Vadar as an evil character. This year we have a desert storm soldier and a Hulk.

    Our PSR is on Sunday mornings. Halloween is Sunday this year. I have already assigned my class to report on their patron saints and we’ll share them aloud. I plan on talking a bit about the connection between H-ween and All Saints and All Souls. Then we’ll play some Saint Bingo I found at a great Catholic resource site.

  32. BLB Oregon says:

    I guess I’d think back to the wisdom of the traditional Church, and Las Pastorelas of Mexico in particular. The main characters of the play are the Archangel Michael and other angels, the shepherds, and various devils. Typically, the Archangel Michael appears to a group of shepherds and exhorts them to go to Bethlehem to adore the newly born Christ Child, and the antagonist devils try to prevent the shepherds’ progress toward Bethlehem. Those dressed up as the devils serve their purpose in the play. They bring the glamour of evil to life, showing it for what it is.

    I think that children who do not know about the glamour of evil are primed to fall for it….as naive and vulnerable as Little Red Riding Hood. Children need to know from the very first that devils are not only deceptive, but ultimately impotent. A child who wants to dress up as a devil needs to know that the devils can only cower before God. He might rather be an angel, if he knows that angels are not sweet girls in white feathers, but the courageous and powerful servants of God. Still, if a child did not seem charmed by the glamour of evil, I would not forbid them from dressing up as a dark character, whether for Halloween or for a pastorela. The request certainly shouldn’t get any shock value. It is more like trading a character part for the lead. An actor doesn’t need to be evil to want to play the part of the bad guy. Generally, it just means the actor is interested in looking from the viewpoint that he or she would never take in real life.

  33. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Er, I wonder if my family would fit in with the majority of commenters here. Growing up on a dirt road, trick-or-treating was a non-issue. When I was very small, maybe 3 or 4, each family member dressed as a Capital Sin for Halloween. My mother got to be lust [her red get-up was lost on me]. My dad might have been the devil – an innocuous innocent looking gentleman in a suit. LOL. Unless one is terribly literal-minded, ‘pretending’ evil isn’t all bad. When my father was alive, doing skits after dinner was common. They’d pull the table away from the large landing leading into the dining room and we’d be free to stand on the ‘stage’ and make up something. So the kooky Halloween dinner fit right in. Acting has always been a teaching method [morality plays?] and those crazy days were a great way to express our imagination and over-developed sense of humor in a very safe environment.
    In the French tradition, I sometimes had watered-down wine with special dinners – the thought was that forbidding a child alcohol rather than introducing it as normal and controllable could create a bad fascination. Perhaps a puritanical view of Satan could be equally ‘attracting’.
    Today I kinda like Halloween – putting out the skeletons, ghouls and gravestones reminds me of my final end – and what might happen to me if I don’t behave myself! mwaha-ha-ha!

    No doubt, today’s fascination with evil and Satan is unhealthy. Children thrive in a happy environment free of fears. But I do see an advantage to playfully teaching children about “bad things” with age-appropriate context and balance.

  34. skellmeyer says:

    If we really want gruesome, every parish should host a House of Martyrs, with exhibits highlighting the various ways in which Christian saints have been martyred over the centuries.

    Celebrate All Hallows Eve right.

    Which means, consecrated men, that us lay people expect a homily on the importance of indulgences, given that the whole first week of November has a plenary indulgence attached to each day.

  35. JGR says:

    How blessed those grandchildren are to have a faithful grandparent who is willing–and able–to share the Faith with them!

    For our five-year old, I have found the following helpful:
    1. Golden Children’s Bible for the Adam and Eve story–the devil as the “father of lies”
    2. Catholic Children’s Treasure Box #18 (TAN Publishers) for the St. Michael vs. Satan story. Along with this, I taught him the St. Michael prayer, which we pray whenever he has a nightmare.
    3.”My Jesus and I” (Our Mission House Publications) gives simple explanations of the meaning of Catholic prayers with pictures. The devil is shown lurking in the background in the “Angel of God” prayer explanation, tempting Jesus and tempting a child on different pages of the “Our Father” explanation. The greatest value of this small booklet and its accompanying Teacher booklet, is that it helps explain the meanings of the words of common prayers and uses teachings of the Faith in the explanations.

    For those who are concerned that Saint costumes may be unappealing to children, I will share that we asked our children to dress as Saints starting about 10 years ago. They have enjoyed the challenge of finding a “good” Saint to be. Boys have had great fun as St. Isaac Jogues (with bloody hand), St. Hallvard (with arrows protruding), St. Denis (carrying his papier mache head), and even the risen Lazarus with unraveling bandages. The girls have enjoyed being “princess” Saints like Elizabeth of Hungary and Margaret of Scotland, as well as Brigid, with her famous cloak, and St. Claire with a “monstrance” for warding off Saracens. In years when a child really wanted a secular costume, we asked him or her to find a connection of some kind with a Saint. So we have had Luke Skywalker connected to St. Joseph of Cupertino, patron of pilots, and Gimli the Dwarf to St. Elegius, patron of metalworkers. The process of finding a Saint involves a little research on their parts, and they have shared the stories with us after deciding, so when they are asked who they are dressed as, they are never at a loss as to how to explain the costume. Our goal was to reclaim the Catholic Christian elements of All Hallow’s Eve, and our family has enjoyed these attempts to do so.

  36. jmvbxx says:

    You could say that God gave the devil a timeout for not being nice :)

  37. Jordanes says:

    I’m more inclined to agree with apagano about the modern American non-Catholic celebration of Halloween, which has absolutely no connection to Christianity and leads people far away from, rather than toward, the Catholic celebration of All Saints’ Day. The “devil hates being mocked” and “Evangelicals hates Halloween and we don’t want to be like those yucky Evangelicals” arguments are intellectually interesting but not terribly compelling to a Catholic parent who is seeking to instill Catholic piety his little children. I agree with those efforts to reclaim Halloween for the Church (it is, after all, a Catholic festival in fact and in its origins, the occult aspects being late accretions) by substituting saints’ costumes for those of ghouls and witches and zombies and wizards and demons (or superheroes or Disney characters), and I also recommend that parents intentionally make Halloween into what it was always supposed to be — an occasion to celebrate and invoke the saints, not to encourage gluttony and to play dress-up. Having Satan take the starring role (even supposedly as a buffoon) on the day the Church has set aside for the Communion of Saints is perverse. So, we try to keep Halloween Catholic. Naturally my kids love the costumes, and they certainly love the candy (which lasts for months and months), but we try to keep those extraneous irrelevancies and vanities from obscuring the Catholic celebration.

  38. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    Ioannes Andreades:

    Thanks for that most excellent advice!

  39. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    Sean P. Daley,

    Thanks for the link to that very interesting article, but although it tells a good story, the article seems to be short on historical facts. It seems to be more journalism than history.

    I suggest the books by Ronald Hutton for a serious scholarly look at Halloween’s origins. The upshot is that there is no historical or archaeological evidence linking Halloween to any pre-Christian festival or practice. Its origins, though shrouded in mystery, can be solidly placed in or near 17th century Ireland.

  40. mike cliffson says:

    Do you notice how many of us commentators have mentioned either St Michael Archangle and/or his prayer?

  41. GodsGadfly says:

    I dunno, from as soon as my kids have been old enough to communicate, their mother and I have said, when they’ve done particularly bad things, “That’s the Devil telling you to do that.”

    Don’t really see what the dilemma is about “explaining” the Devil. I think the problem is adults who are unnecessarily scared or otherwise uncomfortable with the reality of our Enemy.

    As others have said, “Supervillain” works a bit. Problem is a culture that idolizes supervillains (e.g,. the Joker, Freddy Kruger, Michael Jackson, Barack Obama . . .)

  42. dmhb says:

    My sons were fascinated with St. Michael statues by the time they were 3 or 4 years old (mostly because he has a sword or spear, and the St. Michael prayer speaks of battle, too!).
    We told them the full story of Satan being cast out of heaven, what the names Lucifer and Michael mean, and how the angels were tempted and are now split into two groups. They may not have understood everything about the nature of angels, but they understood the main themes and loved the drama of Michael defending God’s supremacy.
    Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to understand – give them the most complete story you can (the details make it interesting), and be ready for some good questions.
    We continue to answer questions, but having introduced the idea of evil makes it possible to give real answers about all sorts of other things (like the witch decor of Halloween also) and reminds us of the reality of spiritual combat. It’s amazing how occasionally a small child who understands this can remind grown-ups who have forgotten it.
    This has also led to a devotion to St. Michael among our children.

  43. Mariana says:

    Thanks for all the helpful comments, really useful! As someone brought up in a nominally Lutheran family I don’t always know how to explain things to my son. All you cradle Catholics are so fortunate!

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