All Hallows Eve: Doing it right!

A few years back a reader sent:

Given that Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows Eve, and given that “hallows” are “saints”, and given that All Hallows Eve means, therefore, the Eve of the Feast of All Saints, it seems right that children (and others) might dress as saints for their Halloween rather than, you know, awful things.  That doesn’t mean that only saints are allowed, but… it’s All Saints Eve, for crying out loud.

This image stirred spirited comments the last time.

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  1. Clinton R. says:

    How wonderful to see children dressed as the saints on All Hallow’s Eve. How dutiful their parents are; to eschew the costumes typical of the secular world and to keep Halloween a Catholic holiday. If I were to dress as my favorite saint, I would chose my Confirmation saint, Judas Thaddaeus.

  2. a catechist says:

    I finished my daughter’s Discalced Carmelite costume at 10pm last night. All her grade dresses up then visits an elementary school of younger kids and tells them about the saint they’re dressed to be.
    (I’m planning to send a photo to the Carmel in town, too.)

  3. KT127 says:

    Awww, what a sweet picture. I see no issues with dressing as Saints. I could see a little boy being very excited to be St. George.

    I do find it to be interesting there is even a secular push for children to choose less dark/violent costumes and focus more on storybook characters or other costumes. Yet our movies and TV shows have turned incredibly dark.

    Back when I was a kid (which wasn’t that long ago) the movies and shows were a lot tamer and the kids had no issue dressing up as witches, ghosts and goblins. I think it was a bit cathartic for us, in the era of “after school specials”

  4. WVC says:

    I don’t have any problem with kids dressing up as saints, but it’s also fine for kids to just dress up in fun costumes. There is a lot of middle ground between saints and satanic costumes. And carving pumpkins is a family tradition (see what I did there traditionalists) for most of us, and does not lead to any mortal or even venial sins. I think Halloween should, if at all possible, be something fun we can all enjoy in different ways and doesn’t have to become yet another stick to hit people with in the never-ending “I’m actually much more pious than you” game. It’s fine if folks really enjoy dressing up as saints – we actually do both when time/energy permit (fun costumes on Halloween, saints costumes on All Saints Day). It’s just let’s not tell people they’re “Doing it Wrong” if they opt NOT to dress up as saints.

    We had a costumed Mardi Gras party once, and you should have SEEN the pent up energy of all those Catholic homeschooled kids unleashed! Some truly marvelous costumes from Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz, the Lone ranger, Peter Pan . . . etc. And as one who has dressed the kids up as saints, I have to admit, after the fifth go around with the “saints only” rule, and after having gone through St. Joan of Arc, St. Kateri, St. Michael the Archangel, and St. George – a lot of the costumes start blending together. “And which of the saintly popes are you supposed to be?” “St. Pius V, of course, can’t you see me holding the Catechism of the Council of Trent?”

  5. Thorfinn says:

    “I do find it to be interesting there is even a secular push for children to choose less dark/violent costumes and focus more on storybook characters or other costumes.”

    I’m sorry to be negative but I guess the most likely driver of this is the denial of the reality of evil.

  6. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I’m not enough of a folklorist to say anything incisive, but it’s interesting that in some (Continental) cultures, the Feast of St. Martin seems – or has seemed – to function much as Hallowe’en does in others: going around with (carved vegetable) lanterns (I’m not sure how far with treats, certainly with singing! – and maybe treats, like treating traditional Christmas carollers?) and with at least St. Martin and beggar costumes (and St. Martin plays).

    Again, Chesterton more than once attends (in discussing Dickens’s Christmas Carol) to the connection – and appropriateness – of spooky stories, etc., with Christmas (it comes into Hamlet, too) – for example (from 1907), “On Christmas Eve one may talk about ghosts so long as they are turnip ghosts. One would not be allowed (I hope, in any decent family) to talk on Christmas Eve about astral bodies.” (Turnips as an old-world jack o’ lantern vegetable of choice!) Is that peculiarly Christmas-y, or some wider-spread Feast feature that survived till a century ago with Christmas – and much more strongly with All Hallows?

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It was considered “safe” to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve, because it was a particularly holy time that was free from demonic action. (And it was also kindly to give thought to the poor souls in Purgatory, as well as being timely if you were expected to stay up late.)

    Wearing costumes is “guising,” “mumming,” or “masking,” and it’s associated with a lot of Catholic holy days and seasons, particularly Epiphany and Carnival. Also with plays and dance numbers.

    Almsgiving festivals were also pretty common and Catholic, and usually included giving sweets to strangers, local workmen, or kids, as well as giving hardcore gifts and money to the poor.

    And of course the Jewish festival of Purim includes plays, costumes and money/candy/alms. But with more drinking.

  8. Ellen says:

    We used to dress up as saints and angels back in my youth. Kateri Tekawitha was always a favorite since you could wear buckskin and carry a bow. St. Michael and St. George were big favorites with the boys (swords).

  9. APX says:

    I feel bad for kids whose parents are of the idea that Catholics shouldn’t participate in the traditional observance of Halloween (which is actually rooted in Catholicism and praying for the souls in Purgatory) and that they need do something different (ie: All Saints parties). Kids can go out trick-or-treating. Dress up as a saint, if they want.

  10. Dave P. says:

    My three boys are named Charles, Stephen, and Henry. Maybe next year Charles can dress up as a cardinal; Henry can be in imperial garb; and for Stephen, a dalmatic…along with a bag of Nerf balls to throw at him…

  11. Dave P. says:


    You can always go with some more creative saints’ costumes. There’s my idea for St. Stephen, mentioned above. You could do St. Sebastian, with arrows stuck all over the place. Or, St. Lucy, carrying her eyes on a platter, or St. Apollonia, with a set of teeth…and, of course, St. Lawrence, with a slightly scorched dalmatic…

  12. WVC says:

    Dave P.

    The idea of either of my two older daughters walking around with the eye-balls on a platter made me laugh out loud.

    Incidentally, the “tooth fairy” is actually St. Apollonia. I bet you didn’t know that! At least, that’s how it works in my house.

  13. Dave P. says:

    I did know about St. Apollonia’s patronage. The Church has a very morbid sense of humor…

    Other ideas:
    St. Peter of Verona: Dominican with axe stuck in head.

    St. Denis: decapitated bishop carrying mitred head.

    St. Jerome: A Vulgate in one hand and a tube of Preparation H in the other…

    G.K. Chesterton: spectacles, mustache, stuffed suit, and a candy cigar and a wine glass of grape juice …

    Too risque to attempt:

    St. Agatha. That one is a bit grown up, although you could re-enact rolling her down a hill (preferably without the pottery shards)

    St. Benjamin the Deacon. I remember his martyrdom described in my mother’s old book of saints: “a knotted stake was thrust into his bowels.” I used to think they just stabbed him in the stomach, until I found out what actually happened to him. Since then, I’ve always wanted to show up at a costume party as St. Benjamin , preferably accompanied by Johnny US Paycheck’s classic, “Take This Job and Shove It”…

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thanks! That’s Shakespeare, too, if I stir my memory some more – “Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes / Wherein our Saviour’s birh is celebrated, / […] no spirit dare stir abroad, / […] So hallowed, so gracious is that time.”

    The Mari Lwyd in Wales is around Christmas-New Year’s-Twelfth Night, too. And, yes, spectacularly, Carnival (with Prince Carnival scattering sweets, too)! (Perhaps the appearance of St. Nicholas himself fits in…)

    Dave P.,

    So many Saints’ emblems are indeed their instruments (or conditions) of martyrdom (sorts of Hallows!), and all the complexities in Saints’ lives of horrors bodily escaped, and not escaped, yet triumphed over.

  15. Filipino Catholic says:

    Would it be less risqué if the person depicting St Agatha was carrying round bread on a platter? She is after all patron saint of bakers due to the iconographic misunderstanding.

  16. hwriggles4 says:

    When I was a little kid in the mid 1970s, my favorite TV show was EMERGENCY!, so for Halloween I often dressed as a fireman. One year, I was Roy Desoto (my hair wasn’t dark enough to be Johnny Gage) and I wore my blue jacket with my plastic helmet (made sure it said “51”). I remember my dad was nice enough to coil a rope to put around me, and i rigged my walkie talkie with a 9 volt battery to my belt. When we played EMERGENCY! with our friends, we would either use a tool box or erector set for the drug box and sometimes an old play phone to call the hospital.

    I think most people between 40 and 60 years of age remember EMERGENCY!, which was a clean show on Saturday nights on NBC. In fact, in the late 1980s when I first went to EMT training, many of us were there because the show inspired us to be there.

    Getting back to Halloween, if i knew what I knew now, I would still dress as a fireman, but I would tell people I was “St. Florian”, who is the Patron Saint of Firefighters.

  17. hwriggles4 says:

    Another thing I like about dressing up as saints: my generation was the generation who missed learning about the Lives of the Saints. When I was confirmed in 1981, I don’t recall being asked to take a Saints name. It’s only been within the last 15 years I have noticed much more interest in learning about the Lives of the Saints.

  18. OldLady says:

    Halloween was always my favorite holiday because we had so much fun just going door to door dressed up with friends and in later years we had sock fights one group of kids against another group all armed with socks full of flour. Just kids having fun. I remember homemade costumes, cookies & candied apples, popcorn balls being given as treats and parents enjoying seeing the kids from the neighborhood before razor blades began popping up in Halloween treats. The last time I enjoyed a Halloween parade was decades ago. It was no longer family fun and had deteriorated into a Mardi Gras atmosphere with groups roaming around dressed in obscene costumes designed to shock and drunk revelers. Celebrations reflect what we choose to honor. What we choose matters, even in fun.

  19. AVL says:

    I feel bad for kids who are terrified of all the demonic costumes and houses decorated like Hell itself when they go trick or treating. 2 years ago, after several consecutive years of Halloween night nightmares, my eldest asked if HAD to go trick or treating. So instead we came up with our own alternative…family movie night, a bag of treats and a scavenger hunt with clues to find the treat bag. No more nightmares, and now my kids love halloween instead of dreading it. Do don’t feel too bad for them. Its what they have chosen and what they truly enjoy.

  20. AVL says:

    And I should clarify that i have no problem celebrating halloween or trick or treating..its just that its not for everyone.

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