Sunday, October 31, 2010

Transforming Pagan Traditions

Well, I was going to do this earlier so as to be on Halloween, but c'est la vie. So, When I was growing up, my mom allowed me to trick-or-treat and dress up, but always de-emphasized the more Halloweeny type things, witches, goblins, ghosts, etc. because it seemed strange to celebrate something as Christians we consider to be evil. Don't worry, I never felt deprived or longed to secretly be a witch (well, maybe as a mom to 5 kids on a really bad day, the inner witch surfaces but...). 

I wanted to carry this attitude into our tradition with my firstborn, though in retrospect was a little too gung-ho about it. Now Halloween is my oldest child's FAVORITE thing. Ah well, live and learn, right? 

But, learning more about my faith as I got older and spending time with some great Catholic families, I learned a surprisingly glorious fact. Halloween is actually a Christian holiday. Go figure! Well ok, for all you historical sticklers, it actually started out as a pagan holiday (Woohoo for pagans!) 

The true origins of Halloween lie with the ancient Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For the Celts, November 1 marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter. The night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead—including ghosts, goblins and witches—returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.
When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also bobbed for apples and drank cider—traditions which may sound familiar to you. But where does the Christian aspect of the holiday come into play? In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow’s Even or “holy evening.” Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day.The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time. 

Now, do we go around the house saying "Happy All Hallow's Even!" Not usually, though every child gets the explanation of what Halloween actually means. And my kids get plenty of gore from stories of the martyrs, not senseless gore, but noble. St. Lucy gets her eyes gouged out (just going with the theme!). St. Lawrence is burned on a grill (have always loved his sense of humor when he said "turn me over, I am done on this side."). St. Joan of Ark is burned at the stake and accused of being a witch (There's Halloween for ya!). St. Sebastian is shot to death with arrows. St Stephen is stoned to death. We also, on All Hallow's Eve weekend, have an All Saints party in our Homeschool group and the little kids dress up as their favorite saint and share their story while playing games with their friends and getting candy prizes. My kids wear saint costumes at this party and a costume of their choice on Halloween, affectionately referred to as the pagan costumes. ;)

 As Christians, we are called to transform the culture we live in, not reject it. So, in the words of the Little Guy, I hope you had a "Happy Howy-ween!!" and Happy All Saints and All Souls Day! (Nov 1st and 2nd)
Halloween boy, who still uses his shirt for a napkin.
"If it's messy and could be smeared on something, I'm in!!"
The Queen is St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a princess famed for sneaking out and feeding the poor.
Kateri Tekakwitha, an indian girl named "Lily of the Mohawks"
St. Christopher, "Christ-Bearer", a giant who searched the world over for the most powerful king, and discovered the Christ child.
This actually doubles as a pagan/Christian costume, a cow on Noah's ark/or...just a cow.
Star Wars Clone Trooper (Star Wars, what else is there?) and Cat Woman.

Race car driver, ironically he did not need the car to play the part, He is his own motor.
This was an adorable lion costume, unfortunately Angel Boy and I were having a wrestling match to keep the hood on for the picture.
 An ode to the homemade marshmallows I made for the first time this year. They looked like tofu squares, but tasted yummy, so they said. We don't do corn syrup so these are corn syrup free. Tastes better than store bought! 
The pumpkin family bids you farewell.
**Update**: Everyone's a little older and our pumpkins a little more sophisticated, but we pretty much do the same thing. Oh Look, it's Cat Woman, again! The Little Guy is a ghost (which I took as an opportunity to educate him on praying for the dead, you know I couldn't resist!) My oldest son a skeleton, also an edcational moment about being dead versus alive in Christ. My kids LOVE these educational moments. ;) Princess is Periwinkle, Angel Boy is about the most adorable Batman on the planet. Happy All Saints day! All you holy men and women pray for us.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Trip to the Store...

Ever since I had my 4th child, my beloved, wonderful, magnificent, husband has offered to do the grocery shopping. But every once in a while, there is a need for me to get something during the day, and I start comforting myself “It won’t be so bad, the kids are fairly well behaved and you only have to get a few things.”

So in the car we pile with a hopeful demeanor and much excited chatter, anything to get out of school for a while. I am thinking, this is a good window of time, Angel Boy is not ready for his nap yet and everyone has been fed recently. We get to the store parking lot and I lay out the plan of action somehow thinking it will work this time. ”Now there are too many of you to walk all around the basket so stay behind me or close to one side.” 3 yr old and infant in the cart, here we go.

The moment we go through the doors, a man bursts out “Well, Glory Be!! Half a dozen!! 2 Carts full!!!, Oh myyyyyy goodness!!” I smile politely, or maybe not so politely. Help me Lord.

Then The Little Guy who does not go to the store very often with me and he is about to remind me why starts yelling at the top of his lungs, “HEY MOM!! LOOK AT ALL THE VEGETABLES MOM!!! LOOK AT THE POTATOES!!” He does this the ENTIRE time we are there for everything we pass, so, now, as if we did not already stand out like a sore thumb, we have a blaring siren to warn others of our coming.

I try to appear composed and unaffected. Occasionally I look up and see looks on others faces, mostly disgusted. One old lady stopped us with a smile, she especially loved The Little Guy although she was trying to shush him sweetly. How could I tell her, "it’s no use woman he only has one volume". God bless old ladies. I love them. They are the only ones that smile at the sight of lots of children anymore. The world would be a better place with lots more of them (children and old ladies).

Angel Boy has decided at this point he is ready for his nap and will no longer tolerate the cart, which by the way happens to be one of those carts that is impossible to push and will only go to the left. Yep, I got one of those.

So I carry Angel Boy the rest of the way and pull the cart with my other hand from the front. Angel Boy is extremely heavy however, and pretty soon my arm feels like it is going to fall off as he gradually slides further and further down my hip. As a last resort I grab the hem of his shorts in hopes this will hold until I plop him in his carseat. 

Meanwhile, some of the older ones are migrating away from the cart and unfortunately in the way of some eager beavers coming down the aisle. One lady in particular, honestly looked like she was trying to get through a flock of birds as she tried to pass us. Her eyes were squinted, her shoulders scrunched up, and her fists clenched. We get to the check out “self checkout, less interaction, safer,” I strategize.   I notice the lady behind me eying my pants, she looks up at me, then down at the pants again, then up at me again. Yes, lady, they are pajama pants, but at least they are solid colored. I could have worn the ones with the pink sunglasses all over them, but then I would have fit in better at Walmart, not so much Kroger. 

As we pull away, The Little Guy yells “BYE, GOODBYE EVERYONE!!!” The elderly black man behind us chuckles. See? God bless old people.

We get home and unload and get settled to start school again. I sit down, exhausted. But really, considering, it was pretty successful. I got what I needed and we did not break anything or knock over any displays. The Little Guy wraps his little arms around my neck just then and says “I wub you mom!”  (sigh) I wub you Little Guy, and the rest of my precious caravan.  

"Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them!" Psalm 127:3-5

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The North American Martyrs

Today is a feast day in the Catholic Church which celebrates the martyrdom of several saints who were missionaries to the Indians in North America. My husband and I included one of these saints' names in the name of our 4th child. St. Isaac Jogues was a Jesuit priest. I first learned about this saint when I was at Franciscan University taking a class from an elderly professor. I have a vivid memory of this dear man reading a description of the priest saying mass "with mangled hands", he stopped and looked up at us with tears in his eyes and whispered "such holiness!". The story of the North American martyrs is gruesome, full of torture and violent deaths. So why was I so drawn to his story? I was totally amazed after reading the tortures this man and his companions endured, that he finally escaped, got home to his peaceful monastery, was reunited with his Jesuit brothers and could think of nothing else but returning to win souls for Christ. Did he lose his ever-loving mind?! No, this is what we call heroic virtue, when Christ Jesus has so completely taken over a person's life that they are able to do things they never could have done before.  I admired his courage in the face of such suffering, and his overwhelming desire to bring souls to Jesus.

For readers who are not Catholic, we "celebrate" the lives of such people for several reasons. Firstly, they are our brothers and sisters, and it's kind of like saying "hey, I'm related to THAT guy!" and celebrating his/her life. Secondly, we learn from how they loved God and hope to follow their example. Thirdly, if Christ could transform this person, there's hope for the rest of us! We also believe because the body of Christ is a mystery, we are connected to those who have gone before us in Christ. They pray for us, are cheering us on, and are somehow mysteriously with us to support us in this life, as any brother or sister would be.

I take great comfort when I am parenting this very unique strong-willed child God has given us (whom I believe will form me more than all the others) that maybe Saint Isaac Jogues was like this when he was 3. Maybe he destroyed his mother's curtains, bullied his siblings, and threw fits. Maybe my son puts a smile on his face as he watches him grow. It is the strong ones that God can raise up to be mighty warriors for Him.

Saint Isaac Jogues and Companions, pray for us!!

Here's a great version of the story for kids.
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