Do nuns celebrate Halloween?
Of course! Just like other big feasts, the Solemnity of All Saints begins the evening before with Vespers. That’s in fact where Halloween get’s its name: All Hallows Eve. Halloween is a Catholic holiday. It does not have origins in paganism, the occult, or Satanism—a common misconception with no basis in historical fact. However, it has been commercialized much in the same way that Christmas and Easter have been. The misappropriation of a Catholic holiday by secular society is no reason to shun it; however, like with Christmas and Easter we should make sure that we are celebrating in a Catholic way.
How important is it to celebrate All Saints? Important enough that it is a Holy Day of Obligation in America. Halloween is also connected with the day following All Saints, that is All Souls Day. Taken together these three days are sometimes called the “Days of the Dead” and are a special time for the Church Militant (that’s those of us who haven’t died yet) to honor and celebrate the Church Triumphant (those in heaven) and pray for the Church Suffering (those in the process of purification in purgatory).
It is a time of increased awareness of the communion of saints as well as the reality of heaven and hell, angels and demons, the saints and the damned. A common Halloween decoration, the skeleton, is a perfect reminder of our mortality and the importance of the four last things. It isn’t morbid or sad, because Christ’s resurrection from the dead has taken the sting out of death; we look forward in hope to the future resurrection of our bodies.
Where else will you see skeletons used as decorations? In the Sedlec Ossuary beneath the Church of All Saints, an old Cistercian monastery as well as the Capuchin crypts of Santa Maria della Concezione. Our skeleton decorations may be fake, but they still serve their purpose as a reminder of our mortality while at the same time strengthening our hope in the future resurrection of our bodies.
It is the custom in our monastery to have a Halloween (or All Saints, if you prefer) party at evening recreation on the vigil of All Saints. This used to be held like our other festivities in the Community Room, but one Halloween some years ago the power was out due to a freak snowstorm and the party was moved to the refectory as it was warmer and easier to light with candles. It created such a cozy atmosphere that we decided to hold the party there every year.
Most years at least some of the sisters dress up as Saints or other creative characters, and the novitiate has been turning out not only some fantastic costumes but some expertly carved pumpkins as well! The pumpkins this year were all home-grown in Sr. Mary Ana’s pumpkin patch. There were enough for even some professed sisters to get in on the pumpkin carving. The carvings: Sr. Lauren did the dog with a torch, Sr. Joseph Maria did the mouse that went with Sr. Maria Johanna’s amazing St. Martin de Porres, Sr. Mary Ana did the Eucharist in the monastrance, and Sr. Lucia Marie did a dominican nun. Sr. Mary Magdalene and Sr. Mary Veronica worked together on a carved image of the monastery with its new wing!
We didn’t have quite as many Saints visiting our party this year, but there was no lack of creativity! Sr. Lucia Marie came as a Christian rapper, Sr. Lauren came as a ‘Summit Postulant’ stained glass window, Sr. Mary Ana came as Moses (and not just any Moses, but Moses from the Transfiguration!), Sr. Maria Johanna continued her theme of apparitions of the Blessed Mother by coming as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sr. Joseph Maria came as St. Juan Diego, and Sr. Mary Magdalene came as the Dominican St. Louis Bertrand.
Not only was this Halloween, it was also the opening of the celebration of our prioress’s feast day! Sr. Mary Martin’s actual feast day falls on Saturday, so it was moved to Thursday, coinciding with All Saints’ Day. As we usually do to open this celebration, we greeted sister with a song. Then it was time to enjoy the delicious treats and recreate! This year Sr. Mary Catharine had made sour-cream glazed donuts and caramels, while Sr. Lauren created pumpkin frosted snicker-doodle cookies.