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Halloween is OK, but schools' focus is on feast days

Principals say students will learn more about saints and souls in purgatory next week

Published: October 29, 2011   
Aprille Hanson
St. Edward School Science Club sponsor Leah Speakes helps seventh and eighth graders add spooky spider webs and lights for the school's Halloween Spooktacular. The lab will feature fun experiments on Oct. 31.

Students at area Catholic schools will get a dash of spooky glee mixed in with saintly spirituality to celebrate Halloween and All Saints Day this year.

Contrary to some religions, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor said the Church does not view Halloween as an "evil" celebration.

"It's a fun day for children, it's no big deal," Bishop Taylor said. "... They're not going satan worshipping or anything like that."

According to an article on, the origins of Halloween come from the festival of Samhain recognized by ancient Celtic tribes. They believed that departed souls returned among the living the night before Nov. 1, which marked the beginning of a new year. The Celts would customarily dress in masks and light bonfires to scare away evil spirits, the article said.

The Romans conquered the Celts and added their own traditions, including bobbing for apples, but it was Pope Gregory IV that moved what is now called All Saints Day from May 13 to Nov. 1 in the year 835. The Samhain festival became known as "All Hallows Even" to Christians and what is known today as Halloween.

The feasts of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day are meant for prayers and remembrance of those that have died.

Though the Church is not against ghostly celebrations, most schools focus on the feast of All Saints Day.

"Halloween exists and it's fun and we're happy the kids do it, but we're teaching more about All Saints Day," said Kathy House, principal at Christ the King School in Little Rock.

House said each of the kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms adopted a saint, ranging from St. Patrick to St. Joan of Arc. Each classroom then chose a student who will dress up as the saint for the All Saints Day Mass Nov. 1.

At St. Edward School in Little Rock, principal Jason Pohlmeier said the school focuses on the saints, but also has some wicked fun with the Halloween Spooktacular -- a science lab transformed into a hauntingly educational experience.

"We certainly make the point of tying Halloween to All Saints and All Souls Day and the idea of All Hallows Eve," Pohlmeier said.

Seventh- and eighth-grade Science Club members decorate the lab for about two weeks, with everything from strobe lights to pumpkins with dry ice, Leah Speakes, a teacher and Science Club sponsor, said.

Bats hang from the ceiling and spider webs adorn the walls as teachers and science club students dress in their creepy costumes, waiting to greet the younger grades with some frighteningly fun experiments.

Students will see a variety of spooky creations, including bouncing boo bubbles and will learn how to dispose of "ghost poop."

"We don't necessarily promote the ghouls-and-goblins type thing, but we don't avoid Halloween," Pohlmeier said. "(We take) typical traditions of Halloween and make it an educational event through the science experiments."

First- through eighth-graders at St. Theresa School in Little Rock can participate in an All Saints Day contest, which can range from artwork to essays.

"Our culture has certainly taken (Halloween) on as spooky, but we try to go back to the Church roots," principal Marguerite Olberts said.

However, the school also hosts an All Hallows Eve Festival Saturday, Oct. 29, which includes a costume contest, haunted house, hayrides and a barbecue dinner.

Though Olberts said the school doesn't control how the children dress up, they have in the past asked the older children to not dress in costumes that might scare the little ones attending the festival.

"Dressing up is fun. We don't diminish that with our kids," Olberts said. "Some of that is just the fun part of childhood."

Susie Freyaldenhoven, principal at St. Joseph Elementary School in Conway, said the school does not typically celebrate Halloween. Games associated with the saints will be played and fifth-graders and up usually do an essay on their favorite saint, Freyaldenhoven said.

"I think it's a good way to instill in them a deeper learning as far as their faith life," Freyaldenhoven said. "We can continue that tradition by dressing as a saint rather than as a devil or demon. Keeping a holy attitude about things rather than a scary, toilet-paper-people's-yards type of thing."

The school also recognizes All Souls Day Nov. 2, which is a solemn commemoration for the faithful departed in purgatory.

"(Students) bring pictures of loved ones that have passed away," Freyaldenhoven said. "We have an All Souls Day album where you write the name of the person" and the students pray for the deceased during November.

For Catholic students, Halloween will be more than just tricks and treats; it will be recognition of what the love of all saints, canonized or not, truly means, Bishop Taylor said.

"The saints are models for us to follow in Christ," Bishop Taylor said. "On All Saints Day, we call them to intercede for us."


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