It’s been a dilemma for me to work out how to adjust to the relatively new and mostly secularised Halloween culture in Australia. As kids we always went to Mass for All Saints and All Souls Days but here in Brisbane, Australia, in the 80s and 90s we never dressed up in costume, went trick or treating or made any scary decorations. In the last few years, I have resisted any involvement. This week, however, I have been pushed to work out my new approach to Halloween.
Cara, our 4-year-old daughter, attends a Kindergarten and the teachers have been really into Halloween costumes and decorations and so now she is too. Why early childhood centres are keen to have scary costumes and decorations without any context is beyond me. See the bottom of this blog to see an example of the Halloween activities the Kindy children are doing.
Now, I’ve worked out my answer. Instead of it being an ‘either/or’ situation, I’m going to fill out this Halloween experience for Cara with faith and meaning through All Saints and All Souls children’s activities. So my husband and I are creating new traditions for home to go along with her secular experience at Kindy.
Our Halloween Children’s Activities Bucket List
1) Explore the history of Halloween in conversation, explaining it’s context as the evening before the Church’s All Saints Day which is then followed by All Souls Day.
2) Go to Mass both days in person or virtually
3) Explore, make and wear Saint costumes. Keep it simple and pick a colour robe, dress or outfit and a symbolic prop. For ideas see google.
4) Have an All Saints Day Fancy Feast where the snacks link to different saints. See the list below with 15 of our family’s favourite Saints with symbolic snack ideas to start you off (including Woolies links)
5) Create a little prayer table with photos of family and friends who have passed away and light a candle and say a prayer for each one and pray a litany of the saints
6) Create glass cups candle holders for the All Souls and All Saints prayers. Write (with colourful, permanent pens e.g. Sharpies) the names of loved ones who have passed away and favourite Saints on simple 75 cent glass tumblers from Kmart
7) “Souling” part 1**: Reach out to a couple of neighbours or friends and offer to pray for their loved ones who have passed away and any other intentions they have. If need be, take a special ‘prayer notebook’ to write the names and/or intentions in.
8) “Souling” part 2**: Make “soul cakes” and share them with friends and neighbours. I found this easy traditional recipe online. However, using that traditional recipe for inspiration, my oldest daughter and I will make simple cookies with a cross cut into them
9) Visit a cemetery and pray for the dead
10) Watch Saint Videos on youtube or you can purchase Saint movies through Christian suppliers too
11) Watch Disney’s movie, “Coco” as a bridge between secular and faith world
** “Souling” – the original trick or treat – was when poor children would knock on their neighbour’s doors and offer to pray for the people’s family members who had passed away. In return, the neighbours would give the children ‘soul cakes’ with a cross marked on them, like hot cross buns at Easter.
Please note: To celebrate All Saints and All Souls Days, from today through to Nov 30, all purchases of Rosary Beads will include free white organza bags!
All Saints Day Fancy Feast Ideas
I will print out this list, ideally with a pictures of each Saint and matching symbolic food included, and place it on the table for reference.
1) St Mary Mother of Jesus: heart-shaped biscuits as she shares the heart of Christ or make your own. Or Queen or mother-themed treats.
2) St Joseph: bake simple flat bread or buy barley bread as this what he would have eaten daily
3) St Peter: a ‘rock’ themed treat e.g. rockmelon or a fish-themed treat e.g. Fish Fingers
4) St Mary Magdalene: anything spiced-themed or Easter egg- themed e.g. hardboiled eggs and the kids can decorate the shells like Easter eggs
5) St Thomas: hummus, cheese, olives, tomatoes and dried fruit – what the disciples would have eaten at gatherings
12) St Gabriel the Archangel, anything white-themed or wing-themed e.g. Chicken wings
13) St Mary MacKillop, cups of tea
14) St Josephine Bakhita, rice or polenta dish
15) St Nicholas, the first Santa, anything red e.g. red strawberries
That is our family’s bucket list of Halloween children’s activities to bring the Holy back into Halloween… We will see which ones actually happen! Although, we’ve got the whole month of November, really, thanks to the Church! I’m sure teachers could take one or more of these children’s activities too!
What do you do for Halloween? I’d love to hear about what you do and I can share it with our daughter!
Secular Halloween children’s activities from my daughter’s kindergarten
From the daily newsletter:
“This morning when we came into Kindy we discovered that our book ‘Room on the Broom’ had turned into a giant version! We think it was the witch who has moved into the Kindy room and into our new witch role play area. She cast a spell and we all came up with ideas about what other spells she can cast. After reading the story we decided to think of spooky things that we would add to our own witches brew.
What next: Just a reminder that we are inviting the children to dress up for Halloween tomorrow. Come in your spookiest or prettiest costumes! “
I had been kind of struggling with the scary and superficial nature of the secular Halloween stuff that has taken over my daughter’s kindergarten. Why early childhood places feel compelled to decorate with skulls, spiders, ghosts etc without any explanation of a loving, faith context is beyond me. To me, it seems consistent with the effects of a culture of death, hedonism and consumerism that I see in other areas of our society. I feel compelled to show her there’s way more to it.
And now, I’m grateful to the kindy because I had neglected this beautiful part of our faith and now I’ve embraced it more than ever. This Halloween, we’re going to have a fun and meaningful time and grow in faith and love as a family.
By the way, our daughter ended up going to Kindy as Glinda the Good Witch from Wizard of Oz after we talked about the good and wicked witches in that story.
Below is one of my original ‘Videoscribe’ animations. Please feel free to share it with your students, staff and families. Videos make great prayer resources to add to your faith formation tool kit as you build a Catholic Ethos in your community.
“Jesus Brings Those on the Outside to the Inside”
In just over 4 minutes, it covers a few stories of Jesus as the ultimate relationship builder who brings all sorts of people into a personal experience of God’s life-giving, empowering love. Originally created for Year 7s (as mentioned at the end), this video has a message that is relevant to all age groups.
This guided meditation for whole-person wellbeing takes the listener through the following 4 steps:
Bringing to mind your Noble Gospel value that you have prioritised for yourself
Cultivate a practice of gratitude
Pray for others with compassion
Visualise yourself living out your immediate goals in line with your value
Relax into the meditation and make space for the cultivation of a healthy, powerful spirituality. This is a great resource for yourself, staff, students and/or your family.
Beforehand, invite your group to contemplate the list of Noble Gospel Values included on the page or your own school’s or family’s focus values. Invite them to identify which one resonates as an antidote to a struggle they currently face.
Neuroscience experts encourage us to pick something that will make us stronger, and help us affect change in a place of difficulty in our lives, not a strength we already have. Enjoy the feeling of being grounded, positive and strengthened.
Please feel free to download this to your device by clicking the 3 dots followed by the download arrow.
Joyful Mysteries with Space to Contemplate
10 minutes or so each in length, these audio files are my own voice taking listeners through the Scriptural Rosary Joyful Mysteries, one decade at a time. It’s a modified version that aims to invite people to experience a simpler version of the Rosary and so open up a pathway to this spiritual practice.
Begin with the Sign of the Cross and a moment to bring to mind God’s love
Pray the Our Father
Listen to one sentence of Scripture
Pause for contemplation or spontaneous prayers of the faithful
This article can be used as a teaching resource over 4 lessons.
Project Kindy is my small, grassroots charity which raises funds in
Australia to provide for kindergartens in rural Malawi, Africa. Please see www.projectkindy.com to get acquainted with our work. The kindergartens are initiated and run by
the local communities and overseen and managed by the Canossian Daughters of
Charity. The partnership between the
local village communities, the Canossian Sisters and Project Kindy demonstrates
the Catholic Social Teaching principles of Human Dignity, the Common Good,
Solidarity and Subsidiarity.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Genesis 1:27 proclaims a very powerful message, that humans are made in
the image and likeness of God. This is
powerful because it bestows immeasurable value onto every single person no
matter who they are, where they are, what they have got or what they have done. It affirms that each person is created for
relationship with God and with other people, just as the Trinity models unity
of one God in three persons.
The human person flourishes when he/she loves and is loved by God and
other people because he/she is created for relationship with God and other
people and one relationship fulfils and strengthens the other. In every area of society we are called to
create environments where each person’s inherent dignity is protected and
upheld and each person is able to flourish into who God intended him/her to
The children’s dignity is honoured in several ways through Project
Kindy. Firstly, the provision of access to
early years education empowers them to develop as a whole person with a special
focus on literacy, numeracy, life skills and social skills. There is much research that confirms kindergarten
experience improves the child’s school readiness which is a key indicator for improved
and sustained success through primary, secondary and tertiary school and as an
employee, leader and active adult citizenship in society. This research also indicates that not only
does the individual have an improved chance to flourish, but so does the local
community and the country at large.
“Giving children a
good start through kindergarten not only counters the worst effects of poverty,
but may also be the most effective means of halting cross-generational poverty.
When equity in access to early education and learning is improved, greater
economic benefits accrue to individuals themselves and collectively to
society.” United Nations
Children’s Fund: New York, Updated in April 2012
Another way we honour the dignity of the children and the village
communities is in the way we present them to donors and supporters on our Project
Kindy website, in our emails, social media and public speaking presentations. The photos and videos we use of the children,
teachers, village leaders and mothers are natural, strengths-focused and elicit
a feeling of equality and respect. The
stories we tell emphasise their noble efforts to work, learn and flourish amongst
such difficult circumstances of pervasive poverty and that only luck of birth
separates us from them. We invite people
to stand in their shoes and imagine that if we were born there, we might hope
to be the same leaders, teachers and mothers trying to improve the standard of
living for our children.
Our support is offered to each of the children in each of the
kindergartens regardless of their family background, religion, family finances or
location. They each have immeasurable
worth in our eyes due to being children of God. Some are Christian, some are
Muslim and some are not religiously affiliated. Some are orphans living with
extended family and some are children still living with one or two of their parents. We love them all.
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
Why is the idea that every person is created by a loving God with inherent dignity is sometimes so challenging to accept?
If it is true that every person has God-given worth and love, what are the consequences for society?
Are there times in my life when I struggle to see the image of God in other people? When? How could I reframe how I see those people and improve my response to challenging situations?
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
The common good is the goal of creating social conditions where people
are able to develop more fully and flourish more easily. The right to the common use of the earth’s
resources is fundamental to this goal. God
gives the earth and her resources to all of humankind and He does not exclude
or favour any person. It is imperative
that societies with more resources share them with societies that are in
need. The single-minded materialistic
pursuit of collecting goods while our neighbours suffer stifles the flourishing
of both the poor and the wealthy. We
were made to be in relationship with each other and our destinies are entwined
so that we are liberated only when we are ALL liberated.
The national annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of Australia
is around $50 000 whereas it is less than $500 in Malawi. By luck of birth, we Australians have access
to a great deal of resources and according to Catholic Social Teaching we must work
to share these resources with other countries that are struggling to
flourish. Project Kindy strives for the
common good and aims to contribute to the common access to the earth’s
resources mainly through helping to provide short term help in the form of food
security as well as long term empowerment through early years education. Our donors share their resources with the
kindergarten communities and in doing so they contribute to sharing the
excesses of the Australian society with the poverty-stricken rural communities
In Malawi, people live a subsistence lifestyle, where they are reliant
on the land and the weather for the small amount of food they grow for
themselves and struggle to make an income. In 2016, the United
Nations World Food Programme declared Malawi, Africa, a “Level 3”
which is their highest level of emergency, identifying that 6.5 million (just
over a third of the population of 18 million) Malawians needed immediate
food aid. The families Project Kindy supports only harvest their
food once each year, roughly from April to July. For two thirds of the year,
they cannot harvest anymore crops or access new food for their family. If their
one harvest is bad, they are in very real danger of food crisis.
Project Kindy funds daily
lunch of ‘nsima’ (ground up corn or rice kernels cooked in water over a
campfire) for the 700 children, Monday to Friday, for the 9 months of the year
that they attend kindergarten. In Malawi, the people eat ‘nsima’ for breakfast, lunch
and dinner (or less frequently if they are running low in supplies). The Sisters purchase 400 x 50kg bags of rice
and corn kernels and store them in sheds for the year. They mill the kernels each Monday morning and
give representatives from each of the 11 kindergartens their week’s ration of
flour. This provides a
much-needed safety net for these children and protects them from hunger and
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
What have you observed about the relationship between poor people and rich people across the world?
How does working for the Common Good differ from working for material gain alone?
What would the world look like if each society was built upon the idea of the Common Good?
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40
Solidarity is an attitude of brotherly and sisterly love for our global
family, believing that God is our common Creator and so we are inextricably
linked through His love. It is the right
way to see our relationships as we receive, the love from our common Heavenly
Father and reflect and channel it to each other which then further strengthens
our relationship with God and so on.
Whenever we reach out to love, support or empower another person we are
expressing our desire to work toward our common good and build unifying, right
relationships with each other. Those of
us who are in well-resourced societies are called to share material support
within the context of a kind of Christian sibling love with those of us who are in under-resourced societies. The most fulfilling life is found through empowering,
serving and loving others, not just accumulation of material goods.
When the Sisters talk to the leaders, teachers, mothers and village
communities on behalf of Project Kindy, they tell them that we are not a big
NGO, but a small number of their brothers and sisters in God across the
seas. Some of the village communities
are Christian, some of them are Muslim and some are of no religion. We extend our love and material support to
all 11 village groups no matter what religion and culture they are. When I was there in 2017 it was profoundly
beautiful for me to see the children contentedly eating their lunches, playing
their games, singing their songs, playing together and smiling away. Not one of them is excluded from our love
because we are all one family in God’s house.
We do not see the children, teachers and mothers as lower in status to us. Instead we see them as equal partners in a mutually beneficial project, working together to achieve a common goal. We benefit in many ways from being connected to them and working together towards their liberty which is tied up with ours. We are wired for this connection and it simply feels good to be serving a noble purpose bigger than ourselves. The direct relationship we enjoy with the communities through the Sisters is truly a source of wholesome nourishment for our own souls. The gift of knowing we are making a real and tangible difference in partnership with the locals is a very special antidote to the frustration many donors have expressed to me as they search for deeper relevance in their day to day lives.
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
Who is left behind in the world?
Who is left behind in our own communities?
How can we show solidarity with them?
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. ” 1 Corinthians 12:12
Subsidiarity refers to the rights and responsibilities of different
levels of society and how they should relate to each other for the common
good. The smaller, more local groups
should be empowered to participate fully, have their voices heard and cooperate
in the creation of that which affects their lives. Higher structures such as managing bodies and
governments must do for the smaller groups what they are unable to do for themselves
and to respond to injustices appropriately.
The smallest, most local group in our network is the teachers, parents
and committee of each of the kindergartens.
They are in charge of running the lessons, cooking the lunches and solving
the everyday problems of the kindies.
The Canossian Sisters sit above them as the overall managers and they
educate, mentor and provide support for the local teachers, parents and
children. Project Kindy is further removed from the project and so we listen
carefully to and respect the advice from the Sisters as to the best course of
action for how our funds are to be spent.
Above Project Kindy is the Australian Government who impose strict
standards on the charity and the Canossian Sisters and local staff in Malawi to
ensure their standards are met.
Each kindergarten is managed by a Parents and Community Committee with
the approval from the village chief and each has a representative that meets
with the Sisters and the other representatives regularly. It is an empowering model of partnership and participation
where the local people are truly active agents of change in their own
communities. It was clear during my
visit that the local volunteers are very energized by this opportunity to work
and provide early years education for the little children in their
communities. I cannot overstate the
passion with which they spoke as they addressed the villages gathered for our
visit. I observed their great enthusiasm
as they taught the children songs, literacy and numeracy. This energy is very impressive given the oppressive
nature of poverty in all aspects of life.
At times there are matters that are inappropriate for the local
teachers, mothers, parents and community committee and village chiefs to decide
upon. In these cases, the Sisters manage
the situation. This is clearly seen in
the problem of how to give incentives and thank the volunteer teachers. At first, it was agreed upon between the
Sister and myself that Project Kindy funds would be used to provide a small
wage to the teachers as this is in line with the principle of the dignity of
work. Later, another Sister corrected
this and pointed out that providing monetary wages would create a social
injustice in the community. She said the
village volunteers are not equipped to deal with such an influx of money and it
would cause conflict. The Sisters
resolved the matter with their solution to provide each volunteer teacher with bags
of grain instead of wages. In this
instance, the Sisters had a superior view of the social dynamics of the 11
villages and how introducing wages would cause unnecessary difficulties. Their decision-making enabled the smaller
groups, the teachers, to continue to do their work unhindered and with
appropriate reimbursement for their time and energy.
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
Why is it important that the local people participate in the decision-making and running of the kindergartens?
Why is it important that the Sisters make decisions from their perspective?
How do small community groups in your own area strengthen your society?
The Catholic Social Justice principles of Human Dignity, Common Good, Solidarity and Subsidiarity underpin the work of the local teachers and representatives, the Canossian Daughters of Charity and Project Kindy, whether the individual people involved are aware of that or not. It is a mutually beneficial project which proves the point that true fulfillment comes when we empower others to flourish and in doing so, we too develop more fully. Ultimately, we are blessed to be in relationship with our siblings in a faraway land and we will continue to strive for our common good.
A lot of Catholic parents would love to say the rosary with their kids . . . if the experience wasn’t quite so, erm . . . fraught. At our house, we barely make it out of the preliminaries before the littles are swinging their beads around like lassos . . . which inevitably become airborne missiles . . . and if you have ever been whacked in the face by a rosary mid-Hail Mary, you know it kind of ruins the mood.
Our older kids are better, but I personally remember doing some groaning and eye-rolling as a teen when it came time for the rosary.
Fortunately, we’ve come up with a couple insights that help us to pray the rosary as a family in a more sane and meaningful way.
The rosary is supposed to be a form of meditative prayer. Listen to the words of Pope Paul VI: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas. . . . By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord” (Marialis Cultus #47). Realizing that the rosary is primarily a form of meditative prayer opens up whole new horizons for teens . . . and adults.
The rosary can be adapted to kids. Mary is many things, but she is first and foremost a mom . . . a mom who undoubtedly understands what it is like to deal with kids! (Yeah, Jesus might have been a good kid, but she undoubtedly mothered the children of relatives and neighbors, too.) So why do we feel enslaved to saying the entire rosary with small kids? Realizing that we could do a mini-rosary with the littles made saying the rosary as a family do-able.
So, without further ado, here are some different approaches to praying the rosary with kids.
1. Skip the beads, or get kid-friendly ones. If you’re praying with children too young to follow direction, say the rosary without the aid of rosary beads. (Very young children may end up whipping them around.) When your kids are old enough, purchase a durable, kid-friendly rosary, such as a cord rosary. See brightly coloured ‘I am With You’ Rosary Beads for children
2. Start with one decade. Praying one decade of the rosary should take a little longer than five minutes. Be sure to introduce the mystery in advance; meditate on a different mystery each time, so that you eventually work your way through all the mysteries. Get my printable modified Rosary booklet with modern pictures
3. Shorten the decades. Say the entire rosary, but only say three Hail Mary prayers for each decade. This is a good way of introducing your children to the order of the mysteries and the rhythm of the entire rosary; plan on spending about fifteen minutes.
5. Set a prayerful mood. Before you begin the rosary, set the mood with scented oils, candles or a prayer bell, singing a Marian hymn, or practicing Thirty Seconds of Silence.
6. Ignore the kids and pray. If your children act up while you’re praying, ignore them as best you can and pray the rosary yourself. Someday, your kids will “grow into” the practice, and in the meantime, Mary, mother of us all, surely sympathizes. A variation: just pray the rosary by yourself, or with your spouse. Tell your kids that mom and dad are going to have their “rosary time,” and shoo them away. That’s what Becky Arganbright did, and before long, all her kids were saying the rosary, too…because they wanted to. Check out her story in Our Accidental Ten-Minute Family Rosary.
Older Children and Teens
In addition to the ideas above, consider the following for older kids and teens:
7. Make your own cord rosaries. Teens have been crafting their own knotted and dyed rosaries from nylon cord since the 1980s; you can find supplies and instructions at Rosary Army (rosaryarmy.newevangelizers.com).
8. Introduce the rosary as a form of meditation. As Pope Paul VI says in the quote above, the rosary becomes an empty ritual if it is nothing more than the repetition of words. Instead, take time to introduce each of the mysteries very intentionally, and go over the principles of meditative prayer with your kids. You may also find that introducing other forms of meditative and imaginative prayer—and mixing up the way you pray together as a family—supports and enhances your practice of praying the rosary. And once you’ve introduced the principles of meditative and imaginative prayer so that kids have an idea of what they’re aiming for, then for heaven’s sake, slow it down. Racing through the rosary, as several popes have pointed out, is not ideal. If time is an issue, then try praying a single decade slowly and meditatively.
9. Pray the Scriptural rosary. As the name implies, the Scriptural rosary incorporates very brief, relevant Scripture readings before each Hail Mary; for example, the first joyful mystery, the Annunciation, would be interspersed with lines from Luke 1, taking the reader through the Biblical account of the Annunciation. You can purchase a Scriptural rosary book or download these free Scriptural Rosary resources. Alternatively, focus on one mystery (and pray one decade) at a time over the course of a month, reading the corresponding Scripture before praying the decade slowly and meditatively. You could also incorporate a lectio divina component to your reflection.
10. Pray with music. Try praying with soft instrumental music playing in the background; alternatively, preface each mystery with the relevant song from Catholic artist Danielle Rose’s excellent Mysteries, in which she has composed a gently meditative song with appealing contemporary styling for each mystery of the rosary; it’s well-reviewed on Amazon.
11. Get older kids and teens to lead. Research shows that the more agency we give kids around religious practices, the more likely they are to retain and integrate those practices into adulthood. Letting kids lead prayer is always a good idea, with appropriate support and guidance, so don’t hesitate to let kids lead the rosary with the help of an appropriate resource. You might begin while they’re younger by inviting them to offer their own intentions.
12. Pray the rosary for your kids. If all else fails, and you just can’t convince your older kids or teens to say the rosary with you, then pray it for them. As you pray, focus on entrusting your kids to the intercession of Mary and the care of her Son, and ask for the humility and grace you need to be a good parent.
Be creative in your family practice of praying the rosary…and be persistent. As Pope John Paul II says, “If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group.”