update: I’ve edited this post to remove links and references to other people’s articles, for fear of having misrepresented the positions expressed within. You’re stuck with just my opinion now!

I have witnessed a lot of back and forth recently about the appropriateness of devout Catholics celebrating Halloween. And I’m in a Catholic Homeschool Mom Facebook group and one of the current discussions there is about Santa and far and away the prevailing opinion is thumbs down on him too.

And I can’t help but wonder why all these nice people think we can’t have fun and celebrate the good parts of our culture’s traditions and celebrations and still be good Catholics.

I’m sure they’re all making the parenting decisions that they feel are in the best interests of their children, but it just feels to me like a case of being unnecessarily contrary.

It makes me think of this guy:

And then I feel better (thanks Keeley!).

There is a wrong way to do things. There is a wrong way to celebrate Halloween. But that doesn’t mean that Halloween is wrong.

I think it’s a more Protestant worldview to demand that everything be either-or. Either you are a Christian or you are a part of your culture. But Catholics have always been both-and. We can come into a country and adapt their traditions and culture to fit into Catholicism’s big embrace. 

My favorite stop on my family’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land when I was in college was The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

The second floor is home to an extraordinary collection of mosaic portraits of the Blessed Virgin, from countries all over the world. It had never occurred to me to think of Mary as anything but light skinned and blue-eyed. But guess what, that’s not how they see her in Japan:

Or Indonesia:

All of the Marys are beautiful, of course . . . 

with the notable exception of the one from America, which is, frankly, nightmarish (like I said, there are wrong ways to do things):

If you think it’s just a bad photo, I can tell you it is just as horrifying in person (and Canada’s is pretty weird too). Check them all out here, they’re (mostly) amazing.
Mary’s embrace of the cultural traditions of various countries isn’t just in the minds of artists. When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico, she had Mexican features and wore Mexican clothing.

Part of what has allowed Catholicism to flourish all over the world is our ability to embrace what is good in every culture and raise up saints from every land. (The other, slightly more important part of its success being that it’s, ya know, True.)

It’s okay for my kids to go trick-or-treating on Halloween and to sit on Santa’s lap at Christmas. Those are good parts of our culture. I want both-and.

Some good Catholics seem to be making the assumption that you must choose one extreme or the other for holidays. Either you forgo trick-or-treating for a vigil Mass and a family novena for the holy souls in Purgatory OR you dress your son up as Jack the Ripper
and your daughter as sexy Big Bird
and drop them off in some back alley to egg the neighbors’ houses and play with a Ouija board.

But as I tell my Little Flowers every month, virtue is found in the middle.

Courage is the virtue between recklessness and cowardice. Hope is the virtue between presumption and despair. Humility is the virtue between vanity and self-deprecation.

We will continue to celebrate our Halloween here in the middle, where the candy is.

I have the intention of someday writing a whole post on why we believe in Santa Claus. But I don’t know if I’ll get to it. I’ve already written on why we believe in leprechauns, and the reasons are pretty much the same.

But I cherish the memories of the joy I had in Santa Claus as a child so much that I can hardly fathom not allowing my children to have the same.

Nothing I write, of course, could ever approach the awesomeness of G.K. Chesterton’s The Ethics of Elfland chapter in Orthodoxy.

Mr. Chesterton also has a lovely defense of Santa Claus in particular, explaining how, far from making him think his parents were liars and Jesus must be a fake, his own belief in Santa Claus prepared him for greater beliefs that were to come:

What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation.  I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking.  I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it.  I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them.  I had not even been good – far from it.
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . .  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.  I have merely extended the idea.
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

This was the same experience I had. As a child, I loved and understood Santa Claus in a way that was more concrete than my belief in and understanding of Jesus could be. But loving Santa Claus opened up a Jesus-shaped hole in my heart, that stayed there, waiting, until I was ready for it to be filled.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and I’m pretty sure the right way doesn’t involve yard mannequins:

  

Changing gears here . . . I finished all the edits the publisher requested on A Little Book About Confession for Children, and then (totally out of the usual order of this kind of thing) received and signed my contract. It’s supposed to go to the printers next week and be available in the new year!

I am super excited.

p.s. In case you were wondering, writing catechetical literature for children does not appear to be a very good get rich quick scheme.

Now for some quotes from my weirdo kiddos

Gus (5): I always eat my hotdog with RELISH. . . . Get it? ‘Cause relish MEANS SOMETHING. 

and also  

Overheard: saddest playing house ever . . . 


Anita (4) -holding baby doll- to Gus (5): Our mother died just a couple of days after he was born. Now I’m all he has in the world.


Perhaps we should lay off the Dickens with her.

This is a little something for the naysayers who like to throw around the word ‘brainwashing’ when describing parents who are bothering to form their children.

Here’s hoping I can do half as good a job at brainwashing my own kids as this teenager’s parents have done.

Bronx Youth Poetry SLAM 2013, Ethan Metzger

Happy weekend everyone, I’m off to throw a moustache-themed 2nd birthday party for Frankie. It should be pretty awesome.

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