Going Minimalist on All Saints' Day: Thriving in Survival Mode

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It is All Souls' Day (the day after All Saints' Day) and I am sitting in a pile of candy wrappers in a state of sugar-driven anxiety. I’ve got fabric and costumes strewn about my house, making it look a little like Spider Man got in a brawl with St. Francis over a Snickers... and nobody won. Everybody lost...

Because in the final stroke of irritation and "I didn't strangle you when you were whistling through your teeth during Mass but don't tempt me now" kind of brain fever...I sent them all to bed. Candy isn't allowed in their rooms but I saw them sneak a couple pieces and I just don't care because they left enough peanut butter cups behind to keep me company during my couch coma. 

It is the Catholic Mom Marathon week when we try to be salt and light to the world by dressing up in fun costumes and taking candy from neighbors... followed by a day when we throw a bunch of neutral colored fabric on our children and make them give mini school-ish reports about holy people... culminating in a day when we scrap the energy to do meaningful activities to remember and pray for the dead. 

 Being a low energy mom puts me in dead last place on the Pinterest winner board. I try. But I've got to consolidate for the sake of my children, my sanity, and my sanctity.

So I'm a liturgical minimalist and the details of this rich liturgical week (All Hallows Eve, All Saints, All Souls) necessarily go to chopping block every year for deep discernment.

"Okay kids, today is a very meaningful feast day and I want you to grow up immersed in love, peace, and special cakes that look like holy things. So we are going to pray a special prayer. It's called Bedtime Prayer. And we pray it every night so you should know it really well by now. So just fold your hands in an extra devout way and do not (under pain of death or banishment) look cross-eyed at your brother. Happy feast day."

I am often that mom but do try to rise above it periodically. So out of necessity and simplicity, Halloween gets the boot. On Halloween, I am usually making costumes for All Saints' Day and we try to go to the vigil Mass while everyone else is trick-or-treating. Please don't feel badly for my kids... they have a wonderful time and Saints get candy, too. 

The reality is that I can really only do one big thing well in the span of 3 days and even that is stretching it. So All Saints' it is! I have other reasons for not celebrating Halloween but I freely admit that those preferences are heavily supported by the simple need to stay sane.

Those of you who can do two sets of costumes, two parties, and two loads of goodies, all while prioritizing the most important things... Hey, more power to you. I'm truly not that mom. 

As I said, I can do one thing well at a time (generally) and so I choose the feast day. It does help that we are homeschooling since the All Saints' party doesn't fall under the umbrella of the Catholic school day. I don't really want it to be a school-ish thing. I want it to be alive and dynamic and a distinct from obligation or homework. It should be more than a date on the calendar and more than a set of costumes, props, and book reports. 

And if it isn't more than that, then it should at least be the only thing vying for attention. Meaning that the fun of a secular Halloween should never eclipse the fire of the feast. We do a disservice to the entire Church when we put more of our creative energies into a community activity than to the liturgical calendar.

I'm not shaming anyone. I fully admit that I'm a harried mom and that I am positively in awe of you moms who just keep going and making and driving and creating.

But every year when I look from my sofa vantage point at the disaster that All Saints' Day feasting and costuming have left in their wake, I am glad we did it, glad it is over, and looking forward to the next day when we can settle into prayerful devotion for the dead. Which is admittedly more difficult when everyone is hopped up on candy and the house is a mess... but I digress.

I'm really a liturgical minimalist. But that doesn't mean that I do nothing (although sometimes I suppose it does, strictly speaking). What it means for All Saints' Day specifically is that I only do what is necessary... and I try to do it well. 

  • Mass with the family and faith community is prioritized.

  • Costumes depicting our heavenly family members are prioritized.

  • Discussion about the saints is prioritized.

  • A little bit of feasting (is that an oxymoron?) is prioritized.

But now All Saints' Day is over. It's 8:30pm and I see a 7-year old in an Ironman costume eating candy in front of me. The irony makes me laugh out loud. He is clueless but blissfully happy… completely content to be alive eating junk food in a costume. 

ALL SAINTS DAY links you might enjoy…

How to Turn Teens Into Saints


Many Catholic teens think All Saints' celebrations are stupid and refuse to participate or dress up. It's easy to see why. When most adults hardly appreciate the excellence of this feast day, it is rather difficult to pass on any enthusiasm to the young people. Most dress-up parties and All Saints' Masses take place in a school environment, relegating them to part of the "school-ish" culture. The dynamic, authentic, awesomeness of this feast becomes a flattened dullish sort of thing and seen as only for the little kids. Just try to have an All Saints' dress-up day in a Catholic high school and see what happens!

And yet those same students will happily make fools of themselves in every kind of ridiculous get-up for Halloween. Obviously, it is not just about not wanting to be childish... but clearly an aversion to the things of faith because they see the faith as restrictive, cheesy, old, uncool. This is primarily the fault of a culture that is dead to true beauty and does not seek the heart of Christ.

Fortunately, this is not true for everyone but it does take some significant familial and parish effort and prayer to compete with the teen culture of boring. My teens participate in the fun of All Saints' Day of their own accord (so far), and happily so. I realize we have a distinct advantage as homeschoolers because the dull-ish, dead-ish secular teenage culture does not have constant access to our home.

Because we do not participate in the secular celebration of Halloween, we have been accused of being anti-evangelism. Tell that to my teens who deliberately wore their All Saints' get-up to one of the most liberal colleges in the country last week for their schola rehearsal! A college where they were sure to stand out and provoke unkind stares and certainly did. It was no suggestion of mine, just a real desire to spread the wings of their faith. Or how about the time my "St. Thomas Aquinas" decided it would be far better to go into Dairy Queen for his milkshake instead of using the drive-through. Because... Evangelism. 

Evangelism often manifests as families integrating smoothly into secular society (for example, watching Fourth of July fireworks within a community or participating in sports), but in our current culture, it is becoming increasingly important to be fully who we are within the context of our faith, even when it causes us to stand out.

As you can see by the photos, my teens not only dressed up this year, but they went all out. Professor had a very specific plan and taught me quite a bit about birettas as I fumbled my way through creating a couple. I love the way it turned out, and yes, it is only supposed to have three of those bump thingies. Amazing what a little poster board, heat n' bond, yarn, and fabric remnants can do! You can find our tutorial HERE.

Cookie was late to the planning because of a November 1st essay deadline. She wasn't sure she'd be dressing up at all and I didn't push her, but once that paper was submitted, she eagerly dug out some fancy things and began searching for a saint. (I am short on photos of her here because she was still rushing to get ready for most of the photo session. Other photos of her are temporarily imprisoned on someone else's iphone.)


This St. Veronica costume was one of my favorites to create and you can find the tutorial HERE.


Crash is nearly a teen and he didn't even flinch when that mitre towered over his head in public. I felt like Maria von Trapp making his outfit because I repurposed gold curtains to create it.

I've got lots of thoughts on why my kids are like this and they mostly center around the fact that we home educate. There's a lot of freedom and blessing in this lifestyle choice. Primarily, the kids are free from a secular teen culture that discourages true joy, passion, and respect for the dignity of the human person. I look at these pictures and know that in spite of our weaknesses and failures, we are on a fundamentally good path. It gives me the courage to keep going.


When kids are little, mamas often believe that if we only do all the right things, our kids will be really great and good people. Not to burst your bubble, but it isn't true. It's not primarily about us and whatwe do. It is about how well we place them into the loving arms of Jesus, so that He can do the work. We can lead them along the right path and I guarantee you that they will still stray at times. Some will even leave the faith.

What we need to focus on during these years then, is not micro-managing them into a relationship with our Lord, but allowing them to retain and develop true passion for His Sacred Heart. 

In spite of the common, but false, assertion that homeschooling restricts that kind of growth, I give you my evidence that it clears away some of the debris that can obstruct joy. Will it guarantee that my parenting will turn out canonized saints? No. But I believe it gives them a fighting chance to retain a seedling of their original purity and innocence. They may need it very badly someday.

If you don't homeschool, this is no judgment on you. It is not my vocation to parent your children and I trust you to follow God's will for your own family. I know that many of you are defending the goodness of your teens with great courage and success within the school system. May he bless and keep us all and bring our children safely home with the saints and angels!