Of Ghosts, Goblins, and Birthdays




By Mary M.

My birthday is on Halloween, and it hurts a little when Christian families, some of them friends of mine, belittle the day’s festivities, label them evil or ignore it altogether. I know their intent isn’t to damage my psyche, but it makes me feel as if I’m living in the days of the Salem witch trials, when one would simply know better than to ask, “So-o-o-o, watcha you doin’ for Halloween?”

No worries. Despite the date making me one year older every year, I have a pretty balanced view of it. Thanks to my Mom, who made it neither forbidden fruit nor anything that would rival Christmas. Note: I do have neighbors with lights – yes, colored lights – in their yards along with Halloween decorations this year. They’re upping the creepy factor, I suppose. Or maybe they’re using the retail holiday calendar.

Paper Halloween decorations, that’s what we had. Construction paper silhouettes in gray, orange and black, delicate and faded from years of use and placed on our house front window, would herald the coming of my birthday every year. Witches in black. Ghosts in gray. Pumpkins in orange. My mom had traced the images, and then cut them with the perfect care of a seasoned seamstress. Even when the stores began selling plastic, multicolored window clings, we put up the same paper cutouts, plus a few pumpkins I’d crafted and added to the collection. I wasn’t about to throw my mom’s creations away, ever.

Eventually I was old enough and eager to put them up myself, but that didn’t last long. High school costume parties have a way of competing with – and beating out – childhood traditions.

As for costumes, I breathlessly waited to grow into the next size up of Princess and then Colonial Girl. It seemed I’d forever be Little Miss Muffett, consisting of a pink jumpsuit and a brittle plastic mask with a painted face, which I thought looked like a baby face, held on with an elastic string. My big sisters got to wear one of two princess costumes, their masks having painted-on blonde hair, pink lips, arched eyebrows and 3-inch crowns; Colonial Girl had white, “powdered” hair, painted-on eyeshadow and a painted-on hat angled on her head. My older sisters wore those until they outgrew them. The clothing tied on with ribbons and was silky, in vibrant colors. All masks had quarter-sized eye holes. This was years before anti-flammable costumes and concerns about blocked night vision.

My dear dad would mark my birthday each year by going dove hunting. I think he took me trick-or-treating once, and I voluntarily went dove hunting as many times, but I’m okay with that since he had a part in giving me life. He raised me, too, from tantrums, through the moody teen years, and stood by me through the know-it-all 20s, which altogether must have been more hair-raising than any modern-day horror house.

My life is a whirlwind of wonderful birthdays: my sisters and parents singing around one of my mom’s homemade cakes; watching scary movies with girlfriends;  a special trip to an ice cream parlor with “Sixteen Candles” playing on the juke box for my 16th birthday; designing and sewing  my own Snow White costume to wear to work; and dressing up with friends from out of town to go trick-or-treating at different apartments within walking distance, sort of a candy-and-beer domestic pub crawl. I spent one birthday on a solo trip overseas, and another campaigning my heart out for a presidential candidate.

I’ve been a mom to five girls for nearly seven years now, and what began as anxiety over what my daughters could and should wear (saints vs. secular, saints modified into secular, just plain secular) is now relaxed enjoyment as they flutter around the house on Halloween piecing together their fifth change of costume from what they’d originally planned to wear at the end of summer. In other words, my perfectionism has moved to the backseat, along with my youth.

Of course, Halloween, being All Hallow’s Eve, it should never overshadow the holy day of All Saints. Nor should it blacken the beautiful feast of All Souls, during which Catholics pray for the holy souls in Purgatory, a devotion very dear to my family. While growing up, my sisters, parents and I would attend All Soul’s Day Mass with few exceptions. Those are less memorable than my birthdays, although I will never forget the one following my sister’s death in the mid 1970s, when my mom and sisters were certain they’d heard her call to them from another room in our house.

You just don’t tell a 7-year-old her dead sister is making efforts to communicate, no matter how much she loves the deceased sibling. I still get chills thinking about it, because I know in my heart they heard something, even if I only saw them quietly in unison prick their ears and I didn’t hear it myself.

And so this is what Halloween is to me: another birthday, another day of dress-ups for my girls until they’re grown, a moment to reflect on the scenes of my past and dreams of the future. I even use it to make resolutions: on my next birthday ending in “5,” I want my husband to send me to California to take surf lessons. It’ll be even better if my daughters and sisters come with me.

And here is a beautiful prayer to the Holy Souls (my parents would take my sisters and me to visit my sister’s grave every Sunday and we would pray this prayer):

All you Angels of Consolation, go and visit those patient sufferers,

offer for them the merits of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

and obtain their speedy unions with Jesus, Whose vision is bliss, and Who yearns to have them with Him.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.

A link to a Holy Souls novena:


::Mary M. is the youngest of five girls, raised by saintly parents, and a Catholic mom living in Texas bringing up five beautiful, lively daughters with the perfect husband.::

  • JaclynOctober 31, 2012 - 6:23 am

    Happy birthday! Weekday a beautiful memoir.ReplyCancel

  • LynnOctober 31, 2012 - 6:37 am

    Happy Birthday, Mary! What wonderful memories you have shared… thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Susie LloydOctober 31, 2012 - 11:09 am

    So many things in this post!
    Loved Halloween as a kid – probably more than Christmas. Back then it was OUR night. Now they regulate it here in the interests of safety. But then we’d stay out as late as we could stand in all kinds of weather. Kids made the decorations too. I had some pathetic ghosts made of tissues and of course a huge carved pumpkin from the garden. Also, when we approached a door, we always felt like we were surprising the people on the other side, bursting out: “Trick-or-Treat!”
    I think it’s lost a bit of its charm now that adults (and merchants) are over-involved. I’ve taken a step back on the saint theme myself.
    The kids still seem to get a lot out of it. But I do miss the fear factor – even if it was just worrying about my brother and his friends jumping out and bombing us with shaving cream. We owned the night!ReplyCancel

  • RobynNovember 1, 2012 - 9:15 am

    Great story – what a cute family you had growing up, and now as well!ReplyCancel