Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Of pumpkins and prayer

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Oct. 21, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell

It’s popular in some Christian circles to eschew Halloween celebrations for fear of the devil. The holiday does have pagan roots, but the Catholic Church adopted the day centuries ago, and infused its customs with Christian meaning.

We can do the same today, making Halloween a fun, wholesome and faith-infused celebration for our families.

Pumpkin carving can be a fun event that includes the whole family. The smallest child can help pull out the pulp and seeds. Pre-schoolers can help decide whether the face should be smiling or scary. Older children and parents can do the carving. You may want to tell the tale of the Jack-o-lantern while you work. When the pumpkin’s finished, gather everyone for a short blessing and light the candle.

The Tale of the Jack-O-Lantern

Long, long ago in the land we now call Ireland, there lived a mean and tricky man named Jack. In fact, he was so sly he actually fooled the devil himself.

One night – maybe it was Halloween night – he convinced the devil to climb a tree. As the devil moved from branch to branch, higher and higher, Jack carved a cross in the trunk. The power of the cross is so strong; the devil was trapped and couldn’t get down.

To this day, we don’t know for sure how the devil got free. But when Jack died, he couldn’t get into heaven because he had lived a mean and selfish life. Neither could he get into hell because he had tricked the devil. He was forced to wander the earth until judgment day. He owned nothing but a single turnip, and the devil gave him an ember which he placed inside the hollowed out turnip to serve as a lantern to light his way.

As time went by people remembered how Jack had trapped the devil and they began to carry lighted turnips on Halloween to frighten away evil spirits. When Irish families immigrated to the United States, they brought the Jack-o-Lantern custom with them. Here they began to use pumpkins instead of turnips because they were easier to carve.

Jack-O-Lantern Blessing

Leader: May this Jack-O-Lantern be a sign that we ask God’s help in driving away all evil spirits of selfishness, anger, jealousy and pride.
All: Bless us, O God.
Leader: May this Jack-O-Lantern be a sign that as a family we all work together for good.
All: Bless us, O God.
Leader: May this Jack-O-Lantern be a sign of our gratitude for all the gifts of the earth.
All: Bless us, O God.
(Light Candle.)
Leader: May this flame be a sign of Christ’s light in the world, more powerful than any darkness.
All: Amen.


The American practice of trick-or-treating on Halloween probably stems from a custom of ninth century Europe called “souling.” During All Soul’s Day parades and festivities poor folk would walk among the homes of wealthier people begging for soul cakes, square pieces of bread with currents. In return for the bread, they would promise to pray for the souls of their benefactors’ dead relatives.

You might pick one of the following suggestions for adding a spiritual element to your children’s practice of trick-or-treating.

• To lessen stress, plan a quick, easy dinner. Take an extra moment as you say grace to thank God for the generosity of all those who will give treats to the children this evening. Or, in the spirit of ancient tradition, offer a prayer for the souls of those who have died.
• Once the costumes are on and everyone is ready for trick-or-treating, pause and lay your hands on each child in turn and bless them. You might say: “God, bless this child and keep her safe. Bless all those who generously give treats tonight. Amen.”
• When trick-or-treating is over, gather and ask God to bless the candy. You might pray: “Thank you, God, for these treats. May they be a reminder of all the gifts we have received, and may they inspire us to be grateful and generous of heart. Amen.”

© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book is the children's novel Fire in the Hole, from Clarion Books.)

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