All Saints' Day Costume Backlash: only neat and tidy saints need apply?

Hey guys. 👋 I'm still not back. The book is coming along, but there's still a ways to go. But. I got this mailbag question via email and answered it via email, and wanted to share it here, just in case any of you are facing the same criticisms. I really hope you're not. I suppose this is one of those issues upon which good Catholics may disagree, but I am very strongly in support of my position. (So surprising, I know.)

Also, I'm not going to do the big All Saints' Day costume contest this year <ducks under desk> but Hallowtide has always been a big part of this blog, so I can't let the whole thing go by without a single post!

The Question:
Hi Kendra,

Hoping you can give me a little guidance as I don't have as much experience with this as you do.

We are attending an All Saints party with our kids this year. I'm planning on dressing my younger son as Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I've got a little striped pajama, little glasses, the red P, etc... I was super excited about this costume but then I started mentioning it to others and got a lot of backlash and it's making me doubt my decision.

People have said its insensitive, inappropriate, in poor taste and makes light of the victims of the Holocaust.

I'm really torn right now because while I don't want to offend others, I really love this saint and I see dressing my son up in his honour as a positive thing.

I saw that your son was dressed as Saint Maximilian Kolbe one year and I'm wondering if you got any criticism and if so how you responded? I'm new at this whole All Saints celebration so I'm just wondering where I need to draw the line between political correctness and dressing my son as an awesome saint.

I look forward to hearing your take on this!


My Answer:

Hey Justine,

Wow, I'm so sorry, and I have to say, really surprised. I expect that some people aren't going to "get" our cephalophore St. Denis or body-less St. John the Baptist costumes, or our skinned St. Bartholomew, or our bullet-riddled Bl. Miguel Pro. They are, admittedly, pretty intense.

We don't intend to be irreverent or insensitive, we just intend to be truthful. ESPECIALLY since these things are still happening in the world. Christians are still being martyred! All the more reason that my kids should know about these great saints. It seems ridiculous to me to limit the saints that my kids can dress up as, and learn about, and admire, to only saints who died a nice, tidy, non-shocking death. That's just not the truth of the martyrs.

It's my understanding that many Catholic schools and homeschool groups specifically ban any bloody depictions of martyrs. Thank the Good Lord ours' does not, because that would disallow at least a quarter of our kids' All Saints' Day costumes over the years. I'm sure all those folks mean well, but we don't choose to shield even our young children from learning the stories of the martyrs or seeing depictions of their martyrdoms. In our travels, doing that would have meant we'd have had to skip just about every single church in Europe.

Look at the statue of St. John the Baptist on the outside of Chartres Cathedral, or the statue of St. Bartholomew holding his skin inside St. Peter's, or The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio, painted for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Are they shocking? Yes. Also beautiful and memorable. Generations of kids have seen them. My kids have seen those statues and that painting in person, and they made an impression. My sons have dressed up as each of those martyrs for All Saints Day. It hasn't made them cavalier about martyrdom, quite the opposite. It has made them aware of martyrdom and respectful of it. Play is one way kids learn.

I do understand how those particular statues, paintings, and our costumes depicting those martyrs would surprise some parents. But I think it's a mistake, and perhaps a result of the fact that mostly moms are in charge of events like this, to purposefully remove stuff that boys think is cool from our celebration of/study of the saints, just because it isn't what speaks to us or our daughters. My girls like Disney princess movies. Great news! There are princess saints. My boys like war movies and superhero movies and cowboys and Indians movies. Pretty much every one of those movies is going to have a bloody death or ten. There are plenty of saints that would fit right in there too. And if we let our boys get to know them, the saints can become an inspiration to them.

St. Issac Jogues (one of my boys' choice of saint for this year) is a martyr, himself moved by the martyrs that came before him:
Jogues was inspired by the missionaries that had returned to France in 1636: Father Brebeuf, Father Charles Lalement and Father Masse to venture to New France. These missionaries told Jogues of their hardships, treacheries and tortures which ordinarily awaited them by the native population, as missionaries in New France. Their accounts however, increased Jogues' desire to “devote himself to labor there for the conversion and welfare of the natives”. (wikipedia)

But in your case you're not even talking about a bloody costume. I just can't wrap my head around anyone in a Catholic organization who would throw an All Saints' Day costume party, then believe that to dress up as a saint who was killed in the holocaust, when he offered to take the place of another man, so that man might return to his family . . . is somehow insensitive to holocaust victims. That's bonkers. It only honors holocaust victims when we teach our children about St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Maybe the confusion comes because some people's take on Halloween is to dress up as a celebrity you don't like to ridicule that person. All Saints Day costumes are the EXACT OPPOSITE of that. I would urge you to use this as a teachable moment. Stay strong, stay Catholic, stay awesome!


Just in case you're wondering what the Tierneys are planning for this year, here's a sneak peek at our plans for Twofer Halloween/All Saints' Day costumes . . .




The boys:

I think Mary Jane will be a little St. Kateri Tekakwitha sidekick to the brothers. And, fair warning if you know me in real life, the North American Martyrs costumes are probably going to involve some of these:
(But most likely this homemade version.) Because that's how it went down:

We just really can't help ourselves.

More costume inspiration can be found in the following posts:

Over 150 All-Saints Day Costumes for Kids

Over 150 MORE All Saints Day Costumes for Kids

Costumes for All Saints Day AND Halloween: One Part Catholic, Two Parts Awesome

Last Minute Twofer Costumes for Halloween AND All Saints Day

Hallowtide . . . It's How We Roll: All Saints Day Costumes for Awesome Kids Only

And here's some other stuff:

Halloween Movies to Spook the Whole Family

Spooky Stories for the Whole Family (and how to get them for free)

Scary Stories: Empowering Kids Since 1812

Praying for the Dead With Children

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.