Oct. 29, Feast of St. Narcissus. When three wicked men accused him of a crime, they confirmed their calumny by swearing terrible oaths: one that he might perish in a fire, the second that he might be struck with leprosy, and the third that he might lose his sight, should they be false. All these things came to pass. The first burnt at night by an accidental house fire; the second contracted leprosy the third, seeing this, feared for his life and confessed his slander, continually weeping, thereby losing his sight before the end of his life. St. Narcissus lived to be 116.
In the Letter to Diogenetus, written around the 2nd or 3rd century AD, it is written "Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life." It is a peculiar paradox of the Christians that we simultaneously live in the world but are not of it.
This doesn't have to take form in spooky, commercialized Halloween decorations. It could be something as simple and elegant as bringing in seasonal foliage and flowers. Children in particular will enjoy scouring their backyards and parks and forest paths for treasures. The changing of linens, especially in the north at this time of year, is appropriate. Cool cotton is exchanged for heavier wool and quilts. The smells of wood fires, baking apples, and savory soups are better than expensive candles. I keep pine cones year-round, but they are especially nice accents this time of year.
But if I want to get into the "spirit" of All Hallows' Eve (and I do), I aim to go heavy on the creativity and easy on the pocket.
First, I try to decorate with steals from the dollar store that don't scream--or howl, or screech--"mass manufactured." The key is to be picky. I buy what catches my eye and what will integrate well with my decor.
- Paper jack-o-lantern cutouts. I put one in each panel of the widest window in the sunroom. It's neat that you can see them from outside as well as in. (Also the damage from where it was taped up from last year!)
- It looks and hangs like a fancy cloth banner from a craft store, but it costs dimes. You could probably even make your own--find a template or throw a collage of patterns together and save as an image on your computer (I love Picmonkey), and print, cut, glue, hang. The orange lights are about three dollars at dollar stores, but if you don't want to waste it, Christmas lights work just as well.
- I've actually found the template for this square banner in the template options of my computer at work, even though I bought this banner on clearance out of season last year. Imagine that! Someone had the same idea I had (see #2). Meanwhile, I replaced my usual post cards on the clothesline with vintage-style greeting cards. They look like something ordered off of the oh-so-pricey Victorian Trading Company, but they're Hallmark. I use one of each type and mail the rest to friends!
They're made out of cheap materials and paper, but you don't have to feel like a pollution bug. Pack them up at the end of the month and save them for next year! If they look a little shabby, all the spookier!
Now my personal favorite: pillows. I've long proclaimed that changing pillow covers (along with other linens) is the easiest, fastest, and most effective way to decorate for the seasons. If you have a fairly neutral color palate to work from, you'll have full reign of all kinds of colors and patterns. What fun! I change the pillow cases on the pillows that are practical additions to my bed, sofa, and chairs, and you wouldn't believe how instantaneous the transformation is.
- I purchased clearance fabric from JoAnne's. I don't sew, but I understand that it's fairly easy if you have a machine. I had my sister whip together these pillow covers from the fabric in under two hours (that's six sewn cloth items in an episode of Sherlock!).
- I chose this burlap fabric because it's sturdy and will stand up to my toddler. But let's be honest. I wouldn't have even looked at it if not for the pattern . . . do I have to use the word chic? I think I will. Well, if there are any fashion-minded fiends out there.
- The pumpkin-shaped pillow was a splurge buy from JoAnne Fabrics. It originally came with two glittery black bats, popping out on curling wires. But my son made a speedy end of them. Once again, pillows folks. Fairly durable.
Seasonal items include found things from the natural world that I mentioned above. Some are things that I can incorporate into my themed decorating but which I can use year-round.
- A bright berry wreath teetering on the edge between dark orange and light red can transition into winter.
- Autumn-colored flowers, either purchased at the store or picked in the field.
- Candy corn is excellent for decorating. Place it in clear jars, cups, candle holders, and lanterns for instant color and interest. [not pictured] Acorns and pine cones gathered outside and arrange in similar ways are add variety and texture to your "vase fillers."
- I love the Chinese lanterns that are blooming this time of year. Living as we do in central Florida, it's the only color change we get.
- The dried eucalyptus wreath fills our whole home with a sweet smell and puts the finishing touch on our sitting room/dining room/sun room. I've wrapped purple lights around it. (Warning: be careful of fire hazards! We do not leave this unattended!) The dreary fabric was bought at the dollar store in the Halloween section--but it's just black cheesecloth! You can buy cheesecloth in tons of stores year-round, and you might already have some. It serves well for creepy draped fabric. If it's old, musty, and torn with holes, that's prefect. I keep the same cheesecloth and break it out every year. Cheap as free!
- [not pictured] Some places sell dried turning leaves this time of year. Hit up the produce section of your grocery store for Indian corn, husks of wheat, gourds, pumpkins, and affordable, easy, table-to-tummy decorations.
Okay, so we've been good with our Halloween decorating tricks--now it's time to treat ourselves! The extra stuff doesn't have to be Pottery Barn priced. If you keep your eyes peeled for year-round deals, especially post-season clearances, you can snatch up some nice stuff for next year. (Also, since we're Catholic, we get two days of festive extension after the secular holiday. So there!)
- This perfectly useless but perfectly handsome vintage jack-o-lantern hanging wall-thing was purchased at Target.
- The bat decals were last year's unsold Martha Stewart wall decorations. Nice! (There's a huge witch silhouette that came with these, but I don't have a window or wall space big enough for her yet.)
- Stripey straws can be used for all kinds of things: in caramel apples, candy melts, or just stuck in a class of chilled cider for instant festivity. My son likes drinking out of straws, so I buy them anyway. And they make such a picture sitting there on the cupboard in their cylindrical containers! (Now imagine if you had potions bottles to go with them! Next year, next year. . .) I got these either at Target or JoAnne's. I've seen black-and-white skull ones at Michael's that could do triple duty for Dia de los Muertos and Mardi Gras.
Whatever you do or don't do for the season, make sure you do it with your family. I say this for my own sake. It's easy to get wrapped up in the hype and get tied down to perfection and neglect to have fun, or get frustrated at my little boy for re-arranging my pine cone display (Every. Single. Morning).
Last, though while we may go through the movements the way other people do, we are mindful that they are not as other people do them. On the contrary, they are suffused with purpose; and all or daily, mundane doings elevated and made as prayers. "Pick up a pin for the love of God, and count your day well spent." As the writer of the Letter to Diogenetus continues,
Yet, although they [the Christians] live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are "in the flesh," but they do not live "according to the flesh." They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.