Even though imaginative costumes were in abundance at Holy Family Elementary School’s gymnasium, this wasn’t your average Halloween party — certainly not when St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Margaret of Scotland were in full view as opposed to witches, vampires and other ghoulish creatures.
In fact, the assembly on Oct. 29 wasn’t a Halloween shindig at all despite being held only two days before Halloween. The focus for Holy Family’s third-grade students was what took place three days later — All Saints Day.
Nearly 30 youngsters staged a "Living Saints" exhibit by depicting various saints during a one-hour gathering that has become a popular annual tradition at Holy Family. All the students of third-grade teachers Debra Galardi and Michele Drake dressed up and posed as statues of their assigned saints. When a visitor pushed a nearby button, each mini-saint came to life with a brief vignette, explaining historical facts about the saint that he or she represented. At the assembly’s conclusion the saints gave attendees — who included Holy Family’s staff and other students as well as many family members — such religious items as prayer cards, medals and rosaries.
Saints ranged from as far back as John the Baptist, Thomas the Apostle, Joseph and the Virgin Mary to as recent as Joan of Arc — who died in 1431 but wasn’t canonized until 1920 – and Elizabeth Ann Seton, who in 1975 was canonized as the first American female saint. Galardi noted that costumes came from a variety of sources: some were sewn by moms and grandmothers; others were purchased online or in local stores; some were even derived from the costumes of older siblings who took part in past Living Saints productions.
Along with costume preparation, students were required to learn about the lives and significance of their assigned saints. Galardi said guests on Oct. 29 "were impressed by their level of knowledge" as well as how the young people managed to invoke the mannerisms of these prolific holy people.
"I’m very proud of my third-graders," Galardi said.
"It really was a great day," Drake added. "The kids were so excited; they couldn’t wait to get into their costumes."
The Living Saints event was begun in 2003. According to Galardi, the elementary school — then known as Holy Family Primary School — formerly sponsored a Halloween costume party during school hours. But she and another third-grade teacher at the time, Mary Baker, sought a fresh approach because they felt the attention on Halloween unnecessarily overshadowed All Saints Day on Nov. 1 as well as All Souls Day the following day.
"This is a Catholic school, and the emphasis should be placed on saints rather than scary, gory costumes for Halloween," Galardi remarked.
Drake said she and Holy Family Elementary School haven’t totally done away with Halloween fun, noting that she brought Halloween cupcakes for her students on Oct. 29 and a Halloween dance was held there in the early evening of Oct. 22. Still, she said the students have completely embraced the importance of incorporating saints into their activities at that time of year.
"What’s nice about it is, they do so much research that they really learn so much more about the saints," Drake said, adding that dressing up and acting out the saints’ lives "really gets them excited about the saints. Anytime you do hands-on, the kids are more interested. They really feel like they’re a part of the saint; they can take ownership."