Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trick or Treat?

It's that time of year again when convents across the U.S. field calls from hopeful partygoers: "Do you have an old habit that I can, um, borrow for a few days?" That's right, folks. Nothing like having a "nun" at a costume party to bring out the, um, best in people.
So what's the nun's take on this?
I suspect that most of our callers think of the habit merely as a (somewhat peculiar) uniform: nothing more than a general sort of identification of membership in some sort of association. They don't realize that the habit was blessed when it was given to us: that it's a sacramental, in other words (making it really inappropriate as the butt of jokes). Our habits are also consecrated by their history: the lives of the dedicated women who wore them before us (some of them saints, and some of them....women whose human weakness disappointed and hurt us). Anyway, our habits have a heritage. And when we wear them, we are reminded to make the best of that heritage available to people here and now.
Costume-party nuns (especially those who make hyper-sexual alterations to the dress) don't seem to realize that they are ridiculing very real people--and the values that motivated them to enter the religious life. I suspect that in great part this is because most people have not seen sisters in habit. We are almost like fictional characters from an imaginary world.
Then there are sisters and communities that do not wear a determined habit. How many people would go to a costume party dressed as a Sister in a plain skirt and blouse (perhaps purchased from a thrift store a few years back), with a community cross on a thin chain around her neck? Where's the fun in that? The costume-party queries seem to say that the habit makes the nun "real."
Then there are the devout people, like one secular Carmelite I met through Twitter. She just wanted to be sure there would be nothing untoward about her dressing in a nun costume to give candy to the children who came to her door. (Personally, I can think of few things more charming.)
I'd be very interested on getting other sisters' takes on this.


Chris said...

What do sisters think about someone representing themselves as a historical nun at an event like a Renaissance festival?

Since I recently joined the Catholic church and am in my late 40s, there's little chance I'd ever become a habited nun myself, but I think it would be splendid to depict a historical version.

Many thanks for any comments or opinions.


Sr Anne said...

Context is everything! Mainly, I have reservations about the costume-party variety because in so many cases, the use of the habit is a kind of punchline to a joke that sneers at values that are sacred to me (especially purity). When the habit is used as an historic form of dress, you have a totally different context.

Sr Anne said...

Sure enough, some --- on Twitter just sent me an @ message linking to a sex site.

sr_mary said...

I have had the same experiences, and agree. People don't THINK ... about the habit being blessed, about it being a sacramental, about it being denigrating even if they don't intend it to be. Men wearing habits is distasteful, but I’m sure I would be told I just don’t have a sense of humor. And it does seem that many ‘hyper-sex’ them, as you say.

One aspect not mentioned: wearing a habit as part of a saint-costume (i.e. Mother Theresa) is fitting, as long as it’s done with reverence. A colleague told me about one costume party, where a woman dressed as Mother Cabrini (who had begun a foundation in the area) consumed too much alcohol, making a mockery of the habit as well.

A few years ago, I was taking some classes at a local community college. Walking to class on Oct. 31, several people stopped me to say, “really well done.” I had NO CLUE what I had done… until I walked past the cafeteria and the room was full of people in costume. They thought I was wearing a costume! So much for witness value!

Katie P. said...

At Loyola, we're spending a lot of time talking about the way the image "nun" gets socially constructed and the possibilities are all way out of whack. The image "nun" has popularly been portrayed as 1) childish, 2) comical (think "Nuns on the Run,""Sister Act") or 3) hyper-sexualized.

So bizarre because *none* of the *nuns* I know exhibit that in the least...I mean, like, less than least. So I have a feeling it's because the public sees "your world" (these are the people, also, who refer to it as "the nunnery") as disconnected from "reality," mystical and mysterious. So they make up asinine stories as to what may actually be going on from the ideas they have available to them.

What studying sociology has taught me is that a massive majority of people are clueless. If they would turn to religion as the context to have their questions answered about this particular group which is rooted there, they would see the answers are simple and meaningful.

Instead, they will continue to dress as "Slutty Nuns" on Halloween and think it's hilarious. Which it is not. At all.


Tom Lang said...

Here a sad commentary on how far we have fallen. Last Halloween, my then 5 year old daughter wore a traditional black and white nun's habit to her CATHOLIC school and NOT ONE of the children knew who or what she was dressed as! One young boy even asked, "Are you supposed to be a witch?"

As a result of so many Religious Sisters not wearing their habits anymore, children today have virtually no idea what nuns are. Any surprise that vocations are so terribly down in all but the Orders that continue to wear habits? It is a self-fulfilling certainty that those non-habit wearing Orders have caused their own inevitable demise.

Anonymous said...

I am a sister who wears a habit and I agree with you completely. However, I have to share a little story from last Halloween. Some of the young sisters decided to make costumes to entertain our older sisters at our little Halloween party. We only had to go buy one small part of our costume at the Halloween store - sure enough, there was a man buying a priest and nun costume which was very inappropriate. Well, you should have seen his face - he was certainly surprised to see us! Hopefully our presence was a witness of the truth of our lives. I think the only time nun costumes for Halloween are appropriate are when children dress up as their favorite saint, or just a nun in general. It is innocent and expresses a beautiful desire for the things of God. Thank you Sister for your wonderful post!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a sister yet, but am in formation, and have a slightly different take on people wearing nun costumes. I think intention is everything. If someone walks into a party in an inappropriate nun costume, or wears an appropriate nun costume and behaves inappropriately, it's offensive. However, we can't jump to the conclusion that every costume-party nun is looking for a punchline. I know a decent number of women, myself included, who were costume-party nuns for a very different reason. For me, it was a safe way to try on the idea of being a sister before I was ready to explain it to anyone, even if it was just for a few hours.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that the habit is more than just an ordinary uniform or outfit.
I agree with Anonymous #2...
I dressed up as St. Teresa of Avila for an All Saints day Mass and party some years ago (I didn't borrow the habit, I made it myself). I always see Religious Sisters, Priests, & saints as my heroes (I'm a daily-Mass goer, so...)

One of my friends for this year wants to be a Sister for Halloween, and was asking one of the Pauline Sisters if she could borrow a habit. I'm not so sure if I should be against this or for this...? She's nice, but she can be a little, um, crazy sometimes. I just hope if anyone's dressing up as a nun sets a GOOD and REAL example to the kids.
Anyone who dresses like a Sister and acts insultingly is kinda like a doctor who's killing people. Ew. Totally wrong.