Those of us who love cats don’t usually have much trouble working them into just about any event.
Once, as a friend’s matron of honor and sole attendant, I ended up having to plan her bridal shower all by myself. She was a staunch cat person, and therein lay my inspiration; I bought a lot of Victorian cat decorations, which I hung around the room. She happily took them home with her, and I think that she liked them even better than some of her shower gifts.
But what about a cozy, informal fall gathering … something that celebrates both the season and cats? Well, it’s very doable. With autumn comes not only Halloween but also the Blessing of the Animals and Black Cat Awareness Month.
There you have it — the perfect set of reasons to have a cat-themed party in the fall.
A Feline Trifecta
We tend to think of the Blessing of the Animals being a purely Christian ritual, and, in fact, it usually takes place on or around October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.
However, some believe that the practice actually originated with the ancient Jews. It is still observed in many synagogues, according to writer Jon M. Sweeney. “[T]he Jewish ceremony is often performed on the seventh day of Passover (in the spring) as a celebration of the Hebrews’ (and their animals’) emancipation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago,” he explains. “Such an occasion reminds humans to care for their pets as if they are more like companions than slaves.”
But many synagogues also hold the event after the high holidays in the fall, when the Parashat Noach — the Torah portion dealing with Noah, the first animal-rescue worker ever — is being read.
A blessing ceremony doesn’t necessarily have to be held at a place of worship. A pet store or even a hospital works, as the Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, has shown. “The Blessing of the Animals is meant to give individuals with animals a chance to reflect on the positive connection they have to our physical and emotional health,” says Bradley Harmon, the hospital’s director of mission integration.
We all know about the connection that black cats have with Halloween. But what many people don’t realize is that October is also Black Cat Awareness Month.
Black cats and mostly black cats (think Sylvester, the tuxedo cat of Looney Tunes fame) are tricky to rehome, many shelters and rescue groups find. They refer to this as the black cat syndrome.
“Unfortunately, in the U.S., many people associate black cats with witches, Halloween and other negative superstitions that are far from reality,” observes Furkids, the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that operates, among other things, the largest cage-free, no-kill cat shelter in the Southeast. “In fact, black cats often suffer cruelty and harm during the Halloween season.”
Black Cat Awareness Month is a way of turning the negativity around and showing that black cats are, in Furkids’ words, “like onyx — a beautiful gem.”
Celebrating the Cat
Back to your cat-themed fall party … here are a couple different approaches that you can take in setting it up.
It’s pretty obvious: a black cat/Halloween party. That’s right — embrace the stereotype and make it easy on yourself. Black cat toys and ornaments are everywhere this time of year.
And if you’re going for vintage, you can hit the antiques and thrift shops. There you’ll find the quirky and the unusual: black cat wind chimes, a black cat nutcracker and a large King of Cats in robes and a crown ready to play centerpiece. I’ve even come across a very old orange silk pincushion decorated with black cats.
Throw in a pack of cat tarot cards, and you’re good to go. There are many varieties — black cat, white cat, pagan cat, mystical cat — and even if you’re not into divination, they are often artistically stunning.
One caveat: Do not purchase any of those grocery-store Halloween cats who shriek when you press them. The ungodly noise could lead to some redirected aggression on your cat’s part.
Check out this totally adoptable black cat, Pierre:
Pull out all the cat dishes, mugs and serving trays out of the cupboards — the more eclectic, the better. You can be as fancy or as casual as you like about the food.
But Mostelland puts out a riesling wine in bottles shaped like stylized cats. These bottles come in a myriad of colors and are highly collectible. A friend once brought several bottles to a dinner here as party favors, and everybody got to pick the color they liked best.
After dinner, you can goof around with the kitty tarot cards or play Cat-Opoly (instead of Park Place and Boardwalk, you get to buy Persians and Maine Coons, and the tokens include a sardine can and a bottle of milk). You can all pool old cat books and other gently used cat items and hold a mock auction, bidding with paper money.
Or you can just do what cat people like to do best: Trade stories about your cats. In the end, it’s all about celebrating them and the blessings they bring into our lives.