“Mommy, I want to be a princess for Halloween!”
Dear reader, I need you to understand my very early, and very strong, resistance to all things princess culture for my first daughter. My husband and I loudly encouraged friends and family to gift us gender neutral clothing and avoided all things associated with a certain mouse who resides in Florida. Somewhere between daycare, themed birthday parties, playdates, and a second daughter perhaps mellowing me and my husband out a bit, we relented and came to peace with the princess.
So, my daughter was a princess for Halloween and her sister was a witch (quite a nice narrative balance, if you ask me). In preparing her costume, we started talking about what she would need and what exactly made a princess a princess. “You look like a princess on the outside, but what makes a good princess on the inside? A princess is a leader, right? What makes someone a good leader?”
Kindergarteners, it turns out, have pretty great ideas about strong leadership. Some examples from my daughter:
“A leader is someone who is kind to everyone.”
“A leader asks if people need help.”
“A leader stands up for people.”
“A leader shows people how to do things and tries it before everybody else.”
When you consider leadership through this prism, Leo the Great has leadership characteristics any aspiring princess should emulate. Celebrated today, Saint Leo I was canonized in the 17th century and remains an inspiring leader in the Church, sharing the titles of “Doctor” and affectionate suffix “The Great” with only Saint Gregory I.
Leo showed great leadership by finding humanity in those considered his enemies and encouraging peaceful resolutions to conflict. Thanks to his willingness to meet Attila the Hun and his troops after their invasion of Italy, they withdrew. Just three years later, Saint Leo would again prevent the deaths of thousands of Romans and Vandals when Gaiseric and his troops captured the city. Thanks to Saint Leo’s willingness to meet and negotiate with both leaders, Rome was saved from total ruin. Saint Leo shows us that leadership is not synonymous with might, but instead with doing what is right.
Good leadership means standing up for what you believe in and Leo the Great was not afraid to share his convictions with the world. In his lifetime, the Church was still in relative infancy and disputing the very fundamental beliefs that would shape its future. The Tome of Leo, emphasizing that Christ has two Natures in one Person, was read at the Council of Chalcedon and framed the creeds that are still spoken at churches around the world.
In talking about princess leadership models, I am also quick to remind my daughter that she might want to trade in that tiara for a broom and dustpan. Christ reminds us that true leaders must first serve those around them and not think themselves too important for any task. Saint Leo was not afraid to get involved with the daily, less than glamorous tasks of his role. He organized the fire department in Rome, supervised the distribution of grain, and oversaw the various charities that were established in response to growing need in the city.
All this to say I did not intend to talk with my 5 year-old about a Catholic Pope from the 5th century while getting her dressed for trick or treating, but Saint Leo really did provide a helpful frame for understanding powerful leaders and how they can change the world. While I might still be on the fence about princess culture, we will always emphasize strong leadership qualities in our daughters- no matter what they choose for Halloween costumes.