Halloween, the crisp fall air, the fun and freight of dressing up, haunted houses and trick or treating. My memories of being a young child and the thrill of the scare make me nostalgic for the simpler days in my life. Growing up as a Reform Jew in Southern California, there was never a question of whether I would celebrate this holiday in all of its traditional, American glory. Costumes, parties, tricks, treats, and candy. What is there not to like?
Now that I have kids of my own, and have more of a focus to find meaning and connection to my Jewish heritage, I find that Halloween is pretty much considered treif by most conservative Jews. Disappointing, but not surprising. Halloween has never been associated with Judaism and is traditionally a time for witches, spirits and divination. Of course, I am not a witch, I am a Jew. So what does Halloween mean to me and why do I choose to celebrate it?
It’s essentially a silly, secular holiday. Do I really need to appease the “spirits wandering around” with candy? Do I need to dress up to represent those wandering spirits?! Lord no. I dress up to celebrate my American roots and traditions. Heck, it’s only been celebrated here in America for the last 100 years. It may seem old to me, but relatively speaking, a new practice.
Most traditional rabbis argue that trick-or-treating is best avoided. Some children are easily scared. Some Jews choose not to go trick-or-treating. Instead, they will celebrate in other ways like roasting pumpkin seeds, eating fun food, bobbing for apples and listening to Halloween themed songs. Although these celebrations may be viewed as alternatives to participating in a foolish custom, it’s still celebrating the holiday. So I ask these Jews, why stop just short of trick-or-treating?
I view Halloween as a secular holiday, no different than Thanksgiving or July 4th. It’s an evening filled with harmless fun and free candy. I think many American Jews see nothing wrong with that. In the end, it’s up to you to decide for yourself how you view the holiday, and how you would like your family to celebrate, if at all.
I can still remember the rubber mask my dad bought when I was about 7. He sat on the porch all night and scared the kids that thought he was a dummy in a chair. It is a memory I will never forget and will appreciate forever. So, for all the reasons you may decide not to celebrate, I’m celebrating for one reason only; To give my sons the opportunity to create and cherish their own Halloween memories.