Walking down the street here in Brooklyn, we are practically under a Halloween assault. It’s a riot of pumpkins, multicolored cobwebs, skeletons, and scarecrows. My 4-year-old calls out her favorites (pink cobwebs, in case you were curious) and even the baby can point to the pumpkins. There’s a house five blocks away that turned their entire front stoop into a pirate ship with a skeleton crew, and the witty folks on our walk to school have a spooky version of Instagram (they call it Instaghoul, and I giggle inside every morning).
I grew up celebrating Halloween. In fact, I never knew it was something that some Jews didn’t do until I got to college and someone lectured me on how its pagan origins made it something that Jews specifically shouldn’t do. I suppose that’s true—Halloween certainly was once something deeply religious, and not for the Jews. But that’s just not how it feels these days, at least to me. The majority of those celebrating Halloween in America aren’t doing it for religious reasons anymore.
Some would say I’m deluding myself—that today’s Halloween cannot be divorced from its origins. They’d argue that celebrating Halloween, as a Jew, is practically the same as celebrating Christmas as a Jew. I disagree. I think that part of being American is celebrating the holidays that Americans celebrate—not that Christians celebrate, but that all Americans celebrate. So that means Thanksgiving, Labor Day, the Fourth of July, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day–and though it’s not a national holiday, Halloween. (I’ve already talked about my feelings on Valentine’s Day.) Because Halloween isn’t a religious holiday of the Christian majority culture that we live in here in America, I believe it’s different. Celebrating Halloween isn’t assimilating into another religion, but it is assimilating into my nationality: American. That’s something that I want to do, and something I want my children to do.
Even though I draw a distinction between Halloween and Christmas, there are a lot of similarities between them–on the streets of Brooklyn, that is. My neighbors don’t just go crazy for Halloween. They decorate for every holiday, but especially for Halloween, Easter, and Christmas. Of course there’s the few Hanukkah decorations here and there, but December is really just covered in Christmas lights, poinsettias, and Santa Claus.
Last year, when my daughter was 3 years old, I was able to write it off a bit. I explained that we’re Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah, and other people are Christian and celebrate Christmas. And that was that.
But last year Christmas and Hanukkah were at about the same time. This year, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Hanukkah is so early that it’s coinciding with Thanksgiving. When I heard that, my first reaction was “Oh crap.” Because it means that we will have almost four whole weeks of Christmas music, decorations, commercials, shopping, and everything–with nothing to mitigate it. No Hanukkah to distract the Jewish kids. Nothing to make them feel special when their Christian friends are celebrating the most fun holiday of the year.
So what will we do when, in the time-honored words of Adam Sandler, “You feel like you’re the only kid in town without a Christmas tree?”
I don’t know yet. For now, I’m celebrating my American-ness and going full-on Halloween. See you on the streets–I’ll definitely be trick-or-treating.