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Oct 27 2011

Why We Celebrate Halloween

By at 1:36 pm

halloween candyHalloween is on Monday. I can’t stand Halloween.

I’ve never really enjoyed dressing up, and I find the constant ringing of the doorbell annoying. Besides, most of the candy isn’t even chocolate, so what’s the point? Before our daughters got old enough to notice the proliferation of pumpkins and skeletons and witches in our neighborhood, my husband and I had a long-standing tradition of turning off all the lights and hiding upstairs. We were Halloween curmudgeons, and we loved it.

Our dislike of the holiday hasn’t changed much since we became parents, but we have started acknowledging it. I took the girls to a pumpkin patch, and we’ll be painting our pumpkins tonight. Our younger daughter will be a monkey this year because it was the cheapest costume available at Costco, and our older daughter will be a ladybug, because that was the only costume we could find that met both of our requirements: she was desperate for a tank-top dress (tank-tops are her latest obsession; a decidedly unhelpful one as winter approaches), and I insisted that the ensemble be reasonably modest—a surprisingly challenging task given that we were looking for size 3T. Who dresses their preschooler up like a slutty doctor? (That’s not a rhetorical question, people. I’d like names, please. There needs to be a conversation here.)

We’re going to a small Halloween party at a neighbor’s house. We’ll go trick or treating in our town center, gathering candy from the local merchants and admiring the murals that neighborhood children have painted on their windows. I hope that in a few years my girls will be painting them, too.

Yes, I know, Halloween isn’t a Jewish holiday. And I don’t even like it. Why not just nix it?

It’s a tempting thought, really, but I think we’ll be dressing up and begging for candy for the foreseeable future. Like over half of the Heebs on the planet, we are diaspora Jews, which means our lives as Jews, and as parents, will be spent struggling and balancing and questioning and figuring out where we fit and where we don’t and how we build a life of Jewish traditions, beliefs, and practices in the context of our lives in mainstream America. We all draw our lines in the sand of observance for different reasons, and our comfort with those lines change over time.

I guess my line, as of right now, has to do with the nature of the holiday. We don’t have Christmas trees or dye Easter eggs, because at their core, those days are Christian celebrations, which makes them explicitly not Jewish. But Halloween? Halloween is about acknowledging the changing of the seasons, honoring the dead, dressing up in costumes, and eating candy. None of these traditions are in direct conflict with Jewish practices, as far as I can tell, and we find similar themes in the Jewish holidays of Sukkot and Purim, for example.

That I don’t find Halloween to be a threat to my Jewish sensibility or our Jewish home is just part of the picture. We live in a pluralistic society, and a diverse neighborhood. Halloween is one of the few holidays of the year that my daughters can share with all of our neighbors, and they love it. The kids compare costumes, share candy, and pull each other’s wings and tails. The sense of belonging is a powerful one, and shared experiences bring people together and cement relationships.

I’m actually looking forward to hanging out with my little Monkey and Ladybug this weekend. But don’t kid yourselves—once the girls go to bed on Monday night, Josh and I will definitely be turning out the lights and hiding. I can’t wait.


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