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Oct 27 2010

The Halloween Grinch

By at 10:29 am

My daughter just turned 1 and we celebrated by giving her a cupcake and going to the zoo. I couldn’t bring myself to host a party. It was too cold to have it in the park and my apartment is already too small for the three of us. So, the idea of inviting over several couples and their offspring was not entirely appealing.

This is not what I expected from myself. That is to say, I thought that my entrance into motherhood would make me want to partake more in group activities, not less. But I couldn’t really get into all those mommy groups and playgroups. I just don’t feel like doing all the things I’m supposed to do.

But I’m a joiner, really!

And now it’s Halloween. And everybody is asking me what my daughter, Mika, is going to dress up as. And I’m getting that same itchy feeling as when people asked me about what I was doing for her first birthday. Do I really have to put her into a costume? What am I supposed to do, dress her up like one of her favorite things–a cracker shaped like a bunny?  A strawberry? Or that book with the flaps that makes animal noises?

I think on Halloween we’ll just stay home and look out the window at all the kids trudging through the streets in their funny costumes. And we’ll eat some strawberries and bunny crackers.

Oct 25 2010

Why Halloween Ain’t My Thing

By at 9:46 am

I’m a lot of fun. I like roller-coasters, drinking sake, and hiking cliffs and ravines, choosing to hop boulders wherever I can. I like almost every sport you can name, I like making up silly songs for my kids, and I like spontaneity in all forms. For all intents and purposes, I can guarantee you this: I am fun. When it comes to Halloween, though, I have what some might call “issues.”

Issue #1: I don’t like scary stuff.

As much fun as I like to think I am, ghoulish monsters, people sneaking up on me from behind dark corners, spooky music, and gory make-up are just not my cup o’ tea.

I should add that our boys are very innocent and sensitive, and partially due to the fact that they do not watch television, they are pretty unadulterated in the scary/spooky/make-believe is supposed to freak you out department.

When our older son was a toddler, Halloween displays would cause him to hide his face and cry as he shook his head back and forth – “NO!”- against my chest until we would remove him from the offending storefront. I once unknowingly parked his pumpkin patch wagon under a life-size creepy gorilla statue at our local pumpkin patch, and only when I looked back at him to see why he had stopped speaking to me mid-sentence did I realize that he was literally paralyzed with fear.

Issue #2: I don’t like my kids to eat a lot of candy.

Ok, now I am kind of sounding like I am a ball of not fun; I know. But hear me out: I enjoy sweets, and I find a treat here and there fine for my older son. As vegans, we have to pick much more carefully what we consume in the sweets department, so we consequently end up eating less sweets than most people if only for the simple reason that the things we can eat are more scarce (we are not much fun for the candy manufacturers who place their wares in the supermarket check-out aisle for example). That being said, my older son had his first sweet at the age of 2 while visiting our family in Israel, and he enjoys a modest sweet once in a while. Fortunately for me and his dentist, he doesn’t really have a sweet tooth and it’s sort of a non-issue; we don’t keep candy or cookies around and he doesn’t really ask for them.

Our younger son is just 2 and he has virtually no desire for anything sweet. I don’t know exactly how we accomplished this, but he would not even partake of his recent birthday cake. Putting all of that together, a holiday that exists to a large part around the consumption of candy and sweets sounds like a problem waiting to happen for me, my husband, our boys, and our dentist.

Issue #3: I don’t like trick-or-treating as an activity for small children.

By now, you probably are totally 100% sure that I am indeed not fun at all, but I simply do not see anything fun about a bunch of small children who should otherwise be tucked into bed snoring gently walking around the streets in darkness wandering from house to house screaming for sweets and potentially getting scared. Now that my older son is 5, he thinks being scared is a neat “big guy” thing, but I also believe strongly that his sweet bravado might crumble in the face of a front yard grave replica, a mummy behind a curtain, or a Freddy Kreuger mask. And then we would be far from home, he would be tired, cranky, and potentially embarrassed and it would just not be… fun.

Now that I have convinced you that when it comes to Halloween, I am not really fun, let me convince you how we make it super fun, and no one feels left out or left behind or scared or anything not fun.

Solution #1: No forcing the scary.

Much as it is inconvenient at this time of year, I don’t need to force my kids to be something that they are not. Their innocence and sensitivity is a feature of their personalities and they will soon enough be calloused by this hard cruel world. For now, I avoid reasoning with them that there is “nothing to be afraid of,” and I help escort them from regions of stores that are scary. I emphasize that it’s not just about being a “big boy,” since some big girls (like Mama) also don’t like being scared. As they get older, they will discover for themselves their comfort level with scariness, and I will one day perhaps be holding their strong and brave hands for protection as we make our way through the drugstore.

Solution #2: Chill out on the candy control and make a little indulgence okay.

This may not work for everyone, but in our family’s experience, a little fun in the food department works, and we don’t have problems reining it back in once Halloween ends. We put limits on sweets: how much (“One or none!” we say with a sincere smile), what time of day (never in the morning, and never before bed), and what kind (thank goodness for vegan substitutes for butter, cream, and gelatin!). This year, I have decided to make a vegan toffee bark as our special Halloween treat. It will be the main sweet we indulge in, and I will let my boys choose the things we decorate it with.

Solution #3: Make your own traditions.

Our favorite alternative to trick-or-treating is organizing a daytime get-together with a simulated “neighborhood” where kids go “door to door” to collect their goodies. We have done this in the park with each family standing at a designated spot with a basket of their items to hand out (non-candy treats are welcomed!). This satisfies the exploratory and adventurous nature of kids at Halloween, and it seems to do the trick, forgive the pun. In our homeschool community, we have park days where we dress up and have a parade, and we also make other activities during the week of Halloween costume-friendly, where appropriate.

The other thing we do as a Jewish family is to appreciate Halloween as an American funday, but to understand that in the Jewish tradition, our fundays also have historical, spiritual, and religious content to them. So for Purim, we don costumes, eat fun food, and we also go to Temple to celebrate a brave Jewish Queen who saved the Iranian Jews from near extermination by the evil Haman thousands of years ago. This emphasis doesn’t mean Purim is better than Halloween, it just means Jewish and secular holidays are different and thus they get different attention.

In our house on All Hallow’s Eve, we eat fun foods like mini egg rolls and vegan chicken nuggets, bob for apples in a deep bowl, carve pumpkins, hang some decorations, and invite over my parents and a few close friends who don’t have kids but want to be a part of a family celebration of this fall festival.

And we have fun. We have fun because we are together doing things with our hands, we are eating special foods and treats we don’t normally eat, and we have fun because we have found a way to be ourselves at a time in our culture where there sometimes seems to be only one way to be.

So this Halloween, I can promise you that I won’t be scared, I won’t be fighting with my kids over candy, and I won’t be walking the streets in darkness. And I will be in the most fun outfit of all: my pajamas and slippers. And if that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what does.

Oct 20 2010

Halloween for Jews

By at 1:04 pm

If we’re really going to get into it, the pagan-originated Halloween might not be totally kosher for Jews to celebrate. BUT, if you ask me, any holiday that involves trading all your banana Laffy Taffy’s for fun-sized Snickers bars can only be considered one thing: American.

Lest you really want to deprive your kid of the one day it’s actually okay to take candy from strangers, I’d say go ahead and celebrate the spooky night. If you still want to ensure this kind of  behavior doesn’t lead to devil worshipping, you can even dress your little one up in a Jewish-themed costume, for good measure.

My personal favorite is Torah Boy, seen above, which is pretty self explanatory. And, okay, hilarious. You can purchase it at the same website that also sells Chasid Child, which features a shiny gold coat that is a little harder for me to understand.

Granted this Hamantaschen Costume probably  makes a little more sense to wear at a Purim celebration, I would still be delighted to see one of these delicious cookies strolling the streets with a plastic pumpkin full of chocolate in tow.

Cracked.com’s list of the 20 Costumes That Will Earn You a Halloween Beating features “Super Jew” at #10, which only seems to consist of a Star of David bib and Jesus-like sandals, so maybe I wouldn’t go with that one.

And for all you adults that want to get in on the costume fun, I have a brilliant idea for you. All you need is a handful of foam mattresses, 50 sticks of hot glue, and eight cans of spray paint, and you too can become one of the most classic (and scariest) Jewish figures, the Golem:

Happy Halloween!

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