We are driving in the car on a bright October Sunday afternoon and my 6-year-old son is asking his usual 10 million questions. I’m pretty good at concentrating on the road and satisfying his curiosity at the same time, until he notices the person dressed in a hotdog costume waving his hands on the side of the road.
“Is there a hot dog restaurant nearby?” he asks.
“No,” I answer.
“A baseball stadium?”
“So why is that man dancing around like a hotdog?”
“Hmmmm… I don’t know,” I begin. And then I concede, adding, “Maybe he’s trying to sell costumes.”
“Oh, you mean for Halloween.”
In our home, we don’t do Halloween. All of these years, I have been strong, refusing to participate in what I see as a pagan ritual, as non-Jewish as they come. But each year as my child gets older, his friends talk in more detail, his questions pierce a bit more sharply, and I have trouble sticking to my kishkes, my Jewish parenting guts. I explain that Halloween is not a Jewish holiday. But this year my child’s response is that his Jewish friends are celebrating Halloween, too.
Which brings me to….
Halloween Jewish lesson #1: Just because your friends are doing something does not mean you need to do it. Peer pressure starts so young these days. By not caving into his request based on the fact that his friends are doing it, I am teaching my son that we do not need to succumb to peer pressure. Admittedly, it is hard to be the different one, and I’m sorry that my son, who attends a Jewish day school, will feel left out, but we can find other ways to give him treats—even candy—so that he can still feel special after Halloween, all the while staying true to our beliefs.
Halloween is about ghosts, trickery, fears, and superstitions. Historically, people dressed in costumes so as to not be recognized by ghosts that they believed came back to earth during this dark and scary night. Similarly they left bowls of food outside their homes to appease any ghosts and keep them away from their homes.
Which brings me to…
Halloween Jewish lesson #2: Instead of giving candy (or food) to keep people away from our home, we open our home for Shabbat and holidays and as often as we can. Instead of quickly handing off candy at the door, we welcome friends and neighbors into our home (not on Halloween—on other nights!) with good food and conversation. We are teaching our children the value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests.
Sure, we buy candy and hand it out to the children that ring our doorbell. I explain to my kids that we are doing a mitzvah by helping our neighbors participate in their holiday.
Which brings me to…
Halloween Jewish lesson #3: As my son hands out candy to the trick-or-treaters, I want him to do so with a smile, respecting and honoring the traditions of others even if they are not our own. In this way I am teaching him the Jewish value from Pirkei Avot, hevay m’kabel et kol haadam b’sever panim yafot, greet every person with a cheerful face. Look someone in the eye! Smile! Get to know the real person!
And finally, speaking of faces, here’s…
Halloween Jewish lesson #4: You will find the best Purim costumes—at a great discount—on November 1. Get excited now for Purim, a Jewish holiday in which we celebrate how Queen Esther did not succumb to peer pressure, how Mordechai practiced radical hospitality when he took in his niece, Esther, and how eventually the Jewish people celebrated a victory together, sharing in the communal joy and merriment, getting to know each other. These are the lessons and values I want to teach my children on Halloween, and every day.