I loved wearing my bubbe’s old dresses on Halloween. Even as a young girl, my body easily filled out the elegant gowns that my petite and glamorous grandmother wore in decades past. It was an exciting ritual to go through our family’s cedar closet, finding a treasure, and deciding if the dress made me look more like Purim heroine Queen Esther or Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold. Indeed, I was the kid with somewhat strange Halloween costume ideas.
Even though I was raised as an observant Conservative Jew, we definitely celebrated Halloween. My father (of blessed memory) wore a headband with huge ears and an elephant’s trunk on his nose. Sometimes he’d add a clown’s wig or large feet. He loved walking around the neighborhood with all of the kids–me and my sisters and a bunch of our friends–chatting with other parents, greeting the neighbors as they opened their doors, and grabbing some candy too. Halloween was about fun, family, and food. Sounds very Jewish!
I’m not opposed to Halloween, per se, but I do not find it necessary for our children to participate. Our older son attends a Jewish day school, and we are teaching both of our children to appreciate our Jewish heritage, holidays, and traditions. Halloween just does not fit in with that perspective, in our opinion.
While I enjoyed Halloween as a child, it means little to me as an adult, and my children are not interested in it. I agree with those who say that Halloween is just a silly night: take it or leave it. Participating in Halloween or not participating does not define who you are as a parent, an American (for those who claim Halloween to be “good old American fun”), or even as a Jew.
Sure, there are Jewish lessons to be learned from Halloween (and other ways to approach it, as I wrote last year), and there are also good reasons to avoid it altogether. And while it was fun for me as a child, it is not something I am choosing to engage my children in right now.
In addition, our younger son has Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic disorder that is the leading cause of inherited intellectual disability. He abhors any change: in regular clothing, in after-school activities, and in the expected routine of who comes to our home. Halloween is a nightmare for him–and therefore for us–so I am happier just leaving candy in a bowl outside the door.
Now that our younger son attends kindergarten at the local public school (where his special needs can be met), Halloween has become part of our lives, even if only a tiny bit. He will be encouraged to wear a costume at school and to march in the school’s Halloween parade. Our son has made great progress in the first few months of kindergarten, attending assemblies and participating in activities. But our past experiences with Purim (hating the costume, refusing to even wear a hat) and more recently, the High Holidays and Simchat Torah (not wanting to take part in the crowds, music and dancing), suggest that he will not thrive in an atmosphere that celebrates Halloween.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Halloween so far in my parenting years: The more rooted children become in our Jewish traditions, learning to value Shabbat, spending time at our synagogue with friends, and baking challah, for instance, the less I need to worry about outside influences like Halloween.
I respect those who get excited for Halloween. Ultimately, I believe we all want the same things for our children: that we give them strong roots (Jewish values, ethics, morals, and the ability to find pure joy) and that they develop their own very beautiful wings. And if those wings are on the back of a fairy princess dressed up for Halloween (or in my case, an angelic depiction of the Shabbat bride…yup, I did that!), then so be it!