I love all things Fall. In fact, today we took our daughters to a huge pumpkin patch with farm animals, corn mazes, and hayrides. We enjoyed eating fresh corn on the cob and drinking warm apple cider. The beauty of Fall (almost) makes me forget about the sparkly blue beach of Summer.
However, with Fall comes one holiday that I am ambivalent to: Halloween.
Growing up, I was not permitted to celebrate Halloween, as my father told us that it was a holiday rooted in pagan culture. It was not open for discussion. By the time I reached middle school, my mother allowed me to go to school-sponsored Halloween events. When I got older, Halloween was a time in college for dressing up and having fun.
Fast forward years later, and I have three daughters, ages 7.5, 6, and 1. When the girls weren’t old enough to comprehend Halloween, I didn’t do anything to celebrate it. It wasn’t until my eldest daughter was in public school in kindergarten when the words “Halloween” and “trick-or-treating” came up. We were fairly new in our neighborhood, and friends that we made asked us to join for trick-or-treating. As the girls kept asking to go, I paused and remembered my elementary school self, when I always felt left out of the Halloween fun. I decided that it was alright for us to join. To me, Halloween was/is more about friends getting together and children collecting candy while walking through picturesque neighborhoods with big trees and colorful leaves than anything else.
I have always made it known to my daughters that Halloween isn’t really one of our holidays. I don’t make a big deal about it as I do with the Jewish holidays. I don’t decorate the house and I don’t buy my children Halloween costumes. They either wear old Purim costumes or whatever dress-up clothes are sitting in their overfilled toy chest.
But this year, however, my mother-in-law decided to buy them witch costumes that they were excited to wear. And then I realized Halloween is on a Saturday this year, i.e. during Shabbat.
So I began to Google “Halloween and Jewish” in order to justify why it is harmless for us to celebrate Halloween this year. All I needed was one article to convince me. Just one. Of course, I found about 20 articles that did the exact opposite. I knew that Halloween was a pagan holiday. But I also read that Halloween glorifies and celebrates magical powers, death, witchcraft, and evil spirits. Of course, Jews are not permitted to worship saints or idols, as it goes against the very core of Jewish values. In stark contrast, Shabbat is a beautiful time of celebration of life and growth of the inner soul.
I thought about my little witches trick-or-treating on Shabbat, a beautiful time that is supposed to celebrate life. I thought about how our synagogue, at the end of our block, would likely be empty of kids on Saturday morning services, as it was competing with Halloween.
My husband thought it was a bad idea to take Halloween away from the girls since they were already gearing up for it. I understood his point, especially since it was something we have allowed them to do in the past.
So I figured that at the very least, I would educate them about Halloween and that why, especially on Shabbat, it was something that did not “fit” with being Jewish. My goal was that we would go to services Saturday morning and then in the late afternoon, we would go trick-or-treating.
As parents, we have to pick and choose our battles wisely, especially when dealing with delicate situations. If you force a decision, you will get nowhere and fast. This is certainly true when you are trying to take away something precious, such as mountains of candy and dress-up. What I have found to be most effective is to talk things out and allow them to reason and come up with the right decision…with, of course, a little direction and guidance from yours truly.
My oldest daughter woke up first. I told her that since Halloween was coming up, I wanted to learn more about it, and so I was reading about its meaning on the internet. She was intrigued, and so I proceeded to tell her what I learned. I also told her that I was very surprised to learn that Halloween fell out on Shabbat this year and that it was sad that most Jewish kids would probably choose trick-or-treating over services. I asked her what we should do.
There was a look of genuine concern on her face, and I could see the wheels turning in her head. She said, “Well, I don’t think we should hurt God’s feelings. I think it would be a good idea for us to go to services and visit God in his house. This way, he knows that we are thinking about Him, even though it’s Halloween.” Success! I thought.
But what she said next was something I absolutely did not expect. She said that when Halloween falls out on Shabbat, we should not celebrate it at all, and instead do something “Jewish” like go to synagogue and spend time with family. She also decided that she would save her witch costume for Purim, and that instead of being a scary witch, she would be a good witch with pretty makeup, since Purim is a happy holiday. I was kvelling!
My middle daughter eventually rolled out of her bedroom, and we discussed everything again. True to her personality, it was initially met with protest and dismay and then tough negotiations. But she listened to her sister’s reasoning and was promised five treats that day. The lack of dressing up, apparently, did not bother her.
They said that they would tell their friends at school that they would not be trick-or-treating this year, but that we would be sure to leave a bucket of candy outside our house for the trick-or-treaters. I told them that was a very sweet idea.
Perhaps the biggest lesson my daughters learned through all this is that it’s OK to be different and to follow what you believe in, even if it is not the easy or popular choice. My hope is that they will always continue to do what’s right for them, whether it be religion, resisting peer pressure, or anything else.
I told them that I was very proud of them for being different, but that as Jews, we have been doing just that for over 3,000 years.