Since Purim is a holiday that’s not necessarily on the radar of people unconnected to the Jewish world, whenever I find myself needing to quickly explain it, I usually end up calling it the “Jewish Halloween.” There are enough similarities to warrant a comparison. They’re both fun, involve dressing up in costume, a significant amount of nosh, and parties. Also liquor, depending on how you do Halloween.
But as fun as Halloween can be, I feel it’s a disservice to the awesomeness of Purim to just lump it together with that spooky holiday. While there may be some parallels, I think Purim is way better. And here’s why:
1. First off, Purim is an all-day affair. This gives plenty of time for the kids to enjoy their costumes and, more importantly, means that it’s not too late in the day when we’re going out and about. I’m a huge fan of not having to deal with the dual difficulty of sugared-up kids and a later than usual bedtime.
2. Another asset is that our kids don’t just receive treats, they give them out. Not just from a large bowl of snack-sized candies left on the front porch, either. It’s a mitzvah to give mishloach manot, which includes two types of ready-to-eat food, to at least one friend. It’s even better if those can be given to someone you’re on the outs with, or a new neighbor, or someone who otherwise would be lonely.
So while my kids will still be getting a cavity-inducing amount of candy, they will also be connecting with others in the way that only giving can create. It’s beyond sweet to watch the excited expressions on their little faces when they get out of the car to deliver their parcels to a recipient. I’m having nachas just thinking about it.
3. Since the mitzvah requires two types of food, there’s a chance that something remotely more nourishing than soda and Laffy Taffys will cross our threshold. My kids may not eat it (though you never know, sometimes I get lucky), but I certainly appreciate having something more substantial than chocolate to nosh on. Though please do keep sending the chocolate.
4. Speaking of more substantial foods, there’s hamantaschen. Halloween has nothing on this traditional food. My social media accounts have been filled with a wide variety of this scrumptious snack, from the standard poppy seed filling to more adventurous fillings, like pizza. Or brisket. Brisket!
5. Another thing I consider a plus is that there’s less of a chance of ghoulish costumes to alarm my small children. I’ve seen families dress up as zombies for Purim, but the majority of costumes seem to fall more along the family-friendly and non-scary spectrum. Unless you consider clowns scary. I have no solution for that.
6. As if giving mishloach manot wasn’t enough altruism for one day, on Purim there’s also a mitzvah to give charity, and no one should be turned away empty-handed. I’m always a fan of getting my children used to and excited about giving. Purim can kind of be like a bonanza of teachable moments on this topic.
Often there are bands of roving yeshivah students who will, instead of saying trick or treat, grabbing some loot, and leaving, come inside the house and make merry. I love how they bring some levity and festivity to the otherwise thankless task of fundraising by singing songs or doing silly shtick. My children also get a big kick out of the “big boys” who come around, usually during the festive meal.
7. Which brings me to the Purim meal. Keeping in line with the typical Jewish holiday pattern of “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat,” it’s a mitzvah to have a nice meal on Purim. The kids get to run around and play with their friends and/or neighbors, and the grown-ups get to enjoy some adult interaction. And drinks, which is another mitzvah.
So while dressing up and walking around getting candy is fun, Halloween just can’t compete with Purim. I’m happy my kids will experience the pleasure of giving, spreading love and friendship. That they will have the opportunity to give to those who have less than we do. That the joy and meaning of this holiday increases and matures with them as they grow up. That they will finish off the day surrounded by community, celebrating centuries of tradition, and the miracle of continued Jewish existence.
I suppose the next time I’m trying to explain Purim to someone who doesn’t know about it, I could tell them that it’s “Jewish Halloween, except so much better.”