Purim — A ‘Jewish Halloween?’ That’s a scary thought


Halloween is one of my favorite childhood holidays (aside from the eight days of Hanukkah), and even to this day, the best part remains my guiltless binge on bite-size candy bars. Even though I don’t dress up like a scary witch with frizzy black hair anymore, at least not on purpose, I still like to welcome the full harvest moon with much spirit. To put my family in the mood for the upcoming winter holiday season, I decorate my home with glowing jack-o’-lanterns, scented candles, and dangling graham cracker character ornaments that seem to multiply each year.

The only other holiday that even comes close to the excitement of costume parades and candy exchanges is Purim, and the festive commemoration of evil Haman’s defeat doesn’t happen until the spring. By the way, the differences between the American holiday of Halloween and the Jewish celebration of Purim are significant. For starters, Halloween glorifies death, as in ghosts and goblins, which is a grim thought, but have you seen some of the frightening costumes lately? Purim, on the other hand, celebrates life with rowdy parties and a meaningful story about the survival of the Jews of ancient Persia.

Also, on the eve of All Saints’ Day, children revel in tricks, pranks, and superstitions; Purim teaches the lesson of mishloah manot, or making gift baskets for friends, family and those in need. Finally, the masks we wear on these two holidays are night and day. On Halloween, many of us disguise our true selves behind gruesome faces; whereas on Purim, Jews reveal their inner souls, called pinimius, and let it all hang out with uninhibited dancing and another round of Schnapps.

Ironically, Jewish families who live in a common secular community such as mine probably participate in the customs of Halloween more than they do Purim. Perhaps that’s because Halloween, just like Christmas and even Hanukkah, has become so commercialized. In fact, for many people, the popularity of Halloween ranks right up there with the belief in Santa Claus himself.

When the holidays become big business, the religious significance gets lost, and Halloween is no exception. With Halloween, the religious influences have pretty much disappeared like an apparition, at least among the general population. Halloween, which actually means the evening before All Hallows or All Saints’ Day, originated in the eighth century when the Roman Catholic Church decided to honor the sanctity of all saints. The ancient pagan rites that go along with Halloween also focus on witches, sorcerers, and evil spirits, which make for good storytelling at haunted houses.

The truth is, on a drizzly Halloween night, I’m not thinking about theology when I watch Sari-the-jester and Jack-the-jock run ahead of me and ring more doorbells in one night than the Avon Lady does in a lifetime.

Instead, I’m thinking about how I can sneak smashed Whoppers from the bottom of one of their heavy pillowcases without them finding out.

I’m not thinking about any Druid symbolism of sacred cats when I admire an adorable trick-or-treater whose black-painted whiskers match her leotard outfit and long, curly tail. Instead, I’m admittedly jealous of any mom who makes her kid’s costume, while I overpay for a piece of nylon that falls apart by the time we leave our driveway.

As I carry a flashlight in one hand and a video camera in the other, I’m not thinking about Celtic beliefs of sinful souls and animal sacrifice. Instead, I’m worried that the chili I made for dinner is boiling over the stove by now.

I’m not thinking about the pagan New Year’s feast in which ghosts supposedly dress in costumes and hang around the tables of food or when they roam the roads with fairies on Halloween night and curdle milk among other mischievous acts. Instead, I’m feeling melancholy because Jack, now 11, probably will outgrow this trick-or-treat tradition next year, and memories of him dressed as an orange-headed baby pumpkin are preserved in a photo album. At least Sari still shares my enthusiasm about Halloween. And when she gets too old to pretend she is Pocahantas, I always can dress Luci in a Superdog outfit.

The Mishegas of Motherhood is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to [email protected].