Making Peace with Halloween

Ronit Sherwin

Ronit Sherwin

I enjoy the fall – the change of colors, the cooler temperatures, exchanging shorts and t-shirts for sweaters and jeans. As much as I enjoy the long, relaxed nature of summer days, I embrace transition and change of seasons. I also have to admit my relief at the conclusion of the Jewish holiday marathon from Rosh Hashanah to Simchat Torah. I can now take a breath and enjoy the season of fall.

In America, fall translates in the marketing world as Halloween and Thanksgiving. Once Labor Day has passed, the Halloween paraphernalia hit the shelves in full force. As a child, my siblings and I fully engaged in Halloween. Back in the day, we paraded door-to-door without a curfew and without parental accompaniment, filling pillowcases (literally) with candy. Now, as a traditional Jewish adult, I do not celebrate Halloween with yard decorations or costume parties. But as someone with a strong sweet tooth and a sweet spot for children, I do buy candy and enjoy watching the little ones approach my door in disguise.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

A few years ago my friend Michael, a rabbinical student neither born nor raised in America, sent an e-mail out to his synagogue and fellow rabbinical students in an effort to learn how families have dealt with Halloween in their households. The responses were varied and all fascinating. Some acknowledged the non-secular and non-American origins of the day (being a pagan Gaelic festival which eventually merged with the Christian feast of All Saints’ Day, as Michael reminded all in his e-mail), and therefore responded that as Jews they taught their children it is not OUR holiday. Others disregarded the origins and focused on its current practice of candy and costumes, being harmless to Jewish values and Jewish identity. Others spoke of it being simply American, like Thanksgiving. Many shared that they too engaged in distributing candy and embraced the harvest theme (of pumpkins and gourds) as Sukkot decorations.

Michael’s quest for advice was prompted by new parenthood and a consciousness to decide family practice regarding Halloween. As a new parent myself this Halloween, I sympathize with Michael’s desire for a consistent family observance of this day. My kids are still a few years away from understanding what happens on this American holiday. In the meantime, I think I will simply continue to do what I have done for a number of years now – buy some good candy, turn on the porch light and wait for the little goblins to appear. Oh – and eat some birthday cake. My solution to the Jewish Halloween dilemma: give birth on Halloween. Happy birthday, kiddos!