Here comes Halloween! For some Americans, this is THE holiday, more than July 4, more than Thanksgiving, more than even Christmas. People plan their costumes months in advance, lay in supplies of candy for trick-or-treaters, and decorate their front yards.
The origins of the holiday go far back in European history. Some say it originated in the Gaelic festival of Samhain, which was then re-cast into the Western Christian calendar of All Hallows’ Eve, a prelude to the holy day All Saints Day on November 1. As a little Catholic kid, I grew up with All Saints as a “holy day of obligation” – a day when we got off school to attend Mass. It was a very big deal, and Halloween was linked to it.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Halloween isn’t a Jewish festival, and its origins are pagan and Christian. What’s a Jew to do about Halloween?
My own practice is to have some candy ready, should little children stop by. It isn’t a Jewish holiday, but hospitality is a Jewish value, and I’ll be darned if I am going to turn children away from my door in disappointment. I don’t decorate, I don’t make a big deal of it, but if someone rings my doorbell in search of a goody, they’ll get a goody. This isn’t my holiday, but I can practice Jewish hospitality in the midst of it.
Here’s why I don’t dress up or decorate for Halloween:
- “Trick or Treat” does not match up with Jewish values. Sure, the treats can be hospitality, but the threat of mischief – even jokingly – smacks of extortion.
- Judaism already has a costume holiday for jokes and mayhem. Come Purim, I’ll dress up and get crazy and do it within the tradition.
- I grew up Catholic, observing All Saints Day. For me, Halloween’s Christian origins are real and apparent.
- I’m busy! I have Shabbat every week, I am still recovering from the High Holy Days and Sukkot, and before long it’ll be Chanukah. Really celebrating the Jewish year gives me plenty of holidays already.
I can hear some readers saying, “Oh, rabbi, don’t be such a spoilsport! It’s a secular holiday!” or even “Rabbi, it’s easy to say all this, you don’t have young children.” I hear that. It’s hard to stand back from colorful, fun celebrations. But just as I can enjoy my neighbor’s Christmas lights, I can enjoy her Halloween decorations without needing some of my own.
There are many holidays I don’t celebrate because they aren’t mine: Beltane, Chinese New Year, Eid al Fitr, or any of the many Hindu festivals, and Easter. I live in the wildly diverse SF Bay Area, and I have friends who are Wiccan, Chinese-American, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian. I might be invited over for a holiday, and that’s cool. I’ll return invitations come Passover and Sukkot.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you and your family. But let me suggest a question you might ask: if you make time for Halloween, do you make time for Shabbat? Are you going to make just as big a deal of Purim? What are your plans for Chanukah? For Passover?
We have our own round of holidays and festivals, and they can keep a Jew pretty busy.