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Originally published October 28, 2008. Republished October 31, 2011.
Editor's Note: Read an opposing viewpoint by Micah Sachs, How to Make Halloween Holy.
Before you have children, the choices you make for the holidays have limited ramifications. Just as you learn to balance the holidays between your family and that of your spouse, a child can add a whole new level of discussion. Once you have a child, you begin to think how your holiday celebrations can have a lasting effect on another human being. Your holiday celebrations will forever be in the memory of your child, who you hope will pass them along to their grandchildren one day. Holidays should reflect your values. I don't think Halloween does that for me.
Until my husband and I moved to Boston this year, the fall holidays always started with a trip to the Minnesota State Fair, where I would buy artisanal honey for our Rosh Hashanah table and lament about the end of summer. I was never too sad, because Rosh Hashanah was just around the corner. We would start the New Year with Rosh Hashanah services with our community and then share festive meals with our friends and family. We would also renew friendships with family and friends who lived away from us. Soon after Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur, which concluded with a break-fast party at our house with friends and family.
Before we knew it Sukkot was upon us, offering still more time to celebrate with friends. Sometimes, I feel like Sukkot is the poor stepchild of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because many do not celebrate it, at least not to the same degree. Sukkot is just as important and a lot more public celebration occurs. We were always excited to visit our friend and neighbors creative sukkahs. One of these years we will be organized enough to build our own. Sukkot is really our last time to enjoy the outdoors before winter comes.
Simchat Torah ends the Jewish holiday season. I have always looked forward to the joy of dancing with the Torah. When we lived in New York City, we were in a neighborhood where people dance until late at night on Simchat Torah. This year in Boston was the first time my son was able to dance at Simchat Torah services. He had a wonderful time clapping as we danced with him all night long and then again in the morning. I can't describe how overjoyed we felt, sharing this holiday with our little man.
Then comes Thanksgiving. For me this holiday is all about the annual ritual of visiting my parents, going to see the balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on Wednesday night and watching it the next morning. The rest of the day is with my entire family. Unfortunately, we do not all get together as much as we used to. Thanksgiving is still the one holiday where everyone comes home and as our family grows through marriage and birth, it is nice to see the table a little fuller every year.
Notice anything missing? I usually don't. Despite what everyone else does, Halloween is not part of my fall celebrations. There's no family meal or family activities associated with Halloween, unless you count parents chaperoning their children through the darkened streets to protect them from the various dangers associated with the holiday.
Now my husband and I face a dilemma. Should we let our 20-month-old son get dressed up and go trick-or-treating? Growing up, I did not go trick-or-treating. My Hebrew school made an effort to convince parents that Halloween was not a reason to miss Hebrew school. I didn't mind going to Hebrew school instead. But my husband grew up loving Halloween. He would like his son to have this experience.
I am not comfortable with the notion of trick-or-treat. I don't like the message those words send to children, encouraging them to shake their neighbors down for sweets with the threat of mild violence. I believe this encourages pranking and other anti-social behavior. In some places I've lived, teens egged cars, sprayed houses with whipped cream and wrapped trees in toilet paper. In some areas of the country, the pranking is heavy enough that police enforce curfews.
I do think costumes and candy are a winning combination, but, as Jews, we already have a holiday that combines the two: Purim. On Purim, we celebrate the Persian Jewish community's escape from extermination due to the wits of the young Jewish queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai. People in costume make noise and celebrate while the story of Purim is read, hissing at every mention of the story's villain, the Persian king's evil adviser Haman. Like Halloween, Purim has a tradition of giving away sweets. On Purim, you send sweets as an act of generosity to those you care about. Compare this to Halloween, when you give candy to children you've never met who threaten to prank you if you don't accede to their demands. On Purim, the sweets are called mishloach manot. Mishloach manot is the custom of giving bags of goodies to friends and family. Creating a mishloach manot theme and distributing treats to friends and families is a great family project.
For us, Purim will always be a special day because our son's bris was on Purim 2007. (No, we did not dress him up or name him Mordechai, but our friends did show up in costume.) We held the bris at our synagogue, Bais Abraham, in St. Louis, Mo., and then all of our friends and family joined in the Omelet and Mimosa Purim Seudah (festive holiday meal). As an added bonus for the rest of his life, his birthday party can be a costume party!
I don't want to emphasize Halloween, though I may allow Ariel to participate by dressing up as he gets older. I do not think that I will allow him to go trick or treating. I want the main holidays in my family to be Jewish, or oriented toward family or community, and I don't think Halloween qualifies.