Friday, October 28, 2011

Life Without Halloween

Apparently Monday is Halloween. I didn't know that until today (Thursday). I knew it was coming, but I never bothered to look at the calendar.

Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child. I was never thrilled by Thanksgiving or Christmas. I would even venture to say that I dislike them. As you should have read already, I grew up in an atheist family in the South, which is not the ideal place for atheists. Atheism had already isolated my family from my extended family, creating my hatred of Thanksgiving and its emphasis on family. The all-consuming Christianity of the South made me feel that Christmas was not "my" holiday, even if my family did celebrate it.

But Halloween...that belonged to me as much as it belonged to anyone else! Even better (though it reveals some of my worst childhood personality traits), I was glad to see some Christians feel alienated from a holiday. It seemed fair to me, in a way.

I last celebrated Halloween when I was 21, which was 6 years ago. It wasn't a Jewish choice at first. The first year, I happened to be in India for a conference on Halloween, and then I was teaching English in France. Being abroad two years in a row, Halloween naturally fell by the wayside. During that time, I continued growing in my Judaism, but I don't think that I left Halloween for it. 

The Halloweens I knew were selfish and focused entirely on the physical. As a child, I was a candy glutton. In college, it was about being sexy and drinking too much. Once I stepped away from Halloween, I gained the distance to see it for what it was and what my motivations had been. I also like to think I matured a little in that time.

And that's why I lost interest in Halloween. Was it a Jewish choice? Yes and no, I think. I think the mindfulness that Judaism requires gave me the mental and emotional skills to analyze my actions and emotions.

It also helps that now I have plenty of holidays instead of the (only) three enjoyable holidays of my childhood: Halloween, New Year's, and the Fourth of July. 

Today, Halloween doesn't even rank on my radar. On the other hand, I don't think it's some demonic terribleness. I just recognize it for what it is, and that usually isn't enough to outrank even a quiet night with a good book. Honestly, I would rather stay inside than have my eyes subjected to "sexy bellydancers," "sexy skunks" (yes, the "stinkin' cute skunk"), and "sexy schoolgirls." The streets simply are not safe. But I would not turn down an opportunity to watch Halloweentown on the Family Channel!

That's my relationship with Halloween. What's yours?


  1. I give out candy to anyone who rings the bell, but I don't want to celebrate beyond that. I did dress up and go trick-or-treating as a kid, and it was fun. But I don't like the emphasis on graveyards/corpses/mummies or, as you mentioned, the hooker costumes. Some people celebrate with a focus on sex and death and I don't think it's done in a very spiritual way. Of course, not everyone does that and I don't think trick-or-treaters are going to hell. But the holiday hasn't yet evolved into a completely kid-appropriate event either, in my opinion.

  2. "I happened to be in India for a conference on Halloween"

    Halloween Studies? "Jack-O-Lanterns in the Light of South-Asian Gourd Growing Patterns."

    Sorry, couldn't resist. ;-)


    To answer the question seriously, when I was a kid in the bad old days of scary New York, there was a lot of egging. That combined with our wussy yeshivaness made Halloween a little bit scary. I think I didn't feel slightly fearful on Halloween for the first time when I was 17. Or was it 23? ;-)

  3. I don't understand why there are all those "sexy" costumes on Halloween, particularly for young girls, and I don't know why parents buy them. Many parents I know are quite frustrated when they can't find a reasonably modest costume for their daughters.

    We wear costumes at work for Halloween, and carve pumpkins to bring home, which I think is fun. I have never associated Halloween with drinking, but then I've never been much of a drinker.

    I do enjoy seeing the cute little kids in their (non-"sexy") costumes, but these days many schools and other groups hold Halloween parties and events to keep the kids off the street, so even though I live in a neighborhood with a good number of kids, very few come to my door for candy these days. That makes Halloween less fun for me than it used to be.

  4. While I don't believe I'll ever celebrate Halloween the way I did in the past (drank too much, wore a terrible unmodest costume) I do find that I'm a little sad every year now that I'm an adult because I like seeing the little kids dressed up and excited. I'd really like to hand out candy but none of the kids in our building trick or treat.

    I think the biggest question for me in this process is not whether I will continue to celebrate halloween but if I will let my future kids who will be raised in a community unlike any I ever lived in as a child.

  5. Halloween was huge in our family. Every year we'd drive into the city and trick or treat in my aunt's neighbourhood. When several sisters and I moved into a house in the city we actively work(ed) at being the best house in the neighbourhood. We hand out soda along with fistfuls of candy, and the kids love us. :D I was never into drinking or parties, so for me Halloween remains about spooky stuff and handing out candy. My mother's family is hardcore Irish, and that bit about Halloween being the day when the veil between worlds is thinnest? That's as much a part of my beliefs as tzedakah and tikkun olam. I couldn't separate from it if I tried. I can turn my back on many things, but I am still who and what I am, and I still have ties to my *other* peoples. Judaism might not approve of this bit of paganism, but it's not a religious holiday for me and never was; I'm not doing bits of magic or burning herbs or anything like that, so I'm okay with where I'm at with Halloween.

  6. I grew up in a very Jewish area (but to a gentile family) in the South. There were a lot of Modern Orthodox Jews there and some years they were off celebrating like the gentiles (except for if it fell on a Friday/Saturday of course). Trick or Treating included although they would tend to only go to other Jewish families or families they knew would have "approved" candy. Reform of course celebrated regardless and didn't care what their kids ate. Everyone handed out candy though. Only real difference was the Orthodox families (or the families that said they were Orthodox) wore much more modest costumes. Given it was mostly children dressing up, the modesty was very welcome!

    I always loved Halloween. I only stopped liking Halloween when I moved to Georgia. Then I started celebrating it as Samhain. This Halloween is probably going to be my last as a gentile so I feel like I should do something big, but I probably won't.

  7. Instead of July 4th? I can see having reasons not to celebrate New Years Day and Halloween for Jewish reasons, but without America, there'd be a lot less Jews in the world than there currently are. Not only did America give a place for Jews fleeing Europe to live and stay, it helped win WWII which is why there are actual Holocaust survivors instead of just Holocaust victims in Europe.

  8. Halloween was always my favorite holiday growing up.

    For me, there was something powerful about the idea of, for just one day or night, not only facing our fears, but embracing them and making them a part of us. By taking ownership of them, they seem to lose some power over us. I also liked the idea that for one day out of the year, anyone could be anyone or anything you wanted. The girl who no one looked twice at could be marilyn monroe, the guy that never made the team could be the quarterback. (I never liked the immodest costumes, but I liked the costumes.) People could make fun of the things that had previously hurt them or frightened them. I know a friend who had undergone radiation therapy for cancer who dressed up as a nuclear hazard sign. I know another who was treated for depression who one year had wild hair and a straight jacket.

    With all this, I thought Halloween would be hard to give up, but, like the pork ribs I thought I'd be craving, I found that when the time came...I was just ready. Halloween had served its purpose and now I didn't need it anymore. I still smile at the kids dressed up and I have fond memories, but I don't feel left out.

    There's not much to fear when you feel closer to Hashem, I guess and there's less reason to try to dress up as someone else when you feel like you've found the freedom to be who you are.

  9. Anonymous -

    Just because someone doesn't celebrate the 4th of July doesn't mean they don't love this country or appreciate its many contributions to the world.

    Truth be told, 4th of July these days is about parades, BBQs, and fireworks. If those things don't mean a lot to a person and they don't want to participate in them, that doesn't make them either unpatriotic or ungrateful.

  10. Originally posted: October 29, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    I never said I don't celebrate the 4th of July. I contrasted celebrating many Jewish holidays to growing up with only three holidays that had meaning for me. That's quite a different way of living! (And that was quite a leap of logic on the part of the commenter!)