There’s plenty of evidence to suggest Halloween is not a Jewish festival. Originally in May, the Christian festival of saints was moved in the ninth century to November, when harvests could provide food for pilgrims travelling to observe All Hallows.
Trick-or-treating evolved from a medieval European custom of door-to-door begging for ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers for dead relatives.
Even seen as a modern secular occasion, the festival has aspects contrary to Jewish values. Its celebration of death and the occult contrasts with Jewish emphasis on ‘choosing life’ and Torah’s prohibition of witchcraft or sorcery.
Handing out sweets at our front doors seems harmless (if perhaps not to dentists) until you remember the threat of ‘tricks’ unless ‘treats’ are provided. Children too young to tell the difference between fantasy and reality can be easily scared by costumed revellers, even without the recent creepy-clown craze.
Halloween may not be ours to celebrate, but it can still offer inspiration. As Tishri has just reminded us, the Jewish calendar is full of our own festivals. Imagine how enriched our Jewish lives could be if we poured into them the same energy and creativity that many people put into Halloween!
We have our own opportunity for dressing up and creating a little chaos at Purim; it’s never too early to start thinking about costumes, so browse those Halloween shelves for ideas! Instead of carving pumpkins, we can get artistic with the lights in our windows at Chanukah.
Succot encourages us to decorate our temporary homes and welcome guests into them; Shavuot invites late-night festive get-togethers. Purim and Pesach offer the opportunity to present food gifts to strangers, but there’s no time limit on keeping a bowl of change by the door to donate to charity collectors.
By cooking with seasonal foods to reflect the changing year, we have chance to make each Shabbat meal a fresh delight. Giving out sweets to callers can build friendly relationships with neighbours.
Beyond that, however, it might be easier to avoid feelings of missing out on Halloween when we truly celebrate our own festivals, investing them with love and creativity.
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