Image by Rachel Levin (www.creaminta.com)
I admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. I grew up with Halloween. Like every kid in my neighborhood in suburban Philly, I carved a mean pumpkin, threw a sheet over my head and visited all my neighbors. I came home with bags of candy, a few prized candy apples (from the hippies in the neighborhood) and ate til my stomach hurt. I was not possessed by demons. There were no witches coven meetings or any other pagan rights involved, just good clean American fun.
So what’s wrong with that. Its true that the origins of Halloween in pre-Christian European folk religion are a little obscure. It was some kind of day of the dead where the spirits of the departed would come back to earth and wreck havoc if not given some sweets to placate them. Mischievous little children with a natural sweet tooth made great stand ins for ghouls and thus the trick or treating was born.
The church didn’t like this so much so they co-opted it (a great strategy by the way) and made it into an “All Saints’ Day” associating not just with dead people but with really good dead people. The apotrapaic sugar fest was replaced by a Mass and Communion (and maybe a piece of cake afterwards).
It’s true that Neo-Paganism is kind of a fad. Wicca has gone mainstream. If there were still Yellow Pages you could probably look up your local coven in them. Maybe a few churches still have All Saints’ Day Masses. I don’t think I know any pagans and I am pretty sure those cute little kids cramming my doorstep tonight will not be demon worshippers.
So what is the problem? Jewish Law is pretty clear that virtually anything connected with an idolatrous history would be unacceptable. (See the Appendix on Halloween). Isn’t that just a technicality? Perhaps there is something deeper and more accessible behind it.
My faith teaches me to be a GIVER not a TAKER. I am commanded to GIVE charity., even to give 10% of my income. On Purim, I am commanded to GIVE gifts of money to the poor and gifts of food to my friends. From earliest childhood I put coins in my child’s hand to put in the charity box, so that her hand should become accustomed to giving.
Halloween is about taking. It reinforces the “gimme gimme” culture that creates all sorts of badness. It has created a nationwide epidemic of cheating in schools and a culture of callous lack of integrity in big business. Maybe it begins with the little kids and candies. It begins with the expectation that all you have to do to get something sweet (be it a Hershey-Mini bar or a Ferrari) is wear the right clothes and be at the right place at the right time.
So, though I will miss the smell of the smashed pumpkin, and the shocked look at seeing a 53 year old Chassidic looking Jew at their door, I think I will skip on going out tonight.