As I sat down at my desk this morning to write my column, surrounded by costumes and pumpkins and having just had an argument with my kids about candy (yes, before 9 a.m.), I thought, “It’s probably time to write about Jews and Halloween again.”
I say again because in 2013, I wrote two columns back to back about Jews and Halloween. I just reread them, and they still hold up, although some parts of the experience have evolved now that my kids are four and six and have been exposed to a wider range of options and expectations.
First, you should read this column about why celebrating Halloween can be an important communal experience for Jews in America, and then this column about why celebrating Halloween is not like celebrating Christmas.
I’ll even go further this year to say that while I don’t advocate for celebrating Halloween purely because otherwise Jewish kids would feel left out, rather, the opportunity to be part of a community experience that involves giving and receiving and being friendly with your neighbors actually represents a variety of Jewish values. Now, of course, this only holds up if you live in a place where people are outside celebrating together, but I do, and I know a lot of you reading this do, too.
Since you may be wondering if this self-referential reverie is going in any particular direction, here are some specific suggestions:
- Talk to your neighbors. Find out if they’re planning to be outside, what time, whether they’re dressing up, etc. If my point holds that this holiday should be about getting to know your neighbors, then talk to each other before, during and after the trick or treating.
- If you have kids, involve them in the experience in multiple ways. Help them to think about what costumes they’ve outgrown and whether those could be shared with other kids. If they want to decorate pumpkins, encourage their creativity rather than your own vision, even if things get a little messy. If they want a particular costume, have them help find or make it. Most importantly, they shouldn’t only be getting candy; pace your night so that they can spend some time at home giving away candy, too.
- Lighten up. Halloween is yet another instance where social media has enhanced the pressure some people feel to have something to share. If you or your kid is wearing nothing but a bed sheet for a costume, great! If your pumpkin is lopsided, who cares? (Certainly not the squirrels, who will eat it overnight regardless.) If your kid eats too much candy, fine, it’s just one night. If no one has any fun, OK, you can rethink your strategies for next year.
- Part of what’s nice about Halloween is the chance to do something fun that’s really low stakes. Thanksgiving typically has a lot of family pressures surrounding traveling and eating and getting along. New Year’s often has a lot of peer social pressures to make amazing plans. Jewish holidays have the weight of ritual and observance plus family and communal obligations. Halloween has none of that. So whatever you do tomorrow night, the best part is remembering that it doesn’t much matter either way.