October 31, 2014 by Melanie L.
Earlier this year, Purim and St. Patrick’s Day followed in close succession creating a festive celebratory weekend for all. Though each holiday is rooted in different religious beliefs and ethnic practices, the two holidays have traditions that to some extent resemble each other. I dressed up and drank and reveled in the fact that my neighbors were doing the same thing on the same night, albeit for different reasons.
I was thrilled that for the first time in – maybe ever – that my Purim observance helped me blend in with my non-Jewish neighbors rather than stand out. The fact that I dressed in green, wore green mardi gras beads, and donned my daughter’s tiara with a paper clover taped to the front didn’t mean I had forsaken Purim for St. Patty’s Day. I felt that I could have my Irish cream hamentaschen and eat them too.
But then, Halloween fell on a Friday this year. My kids, ages 5 and 4, have always trick or treated. We have also observed a candle-lit screen-less Shabbat dinner every week for the last two years. I had introduced Shabbat dinner as something exotic and exciting to look forward to all week. To heighten the effect, I had withheld juice and most desserts until Shabbat. It worked: my kids love it and I feel connected to Judaism in my otherwise secular existence.
The current confluence of holidays, however, posed a celebratory conundrum. How do I give up observance of the most important Jewish holiday in favor of – of all things – a pagan-origin tradition? Conversely, how do I welcome the Sabbath without turning my kids off to Shabbat altogether by denying them the night of pretend play and candy they had long awaited.
First, I decided that Shabbat and Halloween were not necessarily mutually exclusive. After all, my kids needed to eat dinner no matter what. My daughter could dress up in her finest dress that just so happened to be a princess dress. Certainly, there’s no Shabbat prohibition against eating (kosher) candy or taking a small walk through the neighborhood. So far, so good.
Yet, here’s the gray area. My son wanted to wear his cute blue plush monster costume. While that is obviously not a Shabbat practice per se, he’s five. Pretend play is age-appropriate, and I would have supported his desire to wear it to dinner on any day regardless of Shabbat’s confluence with Halloween. My children would, however, carry totes on our Shabbat walk around the neighborhood. Ok, so you got me there: they did labor under the weight of burgeoning bags of candy. Notwithstanding that one indiscretion, I had decided that my kids could dress up and trick-or-treat without infringing on the sanctity of Shabbat.
Next, I took my thoughts one step further. I dug through the Halloween traditions hoping to find a nugget of Jewish wisdom and I indeed unearthed a mitzvah! Is there any concept more Jewish than loving your neighbors?
For my children and I, Halloween had less to do with its pagan origin than it had to do with being neighborly. Our neighbors blocked off the street and hung a sign written on the back of a discarded diaper box “Children under 5 trick-or-treating.” They sat on their stoops, handed out candy and spoke sweetly to my children. I saw the parents of my children’s classmates, complimented my neighbors’ decorative efforts, smiled and had fun.
When we came home, I spoke to my children about the importance of loving our neighbors, tolerating differences, and respecting our own identity as Jews. We didn’t “celebrate” Halloween. We hallowed our Shabbat.