“When do we get to hand out candy?” my children ask. Repeatedly. For most of October, even earlier when the stores start setting up their Halloween sections in September.
Notice that my kids don’t ask about getting costumes or going trick-or-treating. This year is the first time they have contemplated anything beyond answering the door: they want to be a ghost-in-the-box or panthers . . . to give smiles to the neighbors who come to our door.
I admit that the decisions that led to this reality were hard. I remember asking colleagues what they do with their kids and watching Facebook posts to see what else I might be able to learn from the American Jewish niche of which I am a part. My random sampling yielded such varied results that it helped little in advancing my thinking. In the end, I focused on three values:
- What I will call “Jewish otherness”
- Civic engagement
- Respect for religion
With these values in mind, I struck a balance between the point-counterpoint of my friend, Rabbi Jason Miller. I have taught my children that Halloween is a religious holiday that deals with spirits like ghosts, goblins, witches, and the like. I reaffirm that as Jews we do not believe in these characters; for us, they are pretend. [Later, I will have to teach them about spirits in the Jewish tradition, but I am fairly sure that they will not associate King Saul’s woman of Endor with the black-hatted, broom-riding witches of today.] That covers value #1.
The reality, however, is that Halloween is about more than its original concerns. The night has become equally, if not more so, about candy and trick-or-treating. Here, I find it not only reasonable, but also compelling to acknowledge the holiday. As good neighbors (another Jewish value), I believe we must turn on our light, welcome the strangers who ring the bell or knock, and give them a treat. We get to see members of our community we know well or barely ever see. We enjoy a bit of awe and wonder at the creativity of the human mind as we gaze upon artful costumes and artful explanations for lack of design. Given my family’s good fortune despite the passing eye of Hurricane Sandy, I think it even more important this year to welcome neighbors with our lights on. While, I do not know if we will be able to engage in this civic encounter tonight, I hope we do. It is value #2.
Lastly, I reaffirm for my children that others, for whom Halloween is serious, are worried about being scared or tricked by the spirits of this night. In that vein, we have focused on the treat in trick-or-treat. We do not decorate our house with cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns, or graveyard images. The lights are on. The candy bowl is full. We are hopeful for a season of light during the oncoming winter. We live value #3.
When all is said and done, there is still candy in the bowl to put in lunchboxes for weeks. My kids seem not to feel left out; they are apart, Jewishly, and a part, civically, of the night. Besides, as they will tell you, costumes are for Purim and candy celebrates the sweetness of Torah at b’nai mitzvah and on Simchat Torah. Happy Halloween!