Ghosts of Halloweens Past

I have always been rather ambivalent about Halloween.

I tend to think of Halloween as primarily a kids’ holiday that, as a childless adult, doesn’t really have that much to do with me.

Then there’s the whole religious thing, both the Jewish one and the Christian one.  I get a good laugh reading novelist Adam Langer’s description of how kids in Hebrew school are told that this is a Christian holiday named for St. Halloween.  He’s kidding, of course, but if you’ve been through a Jewish religious education, this is funny in a bitter sort of way.

I remember being five and six years old and being allowed to go collect candy from a few old ladies who we knew on various floors of our walkup in the Bronx.  After that, however, I was supposed to be old enough to understand, via my Orthodox Jewish education, that trick or treating is just not something that Jews do.  We have Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Passover.  The goyim have Christmas, Easter and Halloween.  On Thanksgiving, all of us eat turkey, although “theirs” is a Butterball and “ours” is an Empire.

I had been an adult for a couple of decades before I began to understand the Christian objection to Halloween as a Pagan festival that glorifies a host of images related to the occult.

So if the Christians and the Jews are both opposed to Halloween, why do we still celebrate it?  Considering the objections of most of the United States’ major faiths, one would think that this holiday would have faded into obscurity long ago.

I think it comes back to the kids, to our nation’s insatiable sweet tooth and to the boost in the economy resulting from the purchase of everything from tacky Halloween costumes to candy corn to plastic jack-o’-lanterns.  I was in the Goodwill store today to make a donation, and they had all the racks set up neatly by category — angels, devils, witches, vampires, feather boas.  (Feather boas?)  The place was packed.

It’s always about money, isn’t it?  It’s not much different than the commercialization of Christmas, about which I expect to encounter much hand-wringing in the next couple of months.  No one seems to care who you worship these days, as long as we all worship money.  (Goodness, I am getting bitter in my old age!)

I suppose there is some part of me that longs for a more innocent time when there weren’t so many Christian radio stations decrying Halloween as a tool of Satan and when the Jewish and Christian kids of suburbia ran about the streets in packs, dressed as hobos, witches, black cats and pirates, all collecting Tootsie Rolls and Bit O’ Honeys along with pennies for UNICEF.  The days when we’d load up the station wagon and head up to Dressel Farms for donuts and cider fresh from the press, bringing home pumpkins to cart into our elementary school classrooms on the school bus.  The days when you could still hang a bunch of Indian corn on your door and light a candle inside a pumpkin shell on your front step without being a sinner.  Sure, things weren’t perfect.  We weren’t allowed to take any apples because they might have razor blades hidden inside.  But all the neighborhood kids stuck together and no one worried about being lured into a strange car and being kidnapped by a rapist.  We all ended up back at home, safe and sound, with a huge load of trick or treat candy that we fought over with our brothers and sisters even though the vast sugar haul would last us at least until Thanksgiving.

Back then, Halloween was still fun.  None of us were scared out of our wits by Freddie Kruger or bloody apparitions jumping out at us from the darkened interiors of “haunted houses.”

The only thing we had to be afraid of was our next dentist appointment.

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2 thoughts on “Ghosts of Halloweens Past

  1. I think that the popularity of Halloween also reflects that a plurality, perhaps even a majority, of Americans, are not doctrinally strict in their religious beliefs. This has been true among American Jews for a while, although the growing ultra-Orthodox population may change it. Among non-Jews, secularization may still be a strengthening trend, although religious Christians have higher birth rates than less religious Christians.

    • I agree, Janon. Although Halloween was originally a religious holiday, all the religion has been secularized out of it over the centuries. It makes me think of Christmas, which has become so commercialized and secularized that many Jews have no problem celebrating it. Jingle bells, Christmas tree lights and presents for all! It is no wonder that each year I see signs (online and off) proclaiming “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” This is not unlike the Conservative and Orthodox factions of the Jewish faith, in which services are conducted wholly or mostly in Hebrew in an effort to avoid secularization and assimilation. I can understand the various faiths wanting to guard their traditions for themselves rather than having them pureed into commercialized mush. Perhaps this is what, over time, happened to Halloween. Candy and costumes for all! No devil worship or Wiccan theology required.

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