Tonight is Halloween. Another pagan ritual; right up there with the celebration of New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Halloween, however, is one that my father particularly hates; though I don’t exactly know why. Regardless, as I sit here waiting for the doorbell to ring, different thoughts of Halloween come to mind…
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One Halloween, when I was in high school, I remember my mom buying bags of candy from Waldbaum’s. When we got home and started putting the groceries away, she placed the assortment of treats high up on the top shelf of the pantry. She wagged her finger at my three siblings and me, and sternly warned, “Don’t you dare touch that candy. It’s for the trick-or-treaters.”
On the evening of Halloween, when it was time to get the candy ready to pass out to the costumed neighborhood kids, Mom retrieved the bags from the place she had stored them. Immediately she noticed that one of the bags had been opened and it was clear that a few of the chocolate bars had been eaten. She had a fit! She started yelling for my father to come into the kitchen, and then ranted and raved as she told him about how she specifically told the four of us not to eat the candy. “Look,” she screamed, “the bag was ripped open and it’s half empty.”
My father became furious. He shouted upstairs to us (we were getting into our costumes) and commanded that we get down to the kitchen, “front and center on the double!” We rushed down the steps, lined up, and nervously looked at each other. “Who ate the candy?” he demanded. No one moved. No one spoke. “Who ate the candy??” my mother interrogated in a higher pitch and louder tone. Again, no one moved. No one spoke. “It didn’t get eaten by itself!!” She became more pissed off, more irate by the minute. Eventually, one or more of us started crying. “Get out of my sight,” she screamed.
The incident was never discussed again.
Many years later, at a random family dinner, I got up the nerve and asked, “Remember that Halloween when Mom got so mad because someone opened and ate from the candy bag? Time to confess. Who did it?” My siblings started talking all at once; each denying eating any candy. I knew I certainly hadn’t eaten any. My mother looked perplexed. “Come on,” she said, “it doesn’t matter now. Which one of you did it?” No one moved. No one spoke. Then, at long last, in a soft quiet voice, someone said, “I did.” We all turned and just stared…at our father.
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Though most Jews see Halloween as a secular holiday, the scary dress up themes of “other worlds” – witches, sorcerers, mediums, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, etc. – are strictly forbidden by Judaism. Throughout the Hebrew bible, there are twenty-four different warnings to avoid or kill these supernatural types.
Jews have a holiday in the springtime called Purim. That is our chance to dress up, play games, be silly, and have fun. We don’t need to be followers; we can do our own thing. But, in the same way that many Jews feel left out during Christmastime (no lights or trees for us!), it’s even more difficult to be different on Halloween. After all, when the cute, little, dressed up trick-or-treaters come to your front door, are you really going to keep your lights off, door closed, and refuse to give them candy?
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On my way home from work this evening, I called my parents. I teased my dad, asking him if he planned to dress up tonight and if he had candy ready for anyone who might come by. He reminded me that no families with young kids live in their adult (a.k.a retirement) community; in addition to the fact that probably eighty percent of the residents are Jewish. “Not to mention the high number of diabetics who live around you,” I laughed. “Yeah,” he said. And after a pause, “in a strange way it’s kind of sad.”
I agree. It is sad. I rushed home and only nine kids stopped by tonight. Now, I wonder if I’ll ever take my grandchildren trick-or-treating…