Every year, we trick-or-treat in my parents’ neighborhood, my old stomping grounds, Rolling Oaks. We go there because no one trick-or-treats in our neighborhood and the sense of community and friendliness of my old haunt is extraordinary.
Plus, the kids get to trick-or-treat with their cousins and use their grandparents’ house as home base. I’m not sure whether they enjoy running house to house more or giving out candy back at the ranch.
They love running up to houses where fake fog wafts out from the porch. Where adults are dressed as zombies to hand out candy and eerie music plays from a CD player. Where lights flicker and illuminated jack’o’lanterns make for scary effects.
Their smiles are huge when they see the lengths homeowners have gone to, to decorate their homes and yards for this one day.
When I was Orthodox, we didn’t observe Halloween. We put a bowl of candy on the porch for any lone trick-or-treaters to take from and turned off the lights.
I’m working the metaphor hard here.
Many Orthodox Jews don’t observe Halloween because years ago, in Europe, it was a time when Gentiles pursued Jews in attacking and inciteful ways. Some believe that it has its roots in pagan traditions so should not be observed. And others don’t observe it because to do so would be to join mainstream American culture, which is not encouraged, now that religious freedom is ensured in this country.
After I left Orthodoxy, I re-embraced my childhood fascination with Halloween. The thing is, 10 years of Orthodoxy tempered my approach to it. While I never favored ghoulish or creepy or gross costumes, I certainly don’t now.
I’ve merged my approach to Purim (the Jewish pseudo-Halloween in spring) with my approach to Halloween. For Purim, kids are encouraged to dress up in costumes of people or figures they admire. We give edible gifts, rather than take.
On Halloween, my children never wear bloody costumes. They are always tasteful. We emphasize the fun of the day, the treats, not the tricks.
And so it becomes an opportunity to gather with community and friends and family and be in the moment. There’s nothing more exhilarating than watching my little guy step down from one porch and then speed over toward the next house with unbridled enthusiasm.
No worries about future or past. No to-do list to check off. No lists of any kind. We don’t even set an agenda of how many houses or which streets or anything. It’s just be here now, enjoy this moment, be together and see what unfolds.
Which is really how we should go through every day, isn’t it?
Holidays of any kind remind us to slow down and savor the moments. To gather with those we love and cherish and listen to the music of their voices.
To get creative. To nourish one another.
My mother made chicken nuggets and salad and dumplings for everyone to snack on before and after the arduous neighborhood trek. Every time trick-or-treaters knocked at the door, the kids tore away from the table to open the door and check out the costumes. They gave more candies to the ones they liked best or the friends who happened by.
Even my darling nephew who had kissed the pavement earlier in the day and ended up with two pulled front teeth was happy as could be last night. Painful afternoon forgotten, this moment right now.
I’m glad we’ve embraced the traditions of our nation. We’re still Jews who observe every single holiday that comes. But we’re also Americans, proud of our heritage, connected with our neighbors, sharing a common foundation of community and freedom to think, to act, to do, to make the world better.
I wouldn’t give up Halloween for anything now. It’s symbolic of what makes us a nation, united, with a common history and a common goal: peace, inspiration, betterment for all.