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Hallowe’en vs. Purim

I don’t do Hallowe’en. Never have, and, I hope, never will.

Most of the time I tend to forget that we’re in a religious and cultural minority. But then K brings home notices from extracurricular activities inviting the children to wear their costumes to class and asking parents to send treats for the group. The first such notice I got threw me into a minor snit – I hate Hallowe’en! – until, eventually, I remembered that I’m in the minority here, and largely by my own choice.

I suppose you could also call it a religious decision, but looking around at the Jewish families who do celebrate Hallowe’en I’ve begun to realize that it’s not so clear cut for everyone. Nevertheless, I feel that Hallowe’en expresses values that are the opposite of what Judaism teaches us, and what I’d like to teach my kids. If you contrast Hallowe’en with Purim, the Jewish dressing-up-and-eating-treats holiday, you’ll see what I mean.

Treats. On Hallowe’en, children go from door to door in their neighbourhood requesting treats (or, as is often the case, demanding treats.) The goal seems to be to amass as much candy as possible from as many people as possible, including complete strangers (I don’t have anything against complete strangers, but I get a bit miffed at being expected to provide candy for a bunch of kids who would otherwise never even say “hello” if I saw them out and about.) On Purim we deliver gifts of food – baked goods, candy, fruit, drinks – to family members and friends, as well as neighbours we know or would like to meet. We also receive goodies, of course, but the focus is on the giving.

Dressing up. In this department the two holidays seem about equal. On Purim, as on Hallowe’en, anything goes. Even cross-dressing, which is prohibited by the Torah, is permitted on Purim.

Decorations and general theme. The theme of Hallowe’en is death, gore, and horror. I’ve got nothing against the pumpkins and witches that grace some front lawns, but I’m truly creeped out by faux corpses hanging from trees, front lawns turned cemeteries, and severed limbs dotting the landscape. It just seems so macabre, and so unnecessary. Purim, on the other hand, is a giant festival. Decorations are often colourful, glittery, and just outrageous – more like Mardi Gras that Murder She Wrote.

Demographic. While there are some adult Hallowe’en celebrations, the holiday is mainly aimed at kids. Purim, on the other hand, is a religious holiday with certain religious obligations that apply only to adults. Children have fun on Purim, but it’s the adults who really have to celebrate. That being said, non-religious Jews frequently relate to Purim as a children’s holiday. Pity.

Broader Message. Last time I checked, Hallowe’en didn’t have a broader message (I know that those who celebrate it as a holy day would disagree, and they’d be right, but I’m talking about the Hallowe’en celebrated by the majority of Canadians and Americans.) The story of Purim does: from it we learn to recognize and defeat evil, to remain connected to our heritage, and – most importantly – that many things in our world are hidden and disguised, including God’s intervention.

This year was the first year that K has asked us about Hallowe’en and Trick-or-Treating. “We don’t celebrate Hallowe’en,” I told her. “It’s not a Jewish Holiday. We have Purim, where we get to dress up and take people treats and have a big party.” K’s eyes lit up and she began reminiscing about last year’s Purim feast with the dinner in disguise.  The day after this conversation I overheard her at one of the extracurricular groups’ parties saying, “I don’t celebrate Hallowe’en, I have Purim. But I dressed up anyway because I wanted to come to the party…”

Hey, if we can tackle Hallowe’en so easily, the predictable Christmas envy should be a breeze.

Tell me about your Hallowe’en. Eventful? Non-existent? Do you love it or hate it?