Holy Halloween

Holy Halloween | How a Secular Holiday Brings Meaning

I love Halloween and I have for about as long as I can remember. I’m not an obsessed, pinterest-y kind of Halloween girl. Usually, I throw on a tutu or a Wonder Woman t-shirt; no elaborate costumes for me. We carve a couple of pumpkins, usually with triangle eyes and sloppy mouth, no elaborate decorations for me either.

Even though I don’t go all out, I really do love the holiday. I’d go so far as to call it holy. Yes, you read that right. Holy. Halloween brings beautiful elements that I find all too rare in our modern world.

Halloween creates community.

It’s quite difficult to celebrate this holiday alone. I suppose you could throw on a horror film or Rocky Horror Picture Show at home by yourself, but that’s not really an observance of the holiday, just an acknowledgment of it. Halloween happens in community events in places like community centers, malls, school parades, and lots of other places that bring us together in public space. When we bring our children out trick-or-treating, we get to meet our neighbors on sidewalks and right at their front doors.

In modern times, we are more isolated than ever before. We stay in our homes and our cars. We look at our devices instead of our world. In spite of that, we celebrate Halloween among strangers and invite strangers to our porches and front doors.

On my son’s first Halloween (he was just 2 weeks old), my uncle called me and told me how jealous he was that I would have the smallest baby on Halloween. “You’ll see,” he said. “Everyone is going to love seeing him with you while you trick-or-treat with your daughter. All these people in your neighborhood you’ve never met will want to meet you and see your baby. It’s so special.” And he was right. All these strangers came to offer us love and generosity.

Halloween calls on us to express generosity.

For a moment, think how incredible it is that in the 21st Century, on one night a year, millions of people take it upon themselves to stock up on candy to pass out to a bunch of strangers’ kids. So many of us feel compelled, excited even, to offer these small gifts. At what other time of year do that many people offer that kind of good-hearted generosity?

A couple of years ago, someone posted in a local Facebook group a complaint about people bringing children from “other” neighborhoods to ours for trick-or-treating. I was disgusted by this message. It’s antithetical to my understanding of the holiday. When I was a child, I lived on a country road where there was no trick-or-treating and we had to go to other neighborhoods on Halloween. Today, I feel incredibly grateful to live in a neighborhood today that provides such a lovely trick-or-treating experience for my children. I’m glad to share that with all families who are looking for the same experience. I’m glad to give them candy from our porch.

But as upsetting as I found this post, I was encouraged when I read the dozens of comments that condemned her elitism. Against her one post, there was a long string of members calling for inclusion and generosity. All children should get to have a safe and fun trick-or-treating, they said. We should welcome everyone to this lovely neighborhood and be glad to share, they said. Because that’s the true Halloween. Generosity and Community.

Halloween provides ritual in our lives and an appreciation of nature.

The end of October is a liminal time, when night comes earlier, but it’s still warm enough to enjoy being outside. During this time, Halloween brings us outside to take a breath of crisp fall air. And it gives children a chance to experience the magic of being outside in the dark. They see the moon and stars and marvel at the twinkling lights all around.

As a parent, it is remarkable to observe the ritual or Halloween costumes. With each new costume, you can mark your children’s growth . Last year, my son was a character from the cartoon Paw Patrol. This year, he wants to be the Greatest Showman. Last year, my daughter was swept up in Harry Potter and dressed up as Hermione – a heroine I hope she holds onto the rest of her life. This year she has decided she doesn’t want to pretend to be someone else; she wants to dress up as a magician because she’d like to actually be one. Each year their physical and emotional growth can be seen in the costumes they choose.

Somehow, I felt this connection to the ritual when my daughter was still an infant. She turned 3 months at Halloween. I belonged to a new mommies group and I begged them to get together on Halloween so that we could dress the babies up. We all met at a local bar (seriously) with tiny infants in miniature costumes. I wondered at the time if I was being ridiculous. But, today, I’m so grateful I made this happen. I love looking back at her screaming baby face dressed in a homemade Hulk costume. (“Baby smash!”) It was the beginning of a long stream of costumes to come in her life. It marked the beginning of something.

Halloween is scary.

This part of Halloween makes it stand completely alone: Halloween celebrates what scares us. It brings out the ghosts and villains and vampires. It asks us to look straight into the scariest things we could imagine and give them candy! There is something remarkable about this experience of celebrating horror. It might be the most holy part of the holiday.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no fan of horror. I do not enjoy the genre and never choose it, neither movies nor books. I do not enjoy being scared. But that is exactly why I find the celebration so powerful. It’s a holiday that forces me to look at daggers, fangs, and masks and keep on marching. Sure, my kids get frightened by some of the costumes. But that’s the idea. There are scary things in the world. We can’t avoid them all. Sometimes, we have to see the scary things.

What about religion?

A final note to those who might be wondering: yes, I am Jewish and yes, I love Halloween. There is a long discussion on the internet about whether Jews should celebrate this holiday. Some tolerate it. Others say sure, why not. And there are plenty who say absolutely not. For me, it’s quite simple. It provides meaning and reflection and ritual. Halloween makes me feel a part of my community and both the recipient and provider of generous gifts. It doesn’t matter at all to me that this holiday is not specifically Jewish or that it might have roots in other faiths. It is meaningful to me. And it is beautiful in its spookiness.

Also, I like taking some of the candy out my kids trick-or-treat bags. Just the Smarties and Snickers.

Happy Holy Halloween!

Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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