A month without holidays…if only

Early fall is an exhilarating, but exhausting time in our house, involving a lot of cleaning, cooking, inviting, celebrating, and a little more shul that we are used to. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot fill almost three consecutive weeks, during the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Fortunately, just as we are about to drop dead from exhaustion, a new Hebrew month, Cheshvan, arrives. Cheshvan is often referred to as “mar Cheshvan” or bitter Cheshvan, because it is the only month in the Hebrew calendar that does not have a single holiday. I prefer to call it “TGIC,” or for those of you not raised in the disco era, “Thank God it’s Cheshvan.” Enough celebrating, already.
Unfortunately, the American calendar is not quite as sensitive to High Holiday burnout as the rabbis were. Just as I’m ready to relax and not even think about another holiday for almost 2 whole months, when Chanukah comes to brighten up the darkest weeks of the year, I discover that the holiday season is actually in full swing. As my daughters and I walked the aisles of Stop and Shop in early October, we were, rather incredulously, surrounded by pumpkins, witches, ghosts, piles and piles of candy, all  flanked by Turkeys and pilgrims (but thankfully, no caricatures of American Indians.)
“Is it really time for Thanksgiving already?” asked Ella.
“Yay! Halloween!” exclaimed Zoe.
“Oh, no,” I sighed, not as softly as I hoped.
“But mama, you love getting ready for holidays!” said Ella, looking puzzled.
She’s right, of course. Shabbat and holidays comprise most of our Jewish practice, and I put a fair amount of effort into building household excitement for whatever holiday is on the horizon. (Maybe not a Martha Stewart kind of effort, but an effort nonetheless.) We bake Bubbe’s apple cake, make giant window decorations, and send handmade (ok, xeroxes of handmade) cards. This year, the night before sukkot, after a long day of school, work and a trip to the airport, I piled the girls in the car and drove ten miles in the dark to a local farm, to pick up 2 bundles of cornstalks for our sukkah roof. And it was fun.
But I don’t have one whit of interest in preparing for Halloween. I’m so disinterested that I’m often that person in line at Target on the afternoon of October 31st with the really lousy candy because all the Milk Duds are sold out.
But why? Most traditional Jews don’t celebrate Halloween because of its pagan origins. Admittedly, this is not such a problem for me. While I don’t think American culture has succeeding in taking the Christ out of Christmas, it’s pretty effectively banished the Samhain from Halloween. Then there’s the literally nauseating amount of candy. Yes, I’m opposed to heaps of junk food. But, doling it out one piece a day for a week and stealing the rest for myself giving away the rest, is a sugar (or more accurately, high fructose corn syrup) allotment I can live with.
Really, the reason I don’t play up Halloween, is because it’s everywhere. Long before mar Cheshvan has even begun, every sale flyer and every supermarket decoration is announcing its arrival. Consequently, weeks before October 31, my children are completely revved up for Halloween, and I’m completely sick of it.
I’m grateful that as a Jewish family, our holidays are beyond the purview of mass media. While it might be nice, or at least amusing, to find giant inflatable lulavs and etrogs at the local store, the flip side is that we can create our own customs, and roll them out on our own time frame. With no Rosh Hashanah decorations in the stores, no sukkah clearance sales, and no Chanukah commercials (unless you count the the Chanuka books we received from The PJ Library this month), I’m free to make the holidays our own – the way we want to, and when we want to.
Yes, we’ll try to buy some decent candy this year. But it won’t rival bubbe’s apple cake. And yes, we’ll drive to a farm to get a pumpkin – probably the same farm where we got our corn stalks. But I know the trip will feel a lot more like a shlep, and much less like an adventure.
(r) cmyk PJ Library logo with tagline and piecesThe PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age seven. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.  To learn more, go to

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posted October 19, 2009 at 7:21 pm

ugh, i’m so with you. i must admit, i really appreciate when sukkot falls late enough that we can carve “sukkah pumpkins” instead of jack-o-lanterns and when the secular holiday is neatly subsumed under the jewish one.
in my house, i also don’t make a big deal of halloween (i have a personal dislike for it dating back to a bad experience with a scary costume when i was 5 years old!) and insist that i won’t buy halloween costumes. they can recycle their purim costumes, i say. and i will and do buy them whatever they want for purim and make a big deal of it. i basically refer to halloween as “like purim” instead of the other way around.
doesn’t it seem like halloween gets bigger and bigger each year? ick.

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posted October 19, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Wow! Thanks for pointing out how nicely we Jews fly under the marketing radar. That certainly is a fringe benefit of being a cultural minority in this over-marketed country. (But I would love to see an inflatable etrog at a local store, just once.)

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posted October 19, 2009 at 11:45 pm

ooh, inflatable etrog? count me in.

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posted November 4, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Thanks for the amusing, yet wise acrticle. I argued that we have enough papar chanines in our soka, but my wife was too busy shopping on line in jewish sites to listen. We ended up with more decorations than SCHACH… It is nothing compared to what would have happen if Target/Albertson have a bigger selections for Soka decorations…

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Frume Sarah

posted November 8, 2009 at 12:24 am

I think that I might feel the teeniest bit better about Halloween if our folks spent HALF as much effort decorating/celebrating OUR holidays.
Having gone to a Jewish preschool, our kids had only a vague idea of Halloween. When our son was in public school for Kindergarten, he wanted to know if we’d be going to shul before or after the candy part. He just assumed that there had to be some religious part to all the hoopla.

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posted November 8, 2009 at 8:26 am

that’s hysterical

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