On October 31, children across America will don their capes and masks and go door-to-door collecting candy and treats to celebrate Halloween. But for many traditional Jewish families and even for some Christian ones, Halloween is a time of unease and discomfort. Parents may question whether or not to let their children participate in a ritual which they see as Gentile, having roots in Christian and/or Pagan culture. These tips will help families navigate this issue in ways that respect both their own religious sensibilities and their kids’ desire to have fun. I know, because they work for me and my family.

• Flexibility is sacred. Don’t immediately assume that participating in Halloween is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ kind of thing. Blanket permissions and prohibitions are rarely the best course of action to follow, be it in parenting or religious education. Start by asking how you might allow your kids to participate in ways that respect your concerns about certain aspects of the holiday.
• Context Counts. Does the community in which you live generally attach religious significance to Halloween? If your immediate world experiences Halloween as a Christian or Pagan ritual, then you might not want your kids to participate. But if it’s not seen as such, if there is no overtly religious issue around it, then there’s no point in creating one.
• Celebrate difference without becoming divisive. It’s ironic that traditional Jews and conservative Christians have done more to promote the awareness of Halloween as a Christian and/or Pagan holiday than anyone else. Make sure that if you do say ‘no’ to Halloween you do so without teaching your kids to be hostile to their neighbors.
• Remember that Halloween is about giving. Encourage your kids to give out candy even if they are not allowed to go out collecting it. And use Halloween as a time to teach the importance of giving charity. Whether it’s those orange UNICEF boxes or even giving each “Trick or Treat’er” who comes to your door a coin, inviting them to give it to the needy. After all, what could be more traditionally Jewish or Christian than sharing and charity?
• Consider the possibility of Halloween as a time to publicly celebrate your own traditions’ heroes. While Purim provides a costume holiday on the Jewish calendar, and in many communities the just-celebrated holiday of Simchat Torah offers kids the chance to collect candy, in some communities it might be that Halloween is a time to dress kids up as religious heroes and let the whole word see who it is you admire most.
Whatever you do, Halloween is a great opportunity to remind our kids that we are all connected to each other, and whether we are out that night or not, we can look out for each other – for all of the kids on our blocks and in our neighborhoods. We can help each other celebrate good times, and contribute to the observance even of holidays not our own. So whatever we do, Halloween provides wonderful opportunities to honor our own religious particularity and the larger communities to which we all belong.
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