The God Squad: My annual pro-Halloween column
Every year it comes around and every year I admit that I love Halloween. I loved it as a kid, I love it for kids, and I even love it for grown-ups, if they do not get violent or randy. And every year I get savaged by readers who object to its pagan undertones and its approval of vandalism in major or minor forms. So, this year, let me try again.
Every culture needs secular holidays that are unhitched from the cycle of religious time and embrace all people equally. Thanksgiving is number one on the list, but Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Day, Labor Day and Super Bowl Sunday are also on my keepers list. It is critical for people of America to bond with each other and our secular holidays do that. We need that especially now when our culture is being torn apart by warring factions and rival ideologies.
As for Halloween, yes, its origins are clearly Christian, but Halloween is barely a Christian holiday in its present-day iteration. It is All Hallows Eve, which comes just before All Hallows Day, also called All Saints’ Day. It is part of a three-day feast celebrated in western Christianity in honor of all the Christian saints who have been canonized over the years. However, there is nothing — nothing at all — about All Hallows Eve that should affect the little kids in ghost costumes asking me for candy. They deserve their candy and their pumpkins and their night. Candy, I know, is not an everyday thing, but neither is Halloween. It really is just that simple.
Some scholars think that Halloween was an attempt by the Church to Christianize an old pagan Celtic festival call Samhain, which comes from the old Irish word meaning, “summer’s end.” There is a widespread and incorrect rumor that Neopagans and Wiccans celebrate Halloween. This is not true. They do celebrate Samhain, and all that is fine by me. Father Tom Hartman and I always believed that there are many paths up the same mountain to God.
COVID-19 has slowly relented and allowed time and space for trick-or-treaters to return to our doorbells. I am happy for them. The rituals of childhood are precious, and Halloween is one of them. They cannot make up the time the plague has stolen from them, but they can slowly recover their ability to embrace fantasy and fun.
I also yearn to see again the effects of Halloween on the adults who accompany the little ones on their trick-or-treat excursions. This is a very good thing because it gives adults an opportunity to say hello to all their neighbors. This makes our isolated homes a little less isolated. It gives us a chance to affirm community and community is not just a good thing it is a sacred thing.
If you live in a place where trick-or-treating is still illegal due to the pandemic, here is an idea: Bake some cookies or better yet, buy some cookies that are individually wrapped and put them in bags. Then drive around the neighborhood and leave your bags of cookies on the doorsteps of your neighbor’s homes with a note:
Sorry that Covid has made the old Halloween rituals impossible but perhaps next year, or the year after, we can all remember that we are not alone as we go through these difficult times. We are separated but we are together in spirit. Happy Halloween!
I still remember many Halloweens in Milwaukee when I ran through piles of crunchy leaves on my way from house to house. I remember those times as times of complete happiness. Children deserve those times and adults need those times so that we can all build up a happiness reserve like squirrels who put aside nuts for the winter. As adults, we can draw down those happiness reserves from childhood during the times when the real demons of adult life close in upon us in the night.
I know people hate Halloween because it is redolent with pagan influences, but I reject this view. Halloween is at root a child’s holiday, and nothing set aside for the happiness of children can be all bad. So, from the bottom of my ghoulish heart, I wish you all a Happy Halloween and I pray that we may know it and celebrate it soon again in a night where all our fears have been vanquished.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)
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