Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.
8. Halloween, while seemingly secularized, still carries with it the baggage of thousands of years of pagan tradition.
Every element, from jack o’lanterns, to costumes, to candy is rooted in a pagan tradition meant to call out and draw attention to evil spirits. Some of these traditions trace back to the Gaelic festival of Samhain while others are rooted in ancient Aztec festivals meant to honor the goddess known as “the Lady of the Dead.” The Catholic Church did a pretty decent job of melding these festivals into Church tradition. Then again, what do you expect from an institution that was built on reappropriating pagan practices to address biblical concepts? Nevertheless, contemporary pagans still observe Samhain, often using it to mark their new year. Symbols of this pagan festival include black cats, jack o’lanterns, gourds, mulled wine, and the colors black and orange. Sound familiar?
7. Even modern Halloween lore glorifies dangerous pagan ideologies.
Sure, all those pagan ideas may drift a little close to your traditional, totally non-pagan Halloween celebrations. But there’s a lot of things you do that the pagans don’t, like watch scary movies about wolf men, zombies, and, of course, the hero of Halloween, Dracula. Jewish kids tend not to dress up like Dracula, and for two very good reasons. One, we try not to encourage that nasty little anti-Semitic myth dubbed “blood libel” about us drinking gentile blood. Two, God forbids the drinking of blood in Torah. “The life is in the blood,” therefore consuming flesh with blood remaining (let alone drinking the stuff) is wholly forbidden, as is human sacrifice. So, why would we, or should we, ever participate in the glorification of a pagan tradition, even when it is framed in a pop culture context?
6. You know how it’s a woman’s costume? It has the word “slut” in the title.
Human sacrifice doesn’t always need to involve the shedding of blood. When it comes to women, the shedding of clothes will do just as well. If you’re an adult woman, chances are you’re either dressing in a bag or a bustier for Halloween. Want to be a doctor? Be a SEXY doctor! Cop? SEXY cop! Nurse? SEXY nurse! You can even be the snowman from Frozen as long as you’re SEXY about it. Want to get hardcore? There’s a whole subculture of pornography that employs various Halloween costumes to explore the “terror of sex” and “monstrous female desire.” Nothing says “Trick or treat!” like a SEXY she-devil. And if you’re just not that into tight clothes, XOJane advises you to “pop out a breast and carry a baby doll” to be a Lactivist (a pro-breastfeeding mom), because that, too, is apparently “slutty.”
5. The costumes for little girls aren’t much better.
Those sexy, slutty costumes start rearing their ugly heads after puberty. Now, it seems, even pre-pubescent girls can’t catch a break. Now your tween can be a “Cop Cutie,” “Major Flirt,” “Purrty Kitty,” or “Fallen Angel,” as long as you don’t mind them wearing skin-tight outfits with too-short skirts bearing provocative titles. Truly little girls can be firefighters, as long as they want to wear short skirts and tight outfits (no spandex for the boys). But, it’s okay, because young boys can be the Mac Daddy Pimp of the party. I wonder if the girls are forced to give a percentage of their candy to the boys…
4. Halloween encourages us to be afraid of everything the Bible tells us not to fear.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” Ghosts and goblins, apparently. The undead, nightwalkers, criminals, thieves, psychotic murderers, and the occasional razor in your apple, apparently. Why are you sending your kid out with instructions to be afraid, or confronting them with scary images that will guarantee you weeks of sleepless nights?
3. God clearly instructs against communing with the dead…
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist who consults the dead.
Later, in the Book of I Samuel, a distraught King Saul consults with a medium, seeking the dead prophet Samuel’s advice. When Samuel is brought forth, he immediately asks Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Perhaps the greatest reason why we are to avoid mediums is because we are to leave the dead alone. Their job on earth is done and they owe us nothing. So, why make a holiday out of harassing them against God’s instruction?
2. …and turning them into gods/idols to be worshiped.
Victorians, motivated by Queen Victoria’s endless mourning for her husband Albert, crafted the dead into idols. Garden cemeteries were established to allow families to picnic among the graves of dead relatives. Hair was cut from dead bodies to create intricate mourning jewelry for men and women. The bodies of children who died were dressed up and posed for photographs, their eyelids left open, smiles pasted onto their faces in order to give their grieving parents a lasting memory. Funeral etiquette developed during this time period, dictating the number of pall bearers and arrangement of open casket so the body, appropriately attired, could be left on display. Mourning periods, divided into deep mourning and half mourning, could last for years and required particular wardrobe. Through all of these rituals the dead were mourned as departed gods. And what better way to worship them than to pray for their souls on All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day, Church-sanctioned rituals with a pagan past?
1. If we’re supposed to be celebrating life, why are we glorifying death?
In Confessions of a Jewish Halloween Grinch, Laura Hodes writes:
Death is really what is celebrated on Halloween. Whereas in our everyday lives death is a subject that we donʼt talk about, on Halloween an obsession with death (and really, the undead) comes out. But this is not a meaningful discussion of death. Itʼs just a trotting-out of undead images: zombies, vampires, skeletons and corpses with dripping blood seeming to come back to life.
Skal writes that the holiday came to America along with the wave of Irish emigration following the potato famine of the late 1840s: “The survivors of the ʻcoffin shipsʼ – so called because of their appalling rates of disease and mortality — had every reason to keep alive a celebration that paid homage to death, or at least contained and tamed its memory in a controllable ritual.
Biblically speaking, we do not need to soften death in order to make it more palatable or less painful. Death is not an end point in a timeline. God works in seasons. He is eternal, as is His word, His love, and His blessings. The prophets were given visions of God’s eternal realm and the Olam Ha-Ba, and Elijah was used to resurrect the dead. In fact, the resurrection of human life is a biblical concept rooted in Hebrew scripture. It is totally contradictory for Jews and Christians rooted in biblical faith to observe a holiday that glorifies death and eternal damnation when our God teaches us to have faith in eternal life.