Costumes, Candy and Conformity

Should Halloween be celebrated by the Hebrews?

For Halloween I’m probably going to dress up as Lt. Aldo Raine from the recent Quentin Tarantino blockbuster “Inglourious Basterds.” Don’t pinch yourself or blink twice — it’s true. It was between him and Michael Jackson. Now, I know those aren’t the words you expect to hear from a former student of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, but I’m serious.
I think Halloween is a holiday with non-Jewish roots that has been watered down to nothing more than an excuse to dress up and eat lots of candy. Halloween’s roots stretch back to an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season for the Celts, according to the Chalice Centre. The Celts believed that during Samhain, on Oct. 31, deceased spirits would enter this world to spread disease and harm the recently harvested crops. In order to ward off the spirits, the Celts would dress up in costumes that resembled the dead such as skeletons and ghosts.
The majority of the Halloween customs practiced today, like carving a Jack O’ Lantern and dressing up, are based on those of the Celts. Other holiday festivities are fairly new. The imagery of the season such as monsters, horror, blood and guts did not exist until the holiday spread to North America during the Irish immigration of the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Even going trick-or-treating is a recent addition to the holiday.  Prior to the 1930s, records indicate that few people if any took part in trick-or-treating. Today more than 93 percent of children in America go trick-or-treating, according to the National Confectioners Association.  
Now the name Halloween actually comes from the Old English, “All Hallows’ Even,” meaning “All Hallows’ Eve.” The All Hallows mentioned is actually the Christian All Saints’ Day celebrated Nov. 1, which marks a day of remembering and praying for all of the saints in the faith. So for those of you who argue that Halloween is a Christian holiday, there’s your Christian influence.
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t know many of the facts until I researched them for this article. And most people don’t know them either. I asked 10 people on my ride home from school one day if they knew where Halloween came from and the best answer I could get was “It’s a pagan holiday, right?” 
On a more practical level, Halloween is at most a social event, a time when people can get together, dress up and have a party. At the very least it’s a great excuse to get a good discount on a costume for Purim during the post-Halloween sales.
I also believe that dressing up in a costume does not qualify as celebrating a holiday. After all, I’m sure that a large portion of us listen to Christmas music (much of which was written by Jews) and yet we don’t have trees in our living rooms or stockings at our fireplaces. The same way I’m not dressing up to ward off evil spirits and keep them away from my crops.
So no, Halloween is not a Jewish holiday. It has nothing to do with killing Jews or Jews being saved. It’s not ours by religion. Halloween, as we know it today, is nothing like the Samhain that originated as a rural Celtic festival. The holiday celebrated every Oct. 31 is a time to have a party, eat some pumpkin and dress up in a costume. I’m not saying you have to celebrate it, but if you want some candy you can ring my doorbell.
Ben Garner is a junior at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.
This article is reprinted from October 30, 2009