The Conundrum of Halloween

When I was a kid, I dressed up as a Mumford High School cheerleader, wearing my dad’s varsity sweater, or a princess or a Valley Girl. Good, clean costumes to trick-or-treat through the neighborhood in. I think one year there was a clown.

We never did scary, ghoulish, bloody costumes. It just wasn’t our scene. It never occurred to me, and I’m fairly certain my parents would not have allowed it. No matter. It was never an issue.

So when I spent 10 years in the Orthodox world, where Halloween is not observed, it was refreshing to celebrate Purim, the spring carnival holiday a month before Passover, when kids and adults dress up in creative costumes, usually of people they admire. (Not everyone is so lofty in their costume goals, but no one is dripping blood or sporting fangs on Purim.)

I liked that. I liked that the goal was to create a disguise with a positive spin.

The first year that I planned a birthday party for Eliana, who’s big day is Oct. 11th, we walked into Party City to get plates and cups and streamers and my little ones were accosted by mechanized ghouls and ghosts. I’d shielded them from the mere existence of Halloween for the first years of their life and the fright factor was, in fact, terrifying.

I liked that they weren’t sensitized to the blood and gore. I liked that the scariness was indeed scary – what sort of world do we live in if frightening scenes don’t frighten us?

We started observing Halloween as soon as I got divorced, and our costumes followed in the same feel-good vein as our Purim traditions. Until this year. This year, Asher wanted something scary. And I just had to say no.

I know it’s uncool and I’m frustrating his sixth-grade goals of scaring up a good costume. (Pun intended.) That’s my job as a mom, right?

But I am saddened. My kids are no longer shocked by the scary stuff. They’ve seen it too much. Kids wear scary costumes to school. They walk down the street trick-or-treating in frightening attire and we pass houses with yards littered by ghouls and goblins.

Being in the world has its up side and its downside. This is one of the latter.

On Purim, we give edible gifts rather than demand them. We wear creative optimistic or funny costumes rather than terrifying ones. We give to charity. Yes, we drink – and some people drink to oblivion according to their understanding of religious mandate (another blog altogether) – but most people just fall on the couch in silliness rather than creating havoc in the neighborhood.

The good side of Halloween is when we gather in my parents’ neighborhood to walk house to house and see the happy smiles of people waiting to bestow edible gifts on others. That’s the similarity. We do this with my sister and her kids, so the cousins can run free in the neighborhood, and the neighbors can celebrate together in creative ways.

It’s not all bad. Nothing ever is.

I just draw the line at the scary and disgusting costumes. I can’t stomach it. And frankly, I don’t want to.

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