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Asking the clergy: What are spiritual alternatives to trick-or-treating?

Halloween's annual trick-or-treat parade of ghosts and otherworldly characters is deeply connected to religious beliefs. With roots in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead, the modern holiday immediately precedes two holy days. All Saints Day (Nov. 1) celebrates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven; All Souls Day (Nov. 2) commemorates the faithful departed, according to This week's clergy discuss how to get into the true spirit of Halloween at your church or synagogue.

The Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer, rector, the Church of St. Jude, Wantagh:

When I was a child growing up in the Midwest, I counted down the days until Halloween. Joining the throngs of children dressed in costumes, going door-to-door and saying, "trick or treat," and getting candy of all kinds were highlights and are now cherished memories. Every Oct. 31, I look forward to giving candy to children continuing in the Halloween tradition. I love trick-or-treating and, as an Episcopal priest, believe it is a wonderful way for children to receive no-strings-attached generosity. It's also a gift for adults to remember childhood and give unconditionally -- something, in our individualistic society, we quickly forget. As Halloween (All Hallows Eve) has roots in Christianity, a night of preparing to remember the Saints of God (All Saints Day) and those who have died (All Souls Day), it is fitting to connect the secular to the religious. At the Church of St. Jude, we have a "Trunk or Treat" Festival for children and adults from all walks of life. The Sunday before Halloween, parishioners and guests decorate the trunks of their vehicles in seasonal themes, and the costumed children go from vehicle to vehicle saying, "trunk or treat," getting candy. Finally, they vote on the best-decorated trunk. Closing in prayer, our children and adults are reminded of the importance of sharing what God has blessed each of us with.

Rabbi Zalman Baumgarten, Chabad of Great Neck:

Growing up as a religious Jew in South Africa (where it wasn't too safe to go door-to-door), I'd never even heard of trick-or-treating. The Jewish holiday tradition that is often compared with trick-or-treating on Halloween is giving baskets of mishloach manot on Purim, which is usually in mid-March. We dress up in costume and give treats to each other (in addition to a few other holiday customs). In truth, they seem so similar and could maybe pass as an alternative, but looking closely, they are complete opposites: Winston Churchill famously said: "We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give." The mitzvah deed of mishloach manot, loosely translated as giving food, is accomplished specifically by giving. The Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, the famed leader of Chabad, gave out dollars to his followers every Sunday for six years. The idea was that his followers had a chance to pass by him for a short moment and ask a quick question or receive a blessing. The Rebbe would hand the person a dollar to give to charity and explained this once by saying, "When one person meets another, it should benefit a third person." Although trick-or-treating must be a blast, I love seeing children (and adults) going to their friends' houses every Purim to give out goodies.

Rev. Jo Ann Barrett, senior multifaith officiant, Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship, Melville:

On Halloween, we have our annual memorial service at our fellowship. We read the names of all the people who have passed in the past year. We talk about the concept of death and dying. It is said that Halloween is the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest. That means that if the people who are living are quiet enough, they can hear and have more of a connection to the people who have crossed over. Fall is the season when everything seems to be dying off, and we have to go inside and confront the things we don't want to confront, such as death and change. Halloween also is an opportunity for children to see life and death in a different perspective. We encourage children to wear a mask to the service because Halloween masks are representative of their bodies, in that they are just temporary. This teaches children about their eternal nature. The mask or dressing up in a costume reminds us that the body itself is just a mask or a costume; the truth of who we are is just behind that.


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