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God Squad: Why the rabbi from Melville loves Halloween

Nothing set aside for the happiness of children

Nothing set aside for the happiness of children can be all bad, Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about Halloween. Credit: Dreamstime / TNS

Halloween is barely a Christian holiday. It is All Hallows Eve, which comes just before All Hallows Day, also called All Saint's Day. It is part of a three-day feast celebrated in Western Christianity in honor of saints who have been canonized over the years.

Some scholars think 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 that is fine by me.

Father Tom Hartman, my former God Squad partner, and I always believed that there are many paths up the same mountain to God, and I guess that includes paths that require flying broomsticks.

Whatever its origins in the hoary past and whatever its pagan roots, I love Halloween and worry about what the plague will do to this beloved holiday, which is only about candy, pumpkins, costumes, parties and kids … and did I mention candy?

I know that health concerns will cancel trick-or-treating excursions around the country. All that may be left is the pathetic, but well meant, drive-up trick-or-treat lane at the local Home Depot. This is a shame. I understand the limitations that COVID-19 has imposed on us, but I mourn the extinguishing of beloved childhood secular rituals. This has been a particularly bad time for children, who are deprived of their friends and a time to set aside fears of the moment so that they can engage in fantasy and fun. They cannot make up the time the plague has stolen from them.

Another reason for my sadness at the squashing of Halloween is what it does to adults and our sense of community. In the old days, when I was a child, we were just released into the neighborhood to trick-or-treat our way around the block then find our way home to divide up our loot. Over time, as rumors and actual incidents proliferated of predators and other creeps prowling the same streets as our little ghosts and gremlins, parents would accompany their kids on the trick-or-treat cattle drive. This was a very good thing because it gave adults an opportunity to say hello to their neighbors — or introduce themselves. This made the isolated homes of our land less isolated. It gave us a chance to affirm community, a sacred thing.

So, here is my typically contrarian and slightly weird idea to save Halloween. Bake cookies, or better yet buy 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 neighbors with a note:

We came by to give you some cookies in thanks for all the Halloweens you gave us sweet stuff. Sorry that COVID has made the old Halloween impossible this year, but perhaps next year, or the year after, we can return and say, "trick or treat" to you in person. Perhaps then 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!

It may be an impractical or even bad idea, but it is sincerely meant. It is all right if we are deprived now of our beloved national rituals, but it is not all right for us to forget them. 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 so that they can 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 on a night when all our fears have been vanquished.

SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at godsquadquestion@aol.com or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.

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