As a Unitarian Universalist minister who does not find her primary spiritual path in Christianity, I cannot really answer the question. There are a great many different views among the Christians I know about the holiday. And I don’t expect, or even need, their coming to some sort of unanimity. The holiday arose from pagan roots but also finds resonance in All Saints and All Souls days, Christian holidays that honor those in history and the community who have died.
My concern, however, is about those who seem to need their negative ideas about Halloween embraced by non-Christians through handing out Bibles on October 31st, or by using scare tactics about the holiday on children. Death is a reality among human beings, something that many seem afraid to acknowledge. At Halloween we can recognize that reality and demystify it in harmless and enjoyable rituals such as trick-or-treating and other revelry. The Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is another way in which the fear of death can be exorcised through honoring, in festive ways, the lives of relatives who have died.
Once again we are being asked to accept one understanding of life and death over another. Why can’t we just accept the fact that our religious perspectives about these subjects may be different, but not frightening? My hope and belief is that we can find mutual respect for views that may not be our own, and not try to demonize the thinking of others.
Amen and Namasté
The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church
of the Verdugo Hills
To me, the Halloween dilemma is less about its pagan roots (although that is certainly an issue) and more about how the occasion is celebrated today. The event's ever-increasing focus on death, the occult, and other violent and frightening elements seems contrary to the lessons that we usually try to inculcate our children with. For that matter, what kind of message are we subtly sending our youth when we encourage them to go “trick-or-treat?” That if you don’t give me what I want, I will damage your property with eggs or toilet paper?
Of course, I know many parents are careful to protect their children from the negative aspects of Halloween, and would never allow them to damage property. Nevertheless, a holiday should ideally be a time when we teach our children moral lessons about life and instill within them the importance of family cohesion by celebrating together in love and harmony. This does not seem to be the message of Halloween.
Judaism has a holiday in early spring called Purim during which we also dress up in all sorts of fun and colorful costumes and go from house to house. The major difference is that we give treats to others, instead of asking for them. Also central to this holiday is providing alms for the poor and hosting a grand feast that family and friends enjoy together.
Purim teaches our children the importance of sharing with others and our responsibility to the underprivileged, and it demonstrates the significance of family unity.
I don’t want to sound like the Grinch who stole Halloween by suggesting that children be deprived of all the fun and excitement on October 31. But I would suggest that parents ensure that the merriment is focused on positive acts of goodness and kindness, and that they stay away from the really scary stuff and instead have their children wear costumes with a gentler tone.
Chances are that this approach will be easier on the younger kids anyway, and it will help to ease the atmosphere of mischief and fright that surrounds the holiday.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center