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The God Squad: Halloween is fun and unifying

October 25, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

I have received many questions lately from religious parents of all faiths who are not completely comfortable with allowing their children to celebrate Halloween. The holiday's pagan past disturbs them, and they feel somehow that a victory for Halloween trick-or-treating is a defeat for their faith. Every year, I try to gently comfort them. Herewith, I present this year's effort:

Holidays come in three forms: purely religious holidays, holidays that are purely secular and holidays with a mixed history.

Secular holidays don't present a problem for most religious folk, although there still are some issues. Many Muslim friends have told me that Thanksgiving turkey meals have not won universal acceptance in the Muslim community. However, even this is changing as more Muslims become more assimilated into the secular holiday cycle of America. Independence Day and New Year's Day (and should we add Super Bowl Sunday?) are all easy and non-controversial secular holidays.

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Religious holidays include Ramadan, Easter and Yom Kippur. These holidays are also not controversial; the only people who should celebrate them are people who believe in the teachings of that religion. Those outside the faith can, of course, be invited as guests and observers but not as celebrants.

I'm grateful to have been invited to many Iftar feasts celebrating the end of Ramadan. My dear friend Fr. Tom Hartman shared many joyous Passover seder meals with me and my family, and I've been known to sneak a candy Easter egg or two into my pocket from Tommy's Easter baskets with the neon green plastic grass. In all these instances, it's enough to be a welcome guest.

The problem for some religious people comes with the third group of holidays. These are what I call mixed holidays that may have had religious elements but have long since been transmogrified into mainly secular celebrations. Halloween and Christmas are the two prime examples.

Before we get to Halloween, let's consider Christmas. The secular Christmas argument is that there's nothing religious about Santa and his flying reindeer, Christmas trees (without a creche) or presents for kids. Christmas is a national holiday, so they argue, and despite its obvious Christian roots and constant meaning as the birthday of the Messiah, Christmas has become a secular celebration.

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