The spiritual value of Halloween – The News Star

Marc Gellman Published 9:49 a.m. CT Nov. 1, 2019

Every year you are stuck with so much leftover Halloween candy you don't know what to do with, here are some creative ways to get rid of it. USA TODAY

The cycle of holidays during the year includes three distinct categories:

Category I: Sectarian Holidays

Of course, the year is filled with totally and purely sectarian holidays like Christmas and Easter andPassoverandRamadanand last week's Diwali, which are only intended as celebrations for the believers of a certain faith. They are not universal or universalizable (OK, maybe chocolate Easter bunnies are acceptable to all). They are for the faithful holidays and they are beautiful.

Category II: Secular Holidays

The next category of holidays are those secular holidays that are for everyone but are not really spiritual. National holidays likeIndependence DayandNew Year's Dayand, yes,Super BowlSunday are examples of secular holidays. They provide unity for a national culture and they do not require sectarian beliefs. Some want to include Christmas as a national secular holiday, but I am not buying it. Christmas is a holiday celebrating (for Christians) the birth of Christ. Santa is an imposter.

Category III: On the Fence Holidays

Marc Gellman(Photo: Tribune Content Agency)

Finally, there are those holidays that might once have had religious origins, but over time they have been secularized and are now acceptable for people of all or no faiths. The best of this bunch isThanksgiving. It probably began its life in the 17th century as a Pilgrim celebration of the Jewish holiday of Tabernacles (Sukkot), but it has become a national celebration of thankfulness (and turkey and football) that brings all families together for a meal with almost the identical menu throughout the country. Other once-religious-but-now-secular holidays areValentine's Day(not really St.Valentine's Dayany longer) andHalloween.

Halloweendefinitely mixed religious and pagan elements in its beginnings. It may well have originated as a pagan Celtic harvest festival called Samhain. In the Christian calendarHalloweenis the evening before All Hallows Day, which is a holiday celebrating saints and deceased righteous ones. However, the religious elements ofHalloweenhave by now been washed clean in a shower of chocolate peanut butter cups.

Though I do not agree with it, here is the best case againstHalloween:

Sugar. It is a vile addictive substance that causes obesity and tooth decay. The sugar jag caused byHalloweenhas sustained generations of dentists.

Demons and Witches. Why should we dress up like or allow our kids to dress up like ghouls and witches? Why encourage a trip to the dark side?

Tricks. Whatever dental damage is done by trick or treat candy pales into insignificance when compared to the shaving cream, egg throwing, toilet paper tossing and assorted vandalism that accompanies the holiday. If kids would be satisfied with treats it might be fine, but the tricks can be costly, dangerous and stupid.

SexyHalloweenparties. For the post-candy age population,Halloweencan include drunken parties with provocative and outrageous costumes. In a PC age these parties can be offensive and even abusive.

OK, that's the best case againstHalloween, but it is ultimately unconvincing to me. I loveHalloweenand defend it, and this is why:

Community. One of the ways my friendships were cemented in my childhood was by going out trick or treating with my pals. We ran from house to house, screaming and scarfing up piles of candy. I am old now and I remember that in the suburbs ofMilwaukeein the '50s my parents did not have to accompany us on our prowl. Now it is different but there is still a powerful bond formed by the trick or treat youth corps. Let me ask you, when other thanHalloweendo you really get to wave hello and smile at your neighbors? In fact,Halloweenis better for the middle class than for rich folks. In communities with large homes, it is too far to efficiently walk between houses. The ideal territory for trick or treating is in more modest communities with smaller houses that are closer together.

Dressing up like someone else is occasionally spiritually necessary.Europeis filled with holiday celebrations that include costumes and parades.New OrleanshasMardi Grasand we all haveHalloween. The point of all this costumery is that religion and life tend to push us to observe fairly strict rules of behavior and occasionally, likeMari GrasandHalloween, it is good to have social and religious sanction to go a little crazy and dress up in a way that might be inappropriate on other days. And one does not need to succumb to commercial pressures to buy expensive children's costumes that are mostly licensing plays from movies and television. The ghost costume I wore for an entire childhood of Halloweens was a sheet with two holes for eyes. Frugal and effective.

So, I am okay withHalloween. I love the way it brings us together, creates childhood memories of joy and ... cavities.

Send questions and comments to The God Squad via email atgodsquadquestion@aol.com.Rabbi Gellmanis the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr.Tom Hartman.

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