Guest Post: Halloween and Pippi Longstocking…and Jews

My friend Jane Charney bails me out again with a thought-provoking post about Halloween costumes:

jane pippy

For two years in a row, on Oct. 31, I’ve stuck pipe-cleaners into my braids, painted some exaggerated freckles on my face and put on two completely mismatched knee-high socks. I’ve impersonated my favorite children’s literature role model – Pippi Longstocking. And I’m not going to do it again this year.

In fact, Halloween is this week, and I barely have an idea of what I want to be. In years past, I’ve been a flamenco dancer, a pirate, and a Renaissance damsel. This year, I’m considering giving a nod to my evil side and going as the devil’s sidekick. On second thought, maybe not.

Even larger than the question of choosing a costume is whether I ought to be celebrating Halloween at all. Does dressing up for what is basically a pagan holiday make me any less Jewish? Some friends and I had this exact discussion recently.

One friend noted that since I keep kosher-style (I don’t eat pork or shellfish and separate meat from dairy) and am strongly in touch with my Jewishness, it seemed incongruous that I’d be willing to go along with Halloween.

Sure, let’s make Halloween yet another occasion that appears to require some identity negotiation. The dark magic overtones of the holiday – not to mention its pagan origins – would surely prevent me had I been an ultra-Orthodox Jew.  But I’m not sure that the masquerade has any bearing at all on my Jewish identity. For my secular Jewish self, Halloween has absolutely no religious overtones; though I do know some Wiccans for whom Halloween, also known as Samhain, marks one of the most spiritually charged days of the year.

For me, Halloween is a cultural celebration that marks my acceptance of my adopted homeland. It’s also frivolous and ridiculous. And ridiculously fun!

As a child, I used to love dressing up for the New Year carnival. Usually, the girls would be snowflakes or little bunnies. I wasn’t enthralled with the idea. In third grade, I made my New Year debut as The Night. I wore a black tiara with a long mantilla, a black leotard and tights and a black gauzy skirt that my mom had sown together for me. Come to think of it, a recreation of this costume might be perfect for Halloween!

Actually, since I’ll be going to the Chicago Russian Moishe House for a Halloween party, the entire question is moot. The Moishe House is a group of young Russian-speaking Jewish adults who live together and in exchange for a rent subsidy organize five to seven Jewish events a month. I’ll be surrounded by young Russian-speaking Jews on this most non-Jewish night.

And guess what? Even if I was going to a run-of-the-mill bar, I wouldn’t feel any less Jewish at heart!

Jane asked for my thoughts on the issue as well.  I don’t see any conflict for me between celbrating Halloween and being Jewish, but that’s because I’m not religious.  As a secular Jew, I compare Halloween to Purim. Of course there are the dark, pagan undertones of the holiday, but I think Judaism has lots of dark, pagan undertones anyway that we conveniently choose to ignore.  Plus, I couldn’t think of anything worse than denying my children of this holiday that everyone celebrates; I remember going trick-or-treating and some houses’ doors would open, but without candy, and a sad little girl standing behind a mom saying, “We don’t celebrate Halloween.” Also, I loved Pippi as an awesome girl role model.




7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Halloween and Pippi Longstocking…and Jews

  1. Yeah, we go along with Halloween for the toddler as a fun dress-up-and-get-candy thing, although he’s not so into the costumes. “Are you a tiger?” “No! I’m a little boy!” he insists. (rolls eyes)

  2. Dear Vicki and Jane,
    I want to ask you a question, as a secular jewish Israeli, who dresses up for Haloween parties:
    What’s worse: celebrating a pagan holiday or a “they tried to kill us but we massacred them. let’s eat, wear costumes, call our children old Babilonian/Persian/Assirian names and be merry!”?

    Yes, I’m talking to you, Mordechai and Esther!


    p.s. What should I wear for this year’s haloween party?

    1. Hi Sophie,

      By that definition, we wouldn’t be celebrating any Jewish holidays at all … you know that old joke that all Jewish holidays have the same story: “they tried to kills us, we killed them instead, let’s eat”. In general, history is written by the victors, so a lot of the celebrations — whether secular or religious — many of us participate in have the underlining meaning that you gave in your response.

      In terms of Purim, I never particularly celebrated it besides making hamantaschen (I’m an avid baker and will use any teensy excuse to bake). And growing up, I didn’t celebrate any Jewish holidays at all because — although my great–great-grandfather allegedly was a rabbi in present-day Moldova — my family was extremely secular and very out of touch with Jewish tradition. Oh, and we lived in the Soviet Union.

      As I said in the post, I don’t look at Halloween as a pagan holiday. And for most Americans — and those around the world who now celebrate it too — it’s a cultural thing, a chance to have fun, to hide under the mask.

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