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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Fall Classic


Before you Red Sox haters click away, the title of this post does not refer to last night’s World Series victory.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m deliriously happy that the curse has finally been reversed. And I’m doubly glad that the post-season victories came against two of the old, ‘classic’ baseball clubs… teams with well-established baseball traditions and fanatically loyal fans. It made the long-overdue win seem that much more ‘right’… legitimate, even.

However, I’m using the term ‘Fall Classic’ here in reference to Halloween.

I know I’m probably going to get a bunch of comments from religious folks who consider Halloween at best a secular holiday, and at worst, a ‘pagen’ rite.

Personally, I grew up trick-or-treating, and loved every minute of it. My costumes were usually rather last minute affairs (except for the robot and mummy costumes my parents made for me in 2nd and 3rd grade), but the nippy fall air and elaborately decorated neighborhood houses made the whole affair magical.

OK, the candy was pretty cool, too.

But by the time I started Jr. high School, something about Halloween had started to change… and not for the better. It wasn’t just my becoming more sophisticated / jaded (although I’m sure that was responsible for part of the change). I started to notice that many of the social ills of the ‘real world’ were starting to encroach on Halloween’s good clean fun.

More and more parents accompanied their children on the trick-or-treat rounds, and nearly every parent insisted on carefully inspecting the candy bag at the end of the night to make sure nothing had been tampered with. Today, this kind of thing is a given, but for people who grew up in a more innocent age, it is truly sad to see the extent to which kids have lost their autonomy.

Now, strictly speaking, Halloween is not enshrined in the pantheon of Jewish holidays. But most non-orthodox Jews I know in the U.S. have fully incorporated it into their internal calendar between Sukkot and Thanksgiving. The more orthodox crowd tends to largely ignore Halloween, and is sometimes openly antagonistic to it (those are the folks who turn off the porch light and pretend not to be home!).

Even though my departure from my parent’s house coincided with my drift towards the more orthodox end of the religious spectrum, I never lost my fondness for Halloween. Wherever I was living, I always made sure to have candy in the house on the 31st to give out to the neighborhood ghosts and witches.

However, once our kids came along, I had to finally confront the conflict between belief and practice. I was torn, because I really didn’t want to keep my kids from doing something I remembered with such fondness. But, at the same time, Zahava and I were taking great pains to indoctrinate them with the value of a different set of holidays… many of which had been ignored or glossed over in my own upbringing.

It turns out that the solution sort of presented itself. You see, long before our kids were even aware of Halloween, they were already deeply smitten with the holiday of Purim (Judaism’s springtime costume holiday). Unlike Halloween, which was a taking holiday, Purim entails going to the houses of one’s friends and neighbors and giving baskets of food and candy. So by the time Ari and Gili learned about Halloween, there was less allure to dressing up and asking for treats. On the contrary, both kids were quite content with being able to answer the door and give out candy to the kids (always with an adult) who rang the bell. It didn’t hurt that part of giving out the candy included extensive ‘product testing’ to make sure that we weren’t giving out sub-standard treats!

Now that we live in Israel, the distance has muted Halloween’s siren song. In fact, without the associated store decorations, I’d be floored if either of the big kids were even aware of its approach.

And part of me… the part that clearly remembers cheeks and ears tingling from the late October night air as I ran from house to house filling my pillowcase… is sad that my children will grow up blissfully unaware of this special bit of Americana.

I’m wondering though… based on the trend I detected 30+ years ago towards Halloween’s loss of innocence… does this 'Fall Classic' even exist anymore as I knew it ?


Posted by David Bogner on October 28, 2004 | Permalink


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Yes, Halloween (and trick-or-treating) is alive and well. The only thing that's really changed that I've noticed is that the lawns/houses are even more done up and there is more caution.

Posted by: Stace | Oct 28, 2004 5:32:32 PM

I remember Halloween in similar terms to you David. But I always remember my parents going along and "reviewing my haul."

But the reason that my father came along was because of the teenage boys who would steal our bags.

It was a rought "trick" and there were always kids in school the next day who had their bags taken from them.

For years I have made a point of fixing the problem when I spotted it, because unfortunately this still happens.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 28, 2004 6:11:04 PM

My favorite Halloween memory:
Mrs Horton across the street would make these fabulous sticky popcorn balls. New England Halloweens (as you recall) can be rather chilly, and her house was usually the last house my dad and I visited. My glasses would always fog up in her warm, sweet popcorn scented living room.
It makes me sad that I can't do something like that for the neighborhood kiddies. I'd LOVE to make something fun and homemade, but completely understand how that would make parents nervous. How sad, though.

Posted by: Lisa | Oct 28, 2004 7:25:30 PM

I have no real fondness for Halloween... it always seemed like a lot of pressure to figure out what to be and as an adult who was involved with children, the pressure of figuring out the feasibility/appropriateness of their costume... just seemed to take the 'fun' out of it.

As the Mom of a 4yr old who seems to be happy to be a Princess for Halloween for the next zillion years, it's more fun to watch her understand that it's all about having fun with her friends and getting candy! A much better experience for everyone involved.

Posted by: val | Oct 28, 2004 8:09:39 PM

Stace... You've just made my point! Trick or treating with more caution is just sad. :-(

Jack... I think you are a few years younger than I am... enough so that what you described would have been unheard of when I was a kid. Again, very this is what made me pine for the 'good old days'.

Lisa... what a wonderful memory! And you are right, no parent today would let their kid even take a home-made item, much less let them eat it! Oh, and congratulations on the, ahem, other fall classic!

Val... you are seeing it through grownup-colored glasses. I remember you being one fine looking hobo on many a halloween eve! :-)

Posted by: David | Oct 28, 2004 8:35:05 PM


I'm afraid it no longer exists the way you remember. The increasing parental supervision of the young ones has led to a sort of trick or treating you would probably find alien and not at all enjoyable.

The younger kids are out early with parents in tow. That could be a very good thing. Last year I sat with a neighbor in his driveway, passing out adult treats for the "supervisors",,, apple cider or glass of beer.. while the kids went to the door. It ws fun. but over farily early, well before 8:00... that's when the older unsupervised kids come out.

Kids as old as 17, without even a costume, roam the streets knocking on doors demanding their candy and smashing pumpkins when there's none. It's no fun and it's far from cute, and is certainly nothing you would regret your children missing.

I felt I was too old at 13 to go, but then, I was only supervised when I was 5... Things have definitely changed... not all for the bad, but it's still much different.

Posted by: oceanguy | Oct 28, 2004 9:48:26 PM

A Halloween memory...
Living in Oklahoma, we wouldn't have dreamed of not letting our kids go out with all their friends for candy on Halloween.
One year there was sleet and freezing rain, so we packed up everyone and went to the mall for trick or treating. All the stores in the mall were prepared for the lines of costumed children asking for candy. However, my husband decided to "dress-up", too, as long as he was going to be out in public Halloween night. He put on a long black beard, mustache and black hat - left over from someone's costume from years before.
We had only been at the mall a few minutes when another father approached him, looked him up and down and said (now remember, this is Oklahoma) "what are you supposed to be...a Jew?"
I don't even remember what he answered, the kids and I just got him out of there.
To this day, when Dad wears a particularly odd outfit, the standard line is always..."what are you supposed to be...?"

Happy Halloween! Carol

Posted by: carol | Oct 28, 2004 10:44:30 PM

Jack... I think you are a few years younger than I am...

See what living in LA does for you, it makes you look and feel younger. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Oct 29, 2004 12:30:01 AM

REALLY can't wait to meet you - honest you would think we grew up next door or something - hallowwen (since it is in my birth month) was ALWAYS a special thing - i had really great pre-planned costumes and went with my cousins to ALL the houses in the neighborhood (i think we were accompanied by an adult) until we were like 7 or so - no one then in a same NEW ENGLAND town had to worry about going out on their own AND
yes the weather was always nippy and cold -
i agree there is a loss to it - esp. when no longer "observing" this "chag" and truth is - although i am "all about" Purim - it is not the same - and *sigh* apparently it is not as we remeber it -

by the way GO SOX!! (sorry i will not be at the parade to take pics for you) -

Looking forward to getting you shalach manos soon

Posted by: Mrs. Efrex | Oct 29, 2004 2:46:41 AM

Oceanguy... I like the idea of passing out adult treats! Your description of the older kid's behavior confirmed what I suspected... and made me sad.

Carol... I hate to say it, but this sort of fits with my perceptions of Okies in general. I know I shouldn't generalize, but...

I admire your hubby's self-restraint. If it had been me, there would have been an impromtu sensitivity training session for the neanderthal mall dweller.

Jack... That's really the difference, I guess. You SoCal types are all about the wrapping paper on the package, while the rest of us are more into what's inside. :-)

Mrs. Efrex... The feeling is mutual. Just let me know when you're arriving and we can book your visit at chez treppenwitz.

Posted by: David | Oct 29, 2004 10:31:29 AM

Very nice piece. I especially liked how you contrast H-ween and Purim: taking and giving. Very true!

I remember that it was the only time you would go and visit strangers in their homes which was a good expereince that probably helped me overcome normal childhood fears. I don't have any negative memories of it, except that we used to see the effects of minor vandalism and shaving cream all over the place the next day. And there was this fear that people would hide razor blades inside apples. So we were carefull not to anything that wasn't pre-packaged.

Having said all that, I can't say I miss it. I never would have even thought about it if not for reading treppenwitz today.

Posted by: Andy | Oct 29, 2004 12:07:51 PM

I recently heard about a small town in Pennsylvania whose town council decreed that this year Halloween would be celebrated on Friday, not Sunday (because that is the day people go to church). My wife had an interesting comment about this. She said if you have a problem mixing Sunday prayers and Halloween, don't you then fundamentally have a problem with Halloween. Why still celebrate it if it represents something you are opposed to?

Posted by: A Simple Jew | Oct 29, 2004 2:28:02 PM

I can't chip in even half a pence to this [I know, I don't even have to]. Halloween has come into fashion here only in regards to decoration - as much as Americans like Oktoberfest, Weissbeer and Weisswursts [I fake the american accent] as 'typical German' [which it is NOT], Germans seem to have a kick of American style holiday decorations. I wonder if people notice a subtle "Europeanisation" in America in regards to interior design and decoration? Hm...
Anyways - I am actually quite curious for this year's Oct. 31, as we're living in walking distance from the, uh, major American compounds in 'this town'. I don't think they'd knock on Germans' doors, but it should be fun to see dressed up kids in those neighbourhoods, just to witness the fun they have.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Oct 29, 2004 2:34:20 PM

You SoCal types are all about the wrapping paper on the package, while the rest of us are more into what's inside. :-) ,

David, I am hurt and disappointed. Just for that I am sending you a box of Krispy Kreme and an Asimon for the telephone call to thank me. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Oct 29, 2004 5:35:56 PM

Us SoCal types, huh? I stick my tongue out at you for this. Like so. :p

I remember Halloween as both a combination of your memories, David, and Jack's. I remember going out with my siblings and trick-or-treating house to house with a few adults roaming the sidewalks. Sometimes my brothers would split off from us and my sisters and I would go it alone, sometimes we'd all stick together.

There was one Halloween that was both the worst and best one I had as a kid. We lived in San Diego and I was 12. Probably one of my last trick-or-treating Halloweens and I think my first one in that area (we moved a lot when I was a kid). I got a bit of a late start because I was having costume issues and my sibs went off without me. Not a big deal because I was a bit of a loner in those days. After a bit of door-knocking and candy gathering some teenage boy I didn't know on a bicycle snatched my half-full bag from my hand and rode off. I went back home, trying to keep from crying, and my family took one look at my face and lack of bag and asked me what was wrong. When I told them what happened my older brother emptied out his bag and my brothers and sisters all gave me some of their candy, then my older brother took me out trick-or-treating again. He was 14 at the time and though a good guy, mixed with a bit of a rough crowd, so the neighborhood kids knew they'd better leave me alone unless they wanted him to express his displeasure to them.

Halloween is still one of my favorite holidays, though.

David, I know little about Purim, but it sounds wonderful and I love the way your children are more content to give than receive.

Posted by: Carol | Oct 29, 2004 8:03:58 PM


I remember Halloween as you do, also with the slow transition to a more supervised event.
Michael Moore has a good bit about playing on our fears in "Bowling for Columbine" that addresses this issue. One of the things he points out is that there was no apple with a razor blade in it. It was an urban legend.

Posted by: Jordan | Oct 29, 2004 9:00:40 PM

I recall being only on the giving side of halloween treats as well,and being verry jealous of my less observent schoolmates who brought candy corn and popcorn balls to school with lunch the following days.
Enjoy(I hope u did by the time you read this)your NE boiled dinner two Shabbatot in a row!!! and everything else that goes along with the sawx winning in Awktoba.

Posted by: shmiel | Oct 29, 2004 10:56:33 PM

Andy... I do remember shaving cream and toilet paper... but those were from the night before Halloween - I think they called it 'Mischief Night'. Oh, and I remember the rumor of the razor blades in the apples... but to my knowledge that was only an urban legend.

ASJ... It's nice to see that we Jews don't have the market cornered on wacky religious leadership.

Mademoiselle a. ... I think the so called 'Europeanization of America' never really got past the hype. Sure Americans drink more wine that they used to, and coffee culture has taken hold... but I will always think of European culture revolving around shared public spaces (coffee shops, piazzas, town squares, etc.) where people can meet and socialize... and American culture is built around privacy (public seating in parks and coffee shops is arranged so you won't have to make eye-cantact with others)... even when out in public.

Carol... when I lived in San Diego (actually University City) in the early 70s, things were really quite safe. I always went trick or treating by myself or with friends... and don't remember anything bad happening to anyone (except one year there was a horrible accident where a little girl in a hula skirt was killed when her costume caught fire from a jack-o-lanter).

Anyway, I'm glad your story had a happy ending.... and yes, Purim is a wonderful holiday which reinforces some really nice values in kids.

Jordan... You are just a few years behind me, but it is enough that you would have experienced more of the 'supervised trick or treating'.

Shmiel... You probably remember Halloween as a much more innocent time due to the fact that you lived in Scranton, and also beacause you are MUCH older than me. :-) Seriously, just the fact that kids had popcorn balls shows that times were much less worrisome.

As to the Boiled Dinner, I didn't get lucky two weeks in a row, but I'm hoping for sometime soon.

Posted by: David | Oct 31, 2004 12:16:04 AM

hi Dave,
I've got GREAT Halloween memories, except for the time when I was about 10 years old and trick-or-treating with a friend where I wasn't supposed to be. Some big kid came up to me, asked for a penny, grabbed my full bag of candy off my arm and ran off. I stood there and cried! My favorite red donut radio was in that bag. Remember those?! I've been traumatized ever since...
In Boston, we always made sure to have candy and the lights on. Our kids loved judging the costumes and in the end, we made a huge Kiddush Hashem!
Now, we use the after halloween sales for super Purim costumes!

Posted by: sarahb | Oct 31, 2004 12:24:06 AM

I remember Halloween fondly as well. There are subtle differences tho. When I was little, I was allergic to chocolate, so first the goodie bags went to Ima, who took out all the chocolate, then they went to Abba (who were Ima and Abba even back then) who took out anything open, or any fruit. When i was a kid, people thought it cool to hide razor blades in candy and fruit, so we had that screening process. Also, my Ima was VERY creative, so I always had great costumes, my fave being Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with my little sister as Toto. When I was about 10 or so, the trick-or-treating for candy ended, and we were allowed to go collecting for UNICEF for a few more years, but then my parents decided that Purim was altogether a better holiday, and that was the end of Halloween in the Berman household. I have to say I do not miss it, but I will still go to the store later in the week, and buy lots of half price candy!
OH! and just a warning, when the Efrex's come to visit, be prepared for them to show up at 3 in the morning! They are nocturnal!

Posted by: Faye | Nov 2, 2004 1:11:02 AM

SarahB... I'll miss buying purim costumes the day after Halloween!

Faye... If only I'd realized what an enemy of Israel the U.N. was, I would have never gone trick or treating for UNICEF!!!

Posted by: David | Nov 2, 2004 10:41:01 AM

it is amazing the things we did not know 20 years ago that we know today. Today I would NEVER support UNICEF, but back then it was ok........ The times they are a changin I guess

Posted by: Faye | Nov 3, 2004 11:03:57 PM

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