Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Horror of Halloween!!

Okay, I hadn't intended to make this a blog at all, but I answered a friends question on Facebook yesterday posting this as a 'Note' & it turned into a hundreds of comments thread & I have had many requests to make this a public question.  So here it is ..... the question was "Should Jewish Children Celebrate Halloween??"

Halloween is a very Irish Holiday.  And it is hugely celebrated in Ireland.  Jewish children ~ not just in Ireland either but throughout the Galut & the world ~ except in Israel ~ will celebrate the Holiday of Halloween.  Straddling the line between Autumn and Winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. But Why???  What is this holiday really about & it is suitable for Jewish children to celebrate??

The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe'en, is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the evening before "All Hallows Day". In Ireland, the name was All Hallows Eve and this name is still used frequently & known .... even by a Jew girl!!  And in Ireland ~ where I grew up ~ it is a hallowed evening,  the eve of All Saints' Day, a day which honours all xtian saints.

In Britain and Ireland, the Festival of Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, & in fact in the Gaelic language the month of November is called Mi na h'Samhain ~ the month of Samhain ~ The Irish calendar is a pre-christian Celtic system of timekeeping used during Ireland's Gaelic era and still in popular use today to define the beginning and length of the day, the week, the month, the seasons, quarter days, and festivals. The Irish calendar does not observe the astronomical seasons that begin in the Northern Hemisphere on the equinoxes and solstices. 

Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was also a celebration of the end of the fertile period of the Celtic goddess Eiseria. It is said that when Eiseria reaches the end of her fertile cycle the worlds of the dead and the living intertwine. This supposedly happens on October 31st.  This is the Celtic festival of Samhain, derived from the Old Irish Samuin meaning "summer's end".  Samhain was the first and by far the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish calendar and, falling on the last day of Autumn, it was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the cold winter months ahead. There was also a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen. To ward off evil spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gds through animal and even human sacrifice.  Masks are worn to show respect for the goddess Eiseria who, like most Celtic gds, does not wish to be seen by human eyes.  This date was also New Year’s Eve in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times, and was the occasion for one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about.  It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes, and in Ireland it is often referred to as "Devil's Night".  Rumoured to be the birthday of "the Devil" himself. How terribly Irish!!!!!
These pagan observances also influenced the xtian festival of All Hallows' Eve, celebrated on the same date.  In the eighth century, when the church saw it would not succeed in weaning people away from celebrating the pagan holiday, it incorporated Halloween into the xtian calendar. Pope Gregory III designated November the first as a day honouring all saints, hence the name All Saints' Day, which incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The night before, October 31st, was called "holy or hallowed evening,"  in keeping with it's known name and many of the old pagan Druid practices were retained in its celebration, including the dressing up as ghosts, goblins, witches, fairies, and elves.   The Druids (pronounced drew-id) were the celtic high priests.

The origins of Halloween also allude to the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia & as this festival was appropriated by xtian missionaries and given an xtian interpretation, the day following Halloween is known as All Saints' Day, followed by All Souls' Day, and those are indeed xtian holidays. which are Mirrored in Mexican catholic culture as In Mexico November 1st and 2nd are celebrated as the Day of the Dead.  Widely celebrated in LA too ... yet another sometime place of residence for me!!

 In Britain ~ where I went to college, the rituals of Hallowtide and Halloween came under attack during the Reformation as protestants denounced purgatory as a "popish" doctrine incompatible with the protestant notion of predestination and instead saw Guy Fawkes (a catholic conspirator against the Crown) Night from 1605 on saw Halloween become eclipsed in Britain with the notable exception of Scotland. Here, as in Ireland, they had been celebrating Samhain and Halloween since the early Middle Ages and the Scottish Kirk ~ church ~ took a more pragmatic approach towards Halloween, viewing it as important to the life cycle and rites of passage of local communities and thus ensuring its survival in the country. Mass Irish & Scottish migration moved the holiday to America too.
Development of artifacts and symbols associated with Halloween formed over time. For instance, the carving of jack-o'-lanterns springs from the souling custom of carving turnips into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory ~ an xtian thing. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger there and are easier to carve than turnips. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is associated with harvest time in general,  and thanksgiving too!
Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1st), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls' Day (November 2nd). It originated in Ireland, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas."    In Scotland and Ireland, Guising ~ children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins ~ is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money.  It is a night when Irish Children tell scary stories of spooks like the pookie or the "Boogey" men  (the Undead) coming to get you!!

Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. A traditional Scottish form of divining one's future spouse is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future spouse's name. Unmarried women were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated in Irish folklore.  Another game/superstition that was enjoyed in the early 1900s involved walnut shells. People would write fortunes in milk on white paper. After drying, the paper was folded and placed in walnut shells. When the shell was warmed, milk would turn brown therefore the writing would appear on what looked like blank paper. Folks would also play fortune teller. In order to play this game, symbols were cut out of paper and placed on a platter. Someone would enter a dark room and was ordered to put her hand on a piece of ice then lay it on a platter. Her "fortune" would stick to the hand. 

On Halloween children take ~ in fact demand ~ sweets from strangers. This alone is certainly not a good thing to be teaching children, not to mention that Judaism forbids such a practice. And I think I have shown that there is nothing about Halloween that has anything to do with any Jewish sentiments. Just about every aspect of it is forbidden by Jewish Law!

Jewish Law states: “A Jew should not follow the customs of the goyim, nor imitate them in dress, or in their way of trimming their hair, as it says, ‘You shall not walk in the customs of the nation which I cast out before you’ (Vayiqra 20:23), and ‘Neither shall you walk in their statutes’ (Vayiqra. 18:3).    A Jew, on the contrary, should be distinguished from them and recognizable by the way he dresses, and in his other activities, just as he is distinguished from them in his knowledge and his beliefs, as it is said, ‘I have set you apart from the peoples’ (Vayiqra 20:26)."(See, Rambam, Laws Regarding Idol Worship and the Ordinances of the Gentiles, 11:1).    

And Also as I read just yesterday ... "He declareth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any other nation; and as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Hallelujah"   ~ Tehillim 147:19-20 ~

When it comes to the question pf whether Jews can take part in the goy holidays, the halachic discussion differs between clearly religious holidays like Xmas, which are forbidden, and purely secular holidays like Labour Day or July 4th in America, which are permissible.  Halloween’s religious origins and pagan history place it in the category of goy holidays that are forbidden to celebrate. Though Halloween in America has been secularized and commercialized to the point where it is now a frivolous time of costumes, candy, and pranks, it is still celebrated in places like Scotland and Ireland as a Celtic festival of the spirits, and in other places like Mexico as a holiday honouring the xtian saints.   The law prohibiting our participation in such goy holidays and customs comes to protect our special Jewish holiness and cultural distinction. We are to be a "light" unto the nations not to be drawn into their dark Pagan practices.

What’s the solution? ..... Move to Israel!!!  

 So, even if we are in the Galut this Hallows' Eve .... we are not supposed to behave like the Goyim and Idolatrously pander to their pagan gds & godesses!!!

We have the holiday of Purim.  On Purim we wear disguises and give gifts of food to friends and gifts of money and/or food to poor people. In keeping Purim,  we teach our children a number of important lessons, such as the greater goodness of giving rather than demanding, and also the main lesson of Purim, which is that Ha'Shem helps people "anonymously,"  that is, while Ha'Shem remains behind the scenes. As we should with our Tzedaka!!

And that brings me to a final point that has been floating around in my head .... As Ha'shem has created a universe that is symmetrical ~ we have Light & Dark, Good & Evil, Yetser tov & Yetser hara .... so too are balanced Halloween & Purim.  While in Edinburgh one November evening awaiting nightfall,  a thick fog surrounded me or to put it in Scottish terminology the "Har" descended or blew in from the nether regions of the North Sea.  The Fog or in Hebrew the "evil" (which is what Har means & is the root of the 'yetzer hara')  ....   Fog leads to confusion of thinking, not clarity.  And I hope this note has provided some clarity for us all, especially the Jewish parents amongst us.

Could the Halloween Holiday be the 'Har' answer to our Purim Holiday???

1 comment:

  1. Nice Post - You should make a notice that it is the nonreligious Jews that may participate in this goyish pagan holiday. Most certainly the religious children do not