How do I explain to an eight year old child who attends Jewish Day school, that we as Jews do not celebrate Halloween?
First, I would like to say that I understand your plight. As a child growing up in Baltimore, I was not allowed to celebrate Halloween. My mother said that it was not a Jewish holiday. She would buy candy for me and my sisters and keep us safely out of mischief in the house. While I wasn’t 100% happy with the situation, it did not stop me from becoming a rabbi. The word Halloween has its roots in the Catholic Church. It comes from All Hallows Eve, otherwise known as All Saints Day in the Celtic tradition. It originated as a Catholic day for honoring saints. One explanation for dressing up in frightening costumes on the holiday is to scare away disembodied spirits who had died the previous year and who came back on this day to inhabit living bodies. The Romans adopted the Celtic practices of the day and added some of their own, such as the worship of Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple. Perhaps the custom of dunking for apples on Halloween derives from this source. Jewish law prohibits celebrating gentile holidays. (1) Furthermore, a Jew cannot engage in business with gentiles on their religious holidays, so as not to aid them in their ability to celebrate their idolatrous practices. Today, however, when the vast majority of gentiles no longer believe in the religious practices associated with their holidays, a Jew can engage in business with them, and even pretend to be happy with them, in order not to create animosity. However, a person who takes his Judaism seriously should avoid mixing with them if he can. (2) Even though the gentile holidays today are not considered idol worship, we follow the law which commands us not to behave in the customs and manners of the gentiles, lest there be an inkling of idol worship as derived from their forefathers. (3) Regarding a holiday such as Thanksgiving, which does not have any connection with the Church, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein says that it is best not to celebrate it. (4) From this we can see that a holiday like Halloween that does have its origins in the Catholic Church is certainly something to be avoided. As far as explaining this to your child, good luck! Just be sure to have a lot of candy on hand. If you are strong in your convictions, your child will probably internalize your beliefs and become a lover of Judaism too. 1. Shulchan Orach, Yoreh Deah, 148. 2. See the Rama, there. 3. Rama, there, 178:1. 4. Igrot Moshe, Vol. 8: Orach Haim, Part 5:20, sub-section 6; and Yoreh Deah Part 4:11, sub-section 4, and Part 4:12.