November 18, 2019

Why Jews Love Halloween

“Public schools from San Francisco to Philadelphia are cancelling their Halloween celebrations, citing concerns that because not everyone celebrates the fall festival, some students might feel excluded.

“As part of our school and district-wide commitment to equity, we are focused on building community and creating inclusive, welcoming environments for all,” said the Evanston/Skokie, Illinois school district in a statement explaining why some schools have pulled the plug on festivities this year for the first time.

Inclusive? As a Jewish kid with first-generation American parents, growing up in an overwhelmingly Christian community, Halloween was the one holiday I could celebrate.

Back in the 1960s, no administrators seemed concerned about political correctness when our Northbrook, Illinois school choir sang deeply religious Christmas carols (I learned to mouth half the words to “O Come All Ye Faithful.”) There was no nod to America’s melting pot when teachers held Easter Egg hunts or scheduled exams on Yom Kippur. And certainly, a rabbi was never on the podium at graduation to deliver the invocation.

Now, in the interest of inclusivity, school districts nationwide have decided to suspend the one holiday that encourages the consumption of unlimited amounts of candy. But when I was a kid, Halloween was the one time when our house — with its carved pumpkins – looked like everyone else’s. In December, when twinkling lights adorned our block, we were stuck with a sad paper menorah taped to the front door.

As Halloween bans have gained momentum, some districts are offering alternative fall festivals instead. For example, since 2015, Walpole, Massachusetts has swapped Halloween for “Black and Orange Day.” Two years ago, Waukesha, Wisconsin embraced “Hat Day” and Beaverton, Oregon, has “Crazy Sock Day.” (Clearly, the adult who came up with that one must have been traumatized as a child by too much candy corn.)

“Holidays in general are becoming more difficult to manage in public schools, because we have such a diverse population,” said David Wick, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.”

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