Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

I have a confession to make. I'm terrified of Halloween. Ok, maybe terrified is a bit of an exaggeration, but I find it quite unnerving.

In fact, I'm supposed to go out tonight to hear someone speak but I'm actually considering staying home and skipping the talk. Is this ridiculous or what?!

When I told my friends about this, they all laughed at it, surprised that I would be feeling this way, and to be honest, I was just as surprised as they were. Why was I feeling this way? It was quite unsettling, more so the fact that I was scared than the fear itself, but when I took a closer look at the issue it became quite clear what was causing this irrational anxiety.

As a kid it was understandable to be scared. We were told that bad things happened to people who were out that night. But these weren't just things said to scare us. The local yeshiva actually sent the kids home early on Halloween so no one would be out after nightfall. Besides the innocent mischief like TP'ing a house or spraying shaving cream, vandalism and violence were common, or so we were told. My parents instructed us never to open the door that night, no matter who was knocking. Additionally, my first year of high school I attended a yeshiva where many years earlier someone had actually been murdered on Halloween. Ever since, the week of Halloween every yeshiva guy walking the few blocks from the dorm to the beis medrash had a police escort to accompany him. So with these early impressionable experiences, its easy to see how I could have gained such an ambivalent view of the day (and no doubt a few horror movies along the way didn't help matters much).

After that first year of high school, I attended yeshivas where the bochurim were on a private campus and pretty much isolated from the larger community. We probably weren't even aware of it when Halloween passed us by. The years after high school I was in Israel during Halloween, where nobody even acknowledges it whatsoever.

So this year, finding myself back in the US of A, is the first time since the age of 13 that I am really experiencing an actual Halloween. And after thinking about it, I realized that the reason I'm feeling scared is because I'm still looking at Halloween through the eyes of a frightened 13 year old. Because I haven't actually encountered, or even thought about the holiday all these years, I still have the same juvenile sentiments that I had about it all those years ago, when my last impressions were sincere dread and fear. What I needed to do is reexamine the issue with a mature perspective. It seemed absurd, but evidently there were irrational, childish fears that because they were never thought about or addressed, had lain dormant within me for many years, never being resolved the way other such notions had been.

This lesson really drove home a point I once wrote about in a previous blog post. As I said there:
"...there are still myriad areas of thought and experience that I haven't adjusted my perspective on. For the most part, this is because I haven't had any opportunities to seriously reexamine these issues and feelings. Changing ones lifestyle and society can raise many issues that one needs to clarify and take sides on, but there remain countless other areas which are just not touched on by the events and experiences of everyday life. Additionally, the sheer volume of ideas, habits, perspectives, and tendencies that the frum world inculcates in their followers makes it practically impossible for a person to totally undo all the subtle, yet deeply rooted, effects they have on one's psyche."
So many ideas are drilled into us in our youths. Some overtly, some subtly, most very deeply. If we don't directly face these issues, they will stay with us forever, lying quietly within our hearts and minds, waiting for the moment, probably many years later when we least expect them, to resurface and wreak havoc in our lives, our daily routines, our relationships. They will throw us off balance, causing us to question ourselves and misstep. It's imperative to understand these long forgotten patterns of thought and undo them before they can affect us adversely. Like our rabbeim taught us about doing teshuva - it's like cleaning for chametz: You have to vigorously hunt for every possible trace of it, dig deep down to find it, and then when you do, you have to work hard to eradicate it and it's influence on you.

Rebbe, I accept your teaching. Have a most Happy Halloween! ;-)


Follow-Up From The Day After: I actually had a wonderful time all day long, seeing all the kids decked out so cute and the adults with some wild and wacky costumes was tons of fun and actually reminded me of Purim in Jerusalem. I was in midtown in the evening and the crowd was just so lively and fun. It was great! The subways and streets were just full of delightful sights. There was nothing uncomfortable about it whatsoever, and besides easily helping me overcome my irrrational phobia, experiencing all this also reinforced my belief that so much of what I was taught in my youth about non-Jews is such a bunch of sh*t. And just in case someone might say that no adults actually still believe that crap, I'll add that I spoke to a frum relative that evening and when I described my experience, he was shocked that there was anything enjoyable about it. He wasn't risking going out unless it was absolutely necessary.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I don't know if you care, but you do realize that in this post you revealed that you went to Mesivta of Long Beach.

The Hedyot said...

Of course I realize it.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Okay. Just checking.

Anyway, when I was a kid Halloween also scared the daylights out of us kids.

Sholom said...

Freilichen Chag Habeitzim!

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Interesting. I've never celebrated Halloween, but it always looked like fun. Some of it quite mean-spirited fun, but nothing particularly scary.

I think when i was 13 we still had one or two trick-or-treaters visiting our apartment in Boropark. :-P

Ezzie said...


I don't know - I was never scared of Halloween. Where I grew up, all we saw were a few nice kids trick-or-treating as it got dark, and a few decorations up here and there. It was more ignored than scary.

You're right about the ideas being ingrained into us from our youth. I'm not sure if you meant always or what, but it's clearly not limited to religious ideas. As long as we're aware of them, they don't (necessarily) need to be eradicated; we should just be aware of how they affect us.

[Sorry if this was all discussed on that thread - too lazy to check. :) ]

Lakewood Venter said...

I hear ya! Happy Haloween to you I guess! I am glad you survived it for yet another year!

Mis-nagid said...

I didn't even realize it was Halloween until I saw that Google's homepage logo was changed. Of course later in the day the costumes kind of gave it away. ;-)

Chana said...

I think there is some good reason to be scared of Halloween. There are some pretty ugly tricks that go on- egging is mild, though annoying, but people have been known to do incredible things in the name of the holiday.

I think the very nature of the holiday, which suggests people can hide behind the masks of others, is frightening. You don't know who anyone is or what they want to do, what parties they've attended and how drunk they are right now. But I'm still talking about the night.

On a whole, however, especially for little kids as opposed to adults, Halloween is sweet and fun and costume-happy. So it's all good. ;)

nyapikores said...

are you still around? i saw your name on shtreimels (who apparently thinks highly of you) blog. now i have th task of plowing through yours.

The Hedyot said...

I am around. Just haven't had the inclination to write much lately. Enjoy the archives.