Jews and Secular Holidays

Ever since some Jews were first politically emancipated in Europe as of the late 18th century, many have sought to integrate into the dominant culture of the countries in which they have lived, partially in order to escape anti-Semitism. In the United States, the great “melting pot” of the Western world, Jews have adopted American customs and holidays with enthusiasm. Historically sensitive to the charge of being labeled outsiders, Jews in the U.S. have often celebrated secular and civic American holidays with an eye toward demonstrating their loyalty and pride in their American citizenship.

halloween and jewsWhether Flag Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Thanksgiving, the American civic holidays have historically played a significant role in the development of the U.S. Jewish community. Jews have always been in the forefront in demonstrating their civic and patriotic pride in the U.S.

Thanksgiving has become a particular favorite in the American Jewish community because it incorporates many of the essential values of the Judaism and harnesses them in the service of a civic duty: gathering together as a family and eating a festive meal! In addition, one does not have to miss school or work as the entire country takes a long weekend off. Whether many Jews are aware of it or not, Thanksgiving has Jewish roots, since the pilgrims modeled their first Thanksgiving celebrations on the ancient Israelites’ fall harvest festival of Sukkot.

Halloween, although essentially a Christianized version of a pagan festival of the dead, has been somewhat more problematic for some American Jews. Because of its non-Jewish religious origins, some Jews feel uncomfortable celebrating a holiday that does not reflect Jewish values. Generally speaking, the more traditional the Jewish family, the less likely they are to allow their children to dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating. However, even among liberal and secular Jews, the appropriateness of celebrating Halloween is sometimes an issue of discussion.

Wherever there are Jewish communities throughout the countries of the Diaspora, the celebration of national civic or secular holidays has been an opportunity for Jews to demonstrate their patriotism and loyalty for their adopted nation.

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