Last year, the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove started a new tradition around Halloween. For the first time, they had a Halal Food Festival.
The festival features only the meat of animals that have been slaughtered in a manner that causes them minimal pain and suffering. The person who slaughters the animal also invokes the name of Allah, blesses the animal and gives thanks for the food.
In Arabic, the word “halal” means permissible.
The second annual festival, Saturday, coincides with Halloween, giving community members a way to celebrate instead of donning costumes and trick-or-treating, said Feemun Dogar, president of the Islamic Society of Orange County, the oldest mosque in the area.
“This is an event to which we welcome all community members, regardless of what religion or culture they belong to,” he said. “We offer a festive atmosphere with a variety of food from different parts of the world.”
But, organizers do ask that participants not wear Halloween costumes.
“Our goal is definitely to discourage pagan symbols,” he said. “We don’t force kids not to celebrate Halloween. We just present this as an alternative way of celebrating.”
For many years, a number of churches in Orange County have held fall festivals on Halloween night to steer families away from the spooky and frightful.
This is the 10th year North Orange County Christian Church in Orange will hold its Kidz Fest, where children can still come in costumes – just not “scary costumes,” said Sheri Vanderkam, children’s ministry director for the congregation.
“We don’t ask anyone to leave if they come in a scary costume,” she said. “We just ask that they remove their masks so they don’t frighten the younger kids.”
It’s common to see little girls running in witches’ hats at the festival, but that’s as scary as it’ll get, Vanderkam said.
In addition to keeping out the spookier, darker elements of Halloween, the festival retains the part that is most attractive to kids and adults: the candy.
The highlight of the church’s Kidz Fest is “trunk or treat.”
“We have 20 cars parked in a row, their trunks filled with candy,” Vanderkam said. “And kids can go down the row filling up their treat bags. So, instead of going door to door, they go trunk to trunk.”
Above all, it’s a safe environment for children on Halloween night when things can get genuinely scary in neighborhoods with traffic, she said.
“And we also like to show everyone else that Christians can have fun, too,” Vanderkam said with a laugh.
Halloween coincides with Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” The beloved Mexican tradition is widely celebrated in Orange County, especially in Santa Ana where the Noche de Altares or “Night of Altars” celebration is the largest in Southern California.
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. On these days, families set up altars called ofrendas to honor the deceased, decorating them with sugar skulls, marigolds and favorite foods and beverages of the departed.
Families set up altars according to their traditions, said Benjamin Vazquez, one of the event’s organizers.
“My grandpa always made mole on those days,” he recalled. “I view Halloween as a commercial holiday. But Dia de los Muertos is a beautiful, meaningful, spiritual tradition.”
The belief, which stems from Mexican and indigenous cultures, is that the spirits of the ancestors visit families once a year. Flowers like marigolds are believed to invite spirits of the departed.
Vazquez talked about how his two young nephews, who never met their great-grandfather, learned something about their departed ancestor each year because of this tradition.
“Last year, I found them arguing about who knew more about great-grandpa,” he said. “It was beautiful to see how they see a little bit of him in themselves and in other members of the family.”
And yet, it’s not a sad or solemn event, Vazquez explained.
“It’s absolutely a celebration,” he said. “It’s a celebration of the lives of our ancestors. It’s how we honor our ancestors and preserve the culture and traditions that have been handed to us by them.”
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