Christians And Halloween

halloween_pumpkinI posted this article last year as Halloween approached, but thought I would repost it as food for thought again this year.

An important day is upon us, at least in American culture. I speak of Halloween, which arrives every year on October 31. Though I no longer live in America, I am aware that it is quite a celebrated day amongst my countrymen and women, or at least their children. The stores are stocked with all things orange and black, not to mention the overflowing aisles of all things candy.

And oddly enough, though I live in Belgium, I hear that if you go into one of the main American communities just south of Brussels, into the city of Waterloo, you will see lots of jack-o-lanterns in anticipation of the day.

Certainly, Christians have debated about this day for years on end. And, no doubt, many Christians would rather decline an invitation to dress-up in a costume and march around the neighbourhood, all with the intent of speaking those infamous words, ‘Trick or Treat,’ at each door that was knocked on.

So, is Halloween harmful, even evil? Or is it just a simple ploy to get some free candy? I mean, can’t we just dress up as clowns or firemen (or Bible characters) in our attempt to collect some complimentary candy? What are we to make of all this hype, for America does know how to hype its holidays? Those are the questions that beg themselves, at least for me.

History of Halloween

What many of us don’t realise is that all commercialised holidays actually have a history – how they came to be what they are today. The current practices of festivals and holidays are usually a small shadow of what they started out as, taking a few noted twists and turns over the decades and, even, centuries. The same is true of Halloween.

In short, Halloween is connected to an ancient Gaelic festival long ago in which the Celtic people celebrated the end of the harvest, as well as the Celtic New Year (known as Samhain, pronounced sow-en). It was also a time used to stock up on supplies, slaughter livestock in preparation for the winter, as well as burn crops and livestock during a special fire for the Druids (these were simply the learned class amongst the Celts, despite many other tales about them). These ancient Gaels also believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the living and the dead would disappear and, thus, this could result in certain problems for the living.

Sounds spooky, right? Well, no doubt this festival was part of a pagan culture, though, interestingly enough, the people would later be reached and impacted with the gospel. But, instead of labelling it all as part of an evil society full of demonic practices, the festival should probably be seen as consisting of some simple superstitions of that ancient Gaelic culture. Nothing more, nothing less.

Specifically, Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV were responsible for bringing a Christian emphasis into this holiday during the 7th and 8th centuries AD. October 31 became known as All Hallows’ Eve and November 1 became known as All Hallows’ Day, or now known as All Saint’s Day (now an annual national holiday in Belgium and other European countries). This is where we get the current name Halloween.

Thus, a very brief history.

Halloween for the Christian Today

Certainly, Halloween has some very strange practices that have been more recently linked with it – ghosts, goblins, monsters, witches, black-magic, occultic practices, divination, etc, etc. But, what is noteworthy, yet contrary to much Christian teaching, is that hardly any of this stuff was actually initially connected to the Gaelic festival of centuries and centuries past.

So, what’s my point? Well, I am taking somewhat of a long route in looking to hint at the fact that we do not have to get bent out of shape at the thought of some people, even some Christians, participating in this holiday. No, I am not advocating witchcraft or occultic practices. But what I am advocating are these well-known words: Be in the world but not of the world. And, with this article, I am specifically looking to emphasise the first part of the statement. Though we are not to be ‘of the world’, we are still to be ‘in the world.’ That’s our call, right? That is God’s heart, right?

Thus, for the Christ-follower, though they would never desire to join in evil and forbidden practices, they do know, or at least I hope they do know, that they are called to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). Therefore, our call is to consider how we can faithfully walk into situations as those indwelt by God Himself, as kingdom-focused people, ready to interact with fallen humanity.

To quote Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. (vs14-15)

We are not called to hide, we are not called to crawl under baskets. Rather, light is given that it might be seen. And, thus, Christ bids us to go out and give light. As Christ prayed elsewhere:

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:18)

If we all simply stay in our houses during the night of October 31, or we only create our own alternative festivals in our own edifices on the same eve, how will we ever be able to interact with those who need redemption? I believe this is all part of a misguided and unhelpful desire to build Christian-ghettos. We don’t want to interact with the world, though we are called to, so we make our own bookshops, our own sports gymnasiums, our own clubs, our own everything. And the motto of such a practice is, ‘We will go over here and play. You guys stay over there.’

But consider that living like such is the exact opposite of Christ’s call that we be salt and light. It’s actually a reverse response to Christ’s prayer and sending us into the world. No one will ever taste the salt and no one will ever see the light if we lock ourselves in our homes or if we are only committed to driving to our church structures to have our alternative parties.

Now, in the end, my call is not that we all run out and buy costumes and get ready to hit the streets in a week and a half. And, of course, with our young children, we need to be wise and consider these things faithfully. But, if you get invited to a Halloween party, then I encourage you to go, for who knows what God might be working behind the scenes. If they start reading-palms, which is probably few and far between, then don’t participate. And if asked why, then let them know, but, as a quick reminder, do let your words be filled with grace (Colossians 4:6).

Or, if your kids want to dress up and go around the neighborhood to collect some candy, it’s ok. You won’t have to say seven hail-Mary’s the next morning. And, finally, if kids stop by your house voicing that oft-heard phrase, ‘Trick or Treat’, then give them some candy, and you don’t even have to secretly drop a cheesy tract into their bag. Bless them, pray in your heart for them, smile at them, and I’m sure you can think of other helpful connections for the gospel that are authentic and real.

But, when it is all said and done, I would challenge Christians to not take up the job description of ‘Halloween scrooge’. Again, you don’t have to search out a party to attend, you don’t have to dress up as a clown (which could prove scarier than a monster), and you most assuredly don’t have to participate in anything of the occult. But, if the opportunity presents itself, might I encourage you to consider how you can live out the call of God in the midst of a people that have no idea about the goodness of God as displayed at the cross. Might I challenge you to ponder the possibilities of a grace-empowered person walking into a house full of non-Christians who all have on costumes while playing games and dancing to some tunes.

Sure, some will participate in evil activities on that day. And we should pray for protection, pray for right living, pray for the heart of God to be outworked. But, for the majority of the tens of thousands (or more) that will participate in Halloween, they won’t be pulling out the tarot cards. And, so, might this coming Halloween night be an opportunity to sprinkle a little salt and shine a little light into the lives of people whom our God is just waiting to draw to Himself? I think so.

If you are interested in more reading, here is a recent article by theologian and blogger, Ben Witherington.

6 thoughts on “Christians And Halloween

  1. I agree with you that we shouldn’t sit in our homes and pout 🙂 We must be in the world and evangelize with our words and actions!

    But should we (as you suggest) participate in Halloween celebrations? I feel Halloween can most concisely be denoted as a celebration of darkness, death, and fear. It’s a celebration of Satan and his machinations.

    For analogies sake, imagine there is a party at the Playboy mansion. It is a celebration of debauchery and hedonism–Satan’s handiwork. Should we attend this party? I’m sure we could find some contexts in which we should, but perhaps you see my point! Sometimes, Christians should not support things by a lack of their presence. Can you think of instances where that is the case?

    Here’s a post I wrote last year that I think adds to the conversation!

  2. Hi Nathan. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    With regards to seeing Halloween as mostly to deal with darkness, death and fear, that is not fully true, as I tried to note about its history in my article. It is definitely possible that people will choose to make such the focal point, but I suppose very few go that far (trying to make Satan a focal point) in comparison to the larger population.

    I do take note of your example of a Playboy party, and this is where I have suggested we use wisdom. If a party has a bunch of nudity and sensual lust, then I do believe we should not be involved in such. The same stands true with Halloween. If demonic stuff is taking place – palm reading, ouji boards, etc – I understand staying away from such a party. It makes sense. But I don’t believe it is as rampant as we want to make it sound. Most people just want to dress up, eat some candy, enjoy some drinks, dance, laugh, play games, etc.

    And, what I would suggest considering is that, even if such things are going on, we don’t necessarily have to make it our aim and calling to make a big protest. That probably will just escalate the problem. I would simply go enjoy another celebration, being salt and light there.

    If interested, here is another recent article by a blog I frequent – Internet Monk.

    Thanks again.

  3. Indeed man–if one isn’t celebrating darkness, death, or fear, what can be said negatively about Halloween?

    Surely no one at these parties you might go to would be dressed up as anything intended to bring fear into someone’s heart. Surely there are no decorations there with a theme of darkness, death, or fear either!

    😉

  4. I, personally, wouldn’t mind someone dressed up as a monster, even a witch. I, myself, would not dress up as a witch. Probably would go as M.C. Hammer or something like that. But, I even think we can learn something from the concepts of darkness, death and fear. Imagine the conversations that could arise with such questions popping up about these themes. God has a lot to say about these concepts.

    It reminds me of a friend who, every time he saw someone reading The DaVinci Code, he took it as an opportunity to talk about spiritual things, even Christ if the door was opened. Many Christians protested the book (and movie). The book has some very blasphemous things written in it. But he saw it as an opportunity to share Christ with regards to topics that came up in the book. What a great opportunity!

    So, imagine being at a haunted house. Imagine it being a little scary. Imagine going out for a drink after and talking about the haunted house. Imagine a question coming up about fear and what is fear and what is death. Imagine the door starting to open to talk about eternal things. Imagine the opportunity of being salt and light in that situation. Exciting possibilities!

    Again, we need wisdom and the Spirit’s leading. So, please do hear my heart. But I am not going to exit stage left just because someone dresses up as a scary witch.

  5. I agree with you in spirit!

    There was a time when loving and serving God meant staying away from unclean things which included the lepers and foreigners. It was not until Peter saw the heavens open and the sheet descend that was there a sign from God to reach out to the Gentiles. God gave us freedom and liberty for the sake of reaching the lost and for touching the unclean with His love. He didn’t give us the freedom so we would fall into the same traps, handle the same things as entertainment, or love the things of the world–but I digress.

    It is good to see everything as an opportunity. But we must also take into account where we are seen and what we do–even Paul would not eat the food sacrificed to idols if it would cause a weaker brother to stumble.

    For me it is more about the celebration.

    Another analogy. We want to reach the Satan worshippers. We step into their temple, bow before their idol, eat their food, then afterwards we tell them about Jesus. I know that sounds preposterous, but there must be seen a difference between going to where the lost are and doing what the lost do!

  6. Nathan –

    I sense you simply want to argue with me. You say you agree with me in spirit, but you keep treating me ‘spirit’ as questionable.

    You stated: ‘there must be seen a difference between going to where the lost are and doing what the lost do!’

    Non-Christians go to the cinema. Should we not? Non-Christians go to the grocery store. Should we not? Non-Christians play Wii. Should we not? Some non-Christians utilise the internet for wrong. Should we not utilise it for good, or stop all together?

    I am ok to do what the lost do. We are humans. But I am not ok with practicing evil and ungodly things, which I have expressed a few times. So, I hope you truly do understand my ‘spirit’.

    Here is another helpful article from another blogger that I frequent – Parchment & Pen.

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