It’s that time of year again. This is the season where God displays his beauty in the shades of orange, yellow, red and brown through the leaves that hang from trees. For me, it is also a time of anticipation as we lead up to the holiday season of Christmas. But during this period, it also launches the infamous day of Halloween. And thus, I share my annual Halloween post.
Halloween, marked every year by the calendar date of October 31st, is a debated day, at least for many a Christians. This is quite a celebrated day amongst Americans, or at least our children. The stores are stocked with all things orange and black. It started nearly 2 months ago!
Certainly Christians have deliberated on the value of this day for decades on end. And, no doubt, many Christians would rather decline an invitation to dress-up in a costume and march around the neighborhood, all with the intent of speaking the infamous words, “Trick or Treat,” at each door knocked upon.
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 might just beg themselves.
History of Halloween
What many of us don’t realize is that all commercialized 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, 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 31st, 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, doubtless 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 labeling 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 31st 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 celebrated by many European countries). This is where we get the current name Halloween.
Thus, a very brief history.
Halloween for the Christian Today
It is true that Halloween has some very strange practices that have become 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 Halloween festivities. No, I am not advocating witchcraft or occultic practices. But what I am advocating might be summed up in these well-known words: Be in the world but not of the world.
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 (Matt 5:13-16). Our call is to consider how we can faithfully walk into situations as those born of God, as kingdom-focused people, ready to interact with fallen humanity.
We are not called to hide, we are not called to crawl under baskets (Matt 5:14-15). Rather, light is given that it might be seen. And, thus, Christ bids us to go out and give light.
If we all simply stay in our houses during the night of October 31st, or we simply 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 what some call “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’re doing the Christian thing here. We will go over here and play. You guys stay over there.”
Something of that nature.
But consider that living in such a way might be diametrically opposed to Christ’s call that we be salt and light. A reverse response to Christ’s prayer (John 17) and sending us into the world. Fall Festivals (as alternatives to Halloween) aren’t wrong. But no one will ever taste the salt and no one will ever see the light if we only lock ourselves in our homes or if we only ever drive 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 few days’ time. And, of course, with our young children, we need to be wise and consider these things faithfully (I have a 3 and 5 year old). 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 (Col 4:6).
Or, if your kids want to dress up and go around the neighborhood to collect some candy, know it’s really ok. 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, smile at them, speak words of grace, 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 outright evil. 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 of the grace of God? 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 this day. And we should pray for protection, pray for right living, pray for God’s heart to be known to our neighbors. But, for the majority of the hundreds of thousands 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?
It just might be so.