Christians have deliberated on the value of Halloween for decades on end. 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?
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. Yet, contrary to some information one might hear, hardly any of this stuff was actually initially connected to the Gaelic festival of centuries and centuries past.
So, what’s my point?
I do not believe we need to get bent out of shape knowing some people, even some Christians, participate in Halloween festivities.
More than anything, Jesus’ followers know their very specific calling to be salt and light in this world (Matt 5:13-16). We are not called to hide, we are not called to crawl under baskets. Nor do we even have to regularly play in our own little corners. Rather, light is given that it might be seen and Christ bids us to go out and give light. Go out and sprinkle salt within society.
If we all simply stay in our houses during the night of October 31st or create our own alternative festivals in our own edifices on the same eve, how will we be light on this night? Perhaps we’ll stick to 364 out of 365 days?
I believe this is all part of a misguided desire to build “Christian-ghettos.” We don’t want to be tainted by the world, so we make our own bookshops, our own sports gymnasiums, our own clubs, our own everything. And the motto is, “We, Christians, will go over here and play. You guys, “the world,” stay over there.”
Something of that nature.
But consider that living in such a way is diametrically opposed to Christ’s call. It’s a reverse response to Christ’s prayer (John 17) and sending us into the world. Fall Festivals (as alternatives to Halloween) aren’t wrong, per se. But perhaps they keep us off track.
Now, in the end, I’m not saying we all must run out and buy costumes and get ready to hit the streets tomorrow night. And, of course, with our young children, we need to be wise and consider these things faithfully (I have a 4 and 6-year old). But, if you get invited to a Halloween party, then I encourage you to go! 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.
Or, if your kids want to dress up and go around the neighborhood to collect some candy, then remember it’s really ok. If kids stop by your house voicing the 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 that are authentic and real.
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 be the grace of God amongst your friends, neighbors, and colleagues? 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 or ouija boards.
Might this eve be an opportunity to show hospitality to our neighbors?
It just might be so.
Let’s extend hands of grace and hospitality.
Scott,every time I read something you write, I think to myself, “Why didn’t I write that?” I agree wholeheartedly with your ideas here. When we were new Christians, eons ago, during the ‘theologically correct” days of our lives, when we were careful to follow the consensus of opinion on all things Christian, we followed the philosophy that Halloween is a pagan holiday and we should do the opposite just to let people know our stand. We are NOT of this world, so we will have a huge “fall festival” at church, pass out tracks, (cheesy ones of course) or just turn off the lights and pretend we are not home. Sometimes I cringe at the way we were. My kids really felt deprived about not being able to go trick or treating, and to my dismay,when we moved to California, they went out on their own just to find out what it was like to go door to door. The neighborhood where we lived was very conducive to door to door begging for treats, and they had a great time. After a while I did lighten up, and now I go along with the grand-kids participating in this grand PAGAN holiday and I truly enjoy myself. I know we really made a big deal out of nothing, but at the time it was what everyone did, so we fell in line.
I feel I am a bit of a rebel now, since I don’t have anyone telling me how I ‘should’ act, not being a pastor’s wife anymore. But it is really liberating to think back on all my bottom line ideas and really examine them. You are such an intelligent,thinking person and I really enjoy reading what you write!
Thanks for the comment. I’ve been there myself. As a young Christian, I was extremely defined in my rules. Now my thinking has generally shifted to think more of how I can participate in life with others, while honoring Jesus and being salt & light. I think it’s possible, though we’ll always need wisdom in all things. We’re learning to be wise & gracious together.