I 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.