It’s mid-October and we all know what that means; only two more weeks until Halloween. Stores are in full holiday mode, geared up for high volume sales of candy, cookies, costumes and all of the other various sundries that coincide with the spookiest night of the year. Retailers also rejoice as they warm up the cash registers to receive something in the neighborhood of $8 billion this year. That’s right, billion, with a “B”, that’s what Americans spend on average each year for Halloween festivities.
There is something about Halloween that excites us all. Scary movies, haunted houses, parties, dressing up in silly costumes pretending to be someone or something else and skipping around the neighborhood gathering candy and treats from each house. For the most part it’s innocent fun, but the origins of this unofficial holiday are far from innocent.
As Christians, how should we respond to Halloween? Should we totally abstain from any and all celebrations? Should we go along with the crowd and just have a little fun, it is innocent fun, right?
The name “Halloween” actually has its origins in the early Christian church. All Saints Day was a day that was set aside to remember and celebrate the lives and sacrifices of Christian saints and martyrs. All Hallows Eve, just like Christmas Eve was the day before the actual holiday and it was when the remembrance began. Eventually “All Hallows Eve” was condensed to “Hallow-e’en” which over time became “Halloween.”
2,000 years ago, the Celts celebrated Samhain (“sow-en”) festival which marked the end of the harvest season, Oct, 31- Nov, 2. They believed that during those three days the ghosts of the dead returned to earth to cause trouble for the living. The people dealt with these evil spirits by dressing in spooky costumes so they wouldn’t be recognized by the walking dead.
These evil spirits were believed to take on grotesque shapes and haunting figures. Some believed that wearing costumes that resembled evil spirits would fool these spirits. Others believed that the spirits could be warded off by carving frightening faces into large gourds and placing a lighted candle inside them.
Many people, instead of fearing this season of haunting, embraced it by engaging in the dark arts such as, divination, witchcraft, necromancy (“communicating with the dead”) and satanic worship. They called on divine spirits (“demons”) or the spirits of their ancestors to bless the coming crops, bring good health and wealth and even to cast spells for love and revenge.
Eventually the light of God shined into this dark and superstitious world and newly converted Christians armed themselves with the truth and no longer feared evil spirits roaming the earth. In fact, these Christians denounced their former occult practices in accordance with Deuteronomy 18:
9 “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.
As the centuries passed, Christians began making compromises and slowly rejoined the pagan celebrations, especially the Samhain festival. Over time, the traditions and practices of Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together leading to Christianized superstations that provided even more fodder for fear. Christians began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were in fact demons and that the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. The tradition of going from house to house asking for food, what we call Trick or Treating, became an opportunity for young people to engage in mischievous behavior. People who refused to give treats would awake to find their property had been vandalized in various ways.
Halloween didn’t arrive on the shores of America until the late 1800’s when Irish immigrants began flooding into the colonies to escape the great potato famine in Ireland. To a great extent, our Halloween is an Irish holiday with origins in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. It’s interesting to note that the rise in popularity of Halloween in America coincides with the rise of spiritism in the mid to late 1800’s.
How Should Christians Respond
To begin with, we shouldn’t respond like pagans. Pagans are superstitious, they believe in ghosts, and goblins roaming the earth. We believe in the truth of God’s word. We know that demonic forces are active in the world at all times. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) We know that Satan and his minions are not more active on Halloween than any other day of the year. We don’t fear Satan because the bible says: “Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) God defeated evil once and for all at the cross.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Christians should respond to Halloween with a sound mind (wisdom). We must realize that ghosts, goblins, witches and other evil spirts are not terrifying at all. However, God unleashing his wrath on the unrepentant sinner is extremely terrifying. Pagans live in constant fear of death. Understand, it’s not just death that they fear, but what comes next. Pagans don’t live with the same hope of an afterlife as we do. We have an eternal life in Heaven with Christ to look forward to, but the unforgiven, unrepentant sinner has nothing but eternal fire and torment to look forward to.
Here’s my personal take on the matter. There is nothing inherently evil about celebrating Halloween. There is nothing evil about dressing up in costumes and going door to door to get candy; it may not be healthy, but it certainly isn’t evil. Recall the story of Peter in Acts, chapter 10. God told Peter to go to a pagan ruler’s house, a pagan that had been forgiven and born again. While he was there he had a vision of four footed animals, wild beasts, creeping things and birds. In the vision, God told Peter to kill and eat these animals and Peter refused. He told God that he had never eaten anything that was common or unclean. God responded by telling Peter not to call anything God has cleansed common or unclean.”
In 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, Paul says: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” The point is that while the celebration of Halloween itself isn’t evil, it may not be the best thing to involve ourselves in. As I said, it may not be wrong or evil in and of itself, but the way we perceive it and the various ways that we celebrate it may very well be.
Think about how others look at us. How do lost people look at you. As Christians we must always consider other people and how the way we live our life effects them. What are you teaching your kids about Halloween? What sort of costumes do you allow them to wear? What kind of activities do you allow them to engage in? Once you become a Christian, this life is no longer just about you. You are now and ambassador of Christ on this earth and it’s your responsibility to represent him well.
Please understand that I’m not anti-Halloween nor am I advocating total abstinence. I like scary movies and dressing up in costumes just as much as the next person, but I have to think about other people. I don’t want to misrepresent Christ. It’s a matter of personal conscience before God. So however you choose to partake in the holiday festivities, whether you choose to completely abstain or jump head first into all the spooky fun, we need to honor God by keeping ourselves separate from the world. We need to show love and mercy to those who are perishing around us. Halloween provides an awesome opportunity to use all of the horrifying imagery associated with Halloween to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.