Halloween is a fun, annual tradition when kids of all ages dress up and walk down the streets in their best spooky attire, scavenging for candies. Houses are decorated, horror stories abound and many adults do their best to join the fun by either giving out candies to the trick-or-treaters, dressing up, or both.
Like most other holidays of the year, stores are happy to make it their own by selling their Halloween-themed goods and this now widely commercial holiday promises fun, thrills and laughter for the whole family. But where did it start? Should Christians be concerned by its roots? Should we celebrate it or take part in any of it? Here are some answers.
Where Does Halloween Come From
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, “The holiday had its origins in Samhain, one of the most sinister festivals on the Celtic calendar. The ancient Celts believed that on November 1 the souls of those who had died returned to visit their homes or to journey to the otherworld. People set fires to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by ghosts.”
It continues, “In the 8th century, however, the Roman Catholic Church—perhaps in an effort to end the pagan holiday—moved All Saints’ Day to November 1. The evening before became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween. While the day was celebrated by some Christians, many of the Samhain traditions persisted, and Halloween eventually became more commonly known as a secular holiday.” Deborah, a dear friend, lovely woman of God and brilliant anthropologist from Ireland, explained to me during a non–academic exchange that indeed, Halloween was born in the Celtic tradition. She says, “The Church has a history of trying to ‘redeem’ or ‘repurpose’ pagan holidays to bring them into line with Christian teaching.” This is the case with Halloween. Only, the Church was not as successful with this holiday as it was with some others. Today’s traditions resemble more the original Samhain Festival than the attempt at Christianizing it.
Some people are quite uncomfortable with the idea of turning a pagan holiday into something that Christians celebrate. Yet, if you think about it, it is a smart strategy. It is like saying, “You celebrate this on that day? How about we celebrate Jesus on that very same day and forget about that lesser god?” Yet, the issue many have with Halloween is that, even as a somewhat Christianized holiday, it is still about death.
What We Celebrate Today on Halloween Day
While the festival of old went through different phases of transformation to give us today’s Halloween, the elements that remain have lost their meaning for most folks. People dress up because it’s fun, carve pumpkins because they enjoy it, and trick or treat because they love candy.
Growing up, I’d watch spooky programs on TV in the days leading to Halloween. I would choose a costume and go trick-or-treating with my family. Late October is often cold in Canada and that meant ruining my costume by covering it with a warm jacket. I would prefer freezing just to be having something left of a costume to show. (The gloves, hat and boots could really take away ALL the fun.) All we really cared about were costumes and candies.
When I asked my friend Deborah about her experience she said, “I certainly have my memories from childhood in Northern Ireland, but it was always more of a harvest festival than ‘entertaining spirits’ event.” As children, she and I, although born on two different continents, enjoyed the festivities with absolutely no intentions or connections to the spirit world that Celts celebrated ages ago.
Debbie adds, “Today, of course, the only god being venerated is money. Halloween has become a huge money-making machine… That American tradition and the associated symbols have now bounced back on Europe … and celebrations are probably bigger and more Americanized in their treatment of the holiday than before.”
She is right. According to the NRF, this year’s spending on Halloween will reach record highs. “With more than 179 million Americans planning to partake in Halloween festivities, up from 171 million last year, spending is slated to reach a record high in survey history. This year, consumers are expected to spend $9.1 billion, up from $8.4 billion in 2016.”
The Trick-Y Thing with Halloween
With all that said, the holiday is of pagan origins and some people still celebrate it as such. People who give themselves to dark spiritual practices view Halloween as an important day with heightened spiritual activity and the forces of darkness more readily accessible.
As Debbie says, “Some really take this idea of a veil between the living and the dead being lifted quite seriously.” Make no mistake about it. On Halloween Day, occult practices do take place. And as hard to believe as it may be, not everyone practicing occult sciences are consciously worshipping the devil or inviting demons in.
There is an array of occult practices that promise health and wealth through rituals that seem totally harmless like the burning of candles and incense, mixing of specific herbs and objects. Some practice divination with the help of runes, numbers and cards, etc. Now these practices are most definitely connecting one to deceiving demonic activity. Someone can have good intentions and still be bound in darkness without knowing it. It is of no use to demonize and depersonalize someone for such practices. We are to love all people. Besides, anyone who dealt with occultism will have no issues believing in God. I speak from experience.
While I am at it, allow me pause for a second. Did you know that horoscopes and the likes are purely rooted in the occult? Be careful with what you play with. That Ouija board they sell in the kids’ department is no children’s game. Do not play with spiritual forces you do not understand. It is no game!
So, what does all of this mean for Christians?
The Heart of the Matter
There is probably more to say about one’s heart and conscience than anything else. Some Christians avoid the celebrations altogether. Others will have another kind of celebration on Halloween evening. Some even dress up and collect candy in a church-y kind of way, without the skeletons and the spider webs. Many churches open their doors and have family time. Some people simply go out there and celebrate Halloween like the rest of their neighbors.
What approach is best? I’ll let you decide. In Matthew 15, Jesus has an encounter with pharisees. They criticize Jesus’s disciples for not washing their hands before eating, thus going against an age-old tradition. Jesus rebukes them passionately, telling them that their tradition is actually the real problem. Tradition must never go beyond God’s perfect law of love. When Jesus explains that to His disciples, He says, “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (Matthew 15:17–20, NLT.)
In short, it’s not so much what we do that condemn us, but the heart with which we do it. If you truly surrender your heart to God, there is no way you can engage with the occult with a clear conscience. But one can certainly engage in criticism against their brothers and sisters all the while sporting the perfect Christian outlook. Certain practices are just plain wrong and a big no-no when it comes to God. For the gray areas like today’s overall Halloween celebration, those verses can help in having a clear conscience.
A Balancing Act
As believers, we are dead to ourselves and alive in Christ. Our aim as we run the race and fight the good fight of faith, should consistently be to glorify God and bring people to know Jesus. How do we accomplish that if we look like a bunch of weirdos living on another planet only other believers have visited? At the same time, how do we keep a clear conscience and live unapologetically for God? It is a difficult balancing act and only the Holy Spirit can lead us to that sweet spot of service and holiness.
Some last words from my wise friend Deborah, “Christian participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience—but also, I would suggest, should be an intentional disposition. We need a strategy, whilst at the same time being aware that our choices may not be those of our neighbors, friends and other church members. It is a balance between not doing anything that ‘would cause another brother to stumble’ and our response to the call of being salt and light in this world—for which we need to be IN it to make a difference! Separation may be good for one’s own spiritual health (or for those who are less confident in the victory we have in Christ)—but cutting oneself off disqualifies the Christian to a certain degree from ‘showing another way’ and helping those who are without hope, lost, hurting and in need of the Savior.”
Practical Ideas and Solutions
Avoid spending too much hard-earned money on decorations by adding pumpkins and squashes to your decor. They are perfect, non-death celebrating, seasonal decorations. They are as cheap as they get during this time of the year. Plus, once Halloween has passed, imagine all the delicious dishes you can prepare with those vegetables? Soups, sides and casseroles… Yum! Cut on candy expenses, by using the services of your dear friend, Google, to find homemade candy recipes! Imagine how ecstatic kids will be about making them with you? It could be a good time to explain to them that the world has good and evil in it, that your family chooses to celebrate good and that Jesus has defeated evil.
If you wish to have a good time with your children and avoid taking them to the streets, look for a local church that hosts a family day or a harvest celebration. If you can’t find any in your area, think about how you could creatively host such an event. Perhaps you could invite a few families over? Whatever your resources permit you. Don’t forget, everybody loves a good potluck!
If you do decide to take your kids trick-or-treating and to give out candies, you’ll have opportunities to connect with your neighbours like no other day of the year allows. Think about it!
Live Like You Mean It
Whichever way you choose to celebrate (or not) Halloween, do so like you mean it. Every breath we take on this earth can be an eternal reverb into life or death. Let’s be careful not to be legalistic and drive people away from church. As my friend Debbie said, let’s be intentional. I guess the real question remains, “How can I be the salt and light of the earth on October 31st? In what ways can I be an effective witness of the redeeming Good News of Jesus Christ?”
Is it by attending an office party dressed in whatever goofy attire of your choosing? Perhaps you can pray for the Holy Spirit to lead you to whoever needs God during that gathering. Is it by taking your kids trick-or-treating and making it a mission to connect with a neighbor with the intention of making them a friend and perhaps sharing the Gospel with them in due time? Or maybe it is to simply fast all day, stay home that night and pray? “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:17, NIV.) No joke. If we really knew what happens in the spiritual world when we pray, we’d be doing it more!
Whichever way you choose to go about it, whatever you believe is best, focus on that. Avoid criticizing the brothers and sisters who celebrate (or not) in a way that is not what you believe to be best. If you really must say something, ask questions, listen, be willing to learn and understand. Perhaps you will build a relationship that will allow you to help that person. Win a relationship, not an argument. Don’t ignore the day. Pray. Be a light. Be on the lookout.
Happy Halloween in the land of the living!