Yikes, I don’t usually get into controversial stuff. Hopefully my readership is small enough these days that I can explain my thoughts without opening myself up to a huge debate in the comments.
Paul and I both grew up not celebrating or acknowledging Halloween, and that is something we carried with us into marriage and Savannah’s first few years. However, I’ve since started questioning this stance… and, well, and tomorrow night we’ll be trick or treating with the girls for the first time. It’s been an interesting journey, and I want to share the various articles and thought process that led to me changing my mind, in case it is helpful to anyone else. I am not writing this to convict anyone in either direction – just sharing my journey.
I started with the belief that Halloween was evil and celebrating the occult, and that was dangerous ground for any Christian. I believed harmless “trick or treating” would lead to kids thinking it was okay to dabble in the occult and the overall evilness of Halloween.
I am not sure what made me question, but perhaps it was when a coworker first told me about the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter. That troubled me, because I really love those holidays, so I started looking into it. After a bit of time and research, I decided I was completely comfortable celebrating those despite any pagan origins. Of course, that made me question how Halloween was different than the other two. I actually started dialogs with several anti-Halloween friends about my thoughts, but their answers weren’t satisfying my real questions. I mulled over it for one October, and then put it aside when Halloween was over. But the same questions cropped up again the next year, and the next.
Here is something I wrote last year…
My quandary is, why is okay to dress up 11 months of the year, but in October it’s suddenly evil? Is it okay to go to a church festival? I am not into the scary stuff, but I really want to do costumes and meet the neighbors by trick-or-treating. I just fail to see the evilness of that… Does a holiday ever lose its evilness because culture and time have taken it away? Is it okay if culture and time have made it a family-friendly fun holiday that’s about dressing up and candy?
Some of the articles I read at the time addressed the pagan origins of Halloween. Some even dared to suggest it was a Christian holiday (based on All Saints Day and All Saints Eve).
In “Halloween: A Distinctly Christian Holiday”, the author James Jordan writes about the origin, that they are unrelated to pagan holidays, that the Pope simply established All Saints Day to honor the Saints and remind us that our work is not done.
In Where did Halloween come from? Can a Christian celebrate it?”, author Matt Slick disagrees with that, saying it WAS an attempt by the Catholic Church to cover up a pagan festival.
In “Halloween: An Orthodox Christian Perspective”, author John Sanidopoulos goes in depth with the origins of Halloween and the origins of the United States’ cultural celebrations of Halloween. (He also makes some interesting observations about Christmas and Easter.)
This debate over the origins is talked about in “The Diverging Views of Halloween” by Trey Owens. He writes:
Which is true? In some ways, this question is irrelevant. What matters for us is how our culture celebrates Halloween today. Though how we account for the traditional beliefs and practices associated with Halloween has a great bearing on our view of the Holiday, the question we must ask is not “What was Halloween” but “What is Halloween.” And not just what is Halloween, but if we choose to celebrate it, how do we celebrate Halloween.
That actually got me thinking a lot. Why do the origins matter, if they are not acknowledged today? In our vast world of diverse cultures, each with a long and rich history, and thousands of symbols that mean different things… when do we say “enough is enough – I’m only going to worry about here and now”?
In James Jordan’s article, he writes:
Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now—and nowadays it is only a decoration.
He claims that our current traditions of dressing up and making the day fun is actually a form of “laughing at the devil”. I actually had heard this concept back in my anti-Halloween days, and scoffed at it, saying the devil is too serious to be mocked. But I understand that perspective now.
What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us, we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.
The whole symbols thing was something I pondered for a long time. Savannah was only two months old her first Halloween. We had a cute little bear outfit that she wore to keep warm. It was chilly so we dressed her in that and went to the mall. (We liked going to the mall to avoid Trick or Treaters.) Everyone thought her bear outfit was her costume. It seemed that the line was so blurry. Other people thought we were participating, but I honestly wasn’t – I was just dressing her in something warm, something I would have put her in without hesitation any other night of the fall/winter. So what should we wear? Should we dress down on October 31st? Doesn’t it seem that we were going a little far to avoid the devil’s holiday? Maybe there *is* something to be said about not letting him “have” the day?
Matt Slick brought up in his article a point that really was pivotal to my acceptance that Halloween could be celebrated as a Christian. I felt these verses were SO applicable here.
Take a look at the Christmas tree. It was originally an ancient fertility symbol. Yet, it has become a representation of Christmas and the place where gifts are placed. Are the Christians then paying homage to an ancient pagan fertility god? Not at all. They do not consider it pagan and are simply joining in a cultural event and giving no honor to anything unscriptural.
Think about this. In the Bible in 1 Cor. 10:23-33, Paul speaks about meat sacrificed to idols. This meat was often sold in the meat market and the question arose, “Should a Christian each such meat?”
Paul said in verse 25, “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake.” This is most interesting. He says it is okay to eat the meat bought in the market place even though that meat may have been sacrificed to idols.
Then in verses 28-29 he says, “But if anyone should say to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?” (NASB). Paul is saying that if you find out the meat was sacrificed to idols, don’t eat it — not because of you, but because of the other person. In other words, eating that meat won’t affect you. But, it may affect the attitude of another who does not understand the freedom the Christian has in Christ.
Is it any different with Halloween (or Christmas)? No. Even though Halloween has pagan origins, because of your freedom in Christ, you and/or your kids can dress up in costumes and go door-to-door and just have fun. However, if you are not comfortable with doing this, then you should not. If you know of a person who would be hindered by doing it, then you shouldn’t either.
Once I came to this conclusion, I moved on to: How will Halloween look in our family? I still don’t have any interest in haunted houses or being scared silly or practicing things that I do consider dangerous (witchcraft, ouija boards, etc). But what about fall festivals? What about Trick or Treating? Could it actually be a positive, community-building thing? I don’t think I really considered that aspect of it until we bought a house in a neighborhood that we wanted to invest in. TroubleFace Mom explains it better on her blog post “On Halloween” – Trick or Treating is a great way to show Christ’s love to our neighbors. I also liked A Musing Maralee’s blog post “A Practical Theology of Trick-or-Treating”. She talks about some instances where she and her husband chose not to participate in Halloween due to the background of people they were working with – which I do think is important. I also think it’s important to realize that not every country celebrates Halloween like we do here in the United States, and that it’s something that would change depending on the culture you’re currently in.
I liked this point made by John Sanidopoulos:
There are no rules how to celebrate Halloween, so any disagreeable element can be ruled out. One need not go to a psychic on Halloween or participate in any pagan ceremony. It is not a rule to take on a persona of evil or become over-sexualized, or to vandalize and attend drunken parties to have fun on Halloween. Halloween is about expressing one’s self in whatever way one chooses, and costumes have come to reflect this. Christians are not compelled to do what they don’t want to do on Halloween if they want to have some participation in it. It is alright for Christians to go trick or treating and give out candy on Halloween, because such practices have no evil element. In fact, I would argue that it entirely falls in line with the Christian attitude of showing neighborly love. All Christian homes should turn on their lights and welcome their neighbor’s children on Halloween, and even more so should Christian churches. I’ve often thought that the darkest element of Halloween are those homes and churches that refuse to turn their lights on for trick or treaters.
I wrote this after I dressed up the girls last year and took them to a Trunk or Treat at a local church.
I have found that since making this decision, it’s made this time of year a lot less stressful for me! I didn’t realize how much time I spent trying to ignore Halloween. I don’t tense up at decorations, or when people ask Savannah what she’s going to be, or when my friends all post pictures of their kids’ costumes. I am much more relaxed about it all and that’s a nice feeling. In some ways, I feel like before I was spending way too much energy on a day that I thought belonged to the devil. Now it’s like, I’m taking back the day. I do think I will always draw a line at the scary and satanic stuff. But there was always a line drawn about Halloween – it’s too pervasive in our culture to not draw a line – so I simply moved my line to include what I believe is harmless fun.
Sallie over at A Quiet Simple Life posted today a timely post that I think did an even better (and more concise!) job than I have about why they changed their minds about Halloween. I appreciated her four points, and I noticed her first point (“Not celebrating Halloween made me hate October”) was very true of me as well. Releasing that has been such a relief for me.
So that’s where things stand for me right now. We’ll see how it changes as God convicts me in the future. I hope these thoughts are helpful to someone who is questioning (in either direction) – that’s why I wanted to write them. I probably will not engage in debate in the comments so keep that in mind. :-)