Halloween Thoughts

A Facebook friend of mine sent out a query to a group of Christians asking for our take on whether or not to celebrate Halloween.  She referred us to this web page to provide the historical rationale for why a Christian ought not to observe Halloween.  My response to her was as follows:

I’m going to attempt a response as a historian, a theologian, and a parent. As a historian, I can concur that the research this article provides is accurate. Samhain is the primary predecessor to our Western celebration of Halloween, and Samhain was, as described, concerned with the appeasement of the dead so that they would not haunt the living in the coming year. As with most every agrarian culture, rituals and observances develop around planting and harvesting times, as well as with the seasonal changes. 

As a historian and parent, I question the author of this website’s assertion that these are beliefs that we are “imitating”. I was raised in a home where trick-or-treating was celebrated. I take my children trick or treating. I’m pretty sure that my parents weren’t aware of the pre-Christian origins of the practice. I was never taught that this was a satanic celebration, or that the curious practice of dressing up as something we are not was anything more than a night of childish revelry. Despite being well acquainted with the pre-Christian roots of Halloween through my study of history, I have not taught my children these roots, or in any way associated their antics with any sort of theological import – whether Christian or demonic. As they grow old enough to learn deeper history, I will teach them the origins of this holiday. But at that point, I think it will be as clear to them as it is to me that in dressing up and collecting candy from neighbors, we are not imitating the beliefs of the druids or the Celts. We are having fun. And fun can be had regardless of the origins of a practice. 

For example – Monopoly is a popular board game. Yet the purpose of the game is to bankrupt your opponents. Is this a Biblical principle? Hardly – yet I don’t know people who would seriously object to playing the game on that basis. There’s an understanding that the object of the game is not to be taken literally, or as a guide for living life or practicing business. How about the simple word game of Hangman. Does anyone believe that this is anything more than a simple game, or that it is in any way promoting or encouraging lynching? 

Likewise, many adults root for hometown or favorite football teams with names like the “Raiders” or the “Buccaneers” or the “Sun Devils”. All of these are references to practices or entities that are not only not Biblical, the original references are hardly a guide to Christian living. Yet again, nobody seriously thinks that by rooting on their favorite football team, they’re also rooting on the concept of stealing and pillaging and rape and murder and whatever practices the namesake might have been associated with. 

Are we “imitating” Satanic beliefs with Halloween? Whatever confusion existed on that matter died out (for the vast majority of people!) hundreds and hundreds of years ago. What remains is a candy-coated shell gutted of it’s theological and spiritual implications. I would suggest that parents exercise common sense about the types of costumes they allow or encourage their children to dress up in. Do you really want your 5-year old dressed up as a demon? However, I would issue the exact same caveat to parents who seem to have no problem allowing their young children to dress like teenagers or 20-somethings, and who seem to find Hannah Montana or Britney Spears as reasonable fashion icons for their young children. What are you teaching your children about their bodies and about modesty and sexuality? Frankly I see far more to be concerned about in that realm than in the realm of Halloween satanism.

The point of Halloween today is for children to exercise their imaginations and enjoy an evening of silliness. I’ve yet to offer candy to a collection of children at my door who in any way seemed to embody an element of menace, of satanic or pagan intent, or even the macabre. It’s a night for sugar-fueled imagination. Parents who do (and should) understand the history of Halloween should have no difficulty redirecting any errant obsessions by their children to see in it something more, something sinister. If a child seems to be unduly fascinated with the history of the celebration, perhaps it would be a good idea to discontinue dressing up and to focus on educating them historically and theologically. As with anything, a certain level of common sense should be exercised if it appears that something more than simple fun is afoot.

Theologically, Halloween is a ‘Christianized’ pagan practice. What began as a serious and fearful event by those ignorant of the Gospel became childs-play in light of the Gospel. We have no fear of the dead now – we know where they are, and they are not out haunting us nor seeking appeasement. The powers of fear and evil have been broken by the cross and the empty tomb, and at a certain level, our mocking of these defeated forces is a foreshadowing of their final and ultimate defeat when our Savior returns. While we still struggle with the reality of evil and death, we struggle only in the light of the coming dawn, knowing that whatever loss or damage we suffer now will be made right again in the reconciliation of all creation, in the revoking of the curse.

Unless we are willing to take the logical steps of purging our lives of anything that does not derive directly in some manner from Scriptural referent, we should be cautious about demanding this particular day and practice be expunged in Christian circles. This is the danger of legalism. When things become a matter of following a certain rule or law on a matter, we quickly find that we are entailed to observe the rule and law without exceptions. I live in the grace of forgiveness won for my by Jesus Christ. If I truly felt that Halloween were still a dangerous pagan festival, it would be best for me to not observe it. It would be important for me not to encourage my Christian brother or sister (such as the author of the web site) who has strong feelings or objections to ignore those feelings or act contrary to conscience. They need to be faithful and diligent in the living out of their lives of faith, and I commend them for doing so – even if I don’t feel the same steps are necessary for me. 

Paul was able to tell the faithful Corinthians who were worried about eating food sacrificed to idols not to unduly worry about the matter. After all, idols are false! Take reasonable steps to ensure you aren’t partaking of something that someone has gone to special effort to offer to an idol and to make you aware of that fact. Otherwise, eat in good conscience. Likewise, unless you suspect that someone in your family is treating Halloween as a pagan or satanic celebration, or unless you feel it would confuse your witness of faith to you children or neighbors, enjoy the evening in the grace of God.

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