Fall is in the air, leaves are turning, and it’s definitely getting colder. With October drawing to a close, and stores stocked with decorations, it’s a natural time to consider Halloween. What are the origins of Halloween? Is it an innocent evening of fun, or are there darker dimensions to it? Can Christians celebrate Halloween or would we be better off sitting this one out?
The origin of Halloween
The origin of Halloween isn’t entirely clear. Traditionally, Halloween was known as ‘All Hallows Eve’ and came before ‘All Hallows Day.’ For Catholics, All Hallows Day is better known as ‘All Saints Day’ and is a day of remembering the saints who didn’t have their own dedicated day of remembrance. While the church certainly attempted to “Christianize” Halloween, most believe its origins go back much further.
Many historians (but not all) believe Halloween evolved from the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in’). The word Samhain means ‘end of summer’ and was the beginning of the Celtic year. Samhain was a celebration that marked the end of harvest and was also a time to build shelters for the winter. The festival of Samhain had definite religious aspects as the Celts believed this was a time when the living could visit with the dead.
According to Celtic lore, Samhain was a time of transition involving spiritual battles, the casting of spells, and the sacrifice of both crops and animals. It’s believed that during the festival of Samhain the dead were once again able to walk among the living and share the secrets of the future. Many scholars believe that Halloween’s modern association with ghosts, skeletons, zombies, etc. are carry-overs from these pagan traditions.
Jumping ahead to the seventh century, we begin to see the modern connection more clearly. In 609 AD, the Pantheon, which formerly served as a temple to the Roman gods, was rededicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs by Pope Boniface IV on May the 13th.
While the Orthodox Church continues to celebrate All Saints Day on the first Sunday after Passover (a day close to May 13th), the celebration was moved to November 1st in the eighth century at the behest of Pope Gregory III. The generally (but not universally) accepted view is that the church chose this date as a means of ‘Christianizing’ the existing pagan holiday taking place.
Traditionally, All Hallows Eve served as a time of fasting and prayer before All Saints Day. All Souls Day, a day to remember family and friends who died, was added about two hundred years later on November 2nd.
Here in America many of our Halloween traditions come from the early English settlers. Even the word, “Halloween” comes from Old English and means ‘hallowed,’ or holy. As the number of early American settlers grew and became more diverse, various folklore and legends among the people merged into many of the modern day Halloween traditions we see.
Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?
Understanding the origin of Halloween provides a better understanding of what we’re dealing with. Whether Christians should celebrate Halloween or not however remains controversial.
Halloween in America continues to become increasingly commercialized. Also, what started as fun costumes and free candy continues to get more demonic and sinister each year. There are houses I’d rather avoid while walking my kids to school simply to keep them from looking at the gory decorations adorning the front yard.
This year especially, I’ve found myself in the position of having to assure my children that ghosts and goblins aren’t real while at the same time affirming the reality of Satan and his demons. Undoubtedly this makes no sense to someone who denies the supernatural, but it’s a reality for Christian parents. Just as we have excellent reasons to believe in the existence of God, we can’t deny the reality of the devil.
Whatever the origins of Halloween, Satan has certainly spread his influence over this day. In fact, although the organized worship of Satan has been going on for decades, it was October 31, 1999 when the official church of Satan was founded by Karla LaVey.
Satan, also known as the deceiver or the father of lies, spreads his influence by making hell and evil seem innocent and enjoyable. If you don’t think this is happening just look at the nature of Halloween costumes, or the increasing number of “fright fests” being advertised. While some Christians see Halloween as an opportunity to dress up and have fun, others are inclined to avoid the evening all together.
So who’s right? Is it possible to celebrate Halloween as a Christian without compromising your faith?
While the Bible doesn’t specifically address Halloween, it offers some general guidelines that we can apply.
Both the Old and New Testaments provide clear teaching about witchcraft, occultism, divination, and sorcery – all are to be avoided. The New Testament book of Acts provides several examples of the apostles openly opposing sorcery and occultism as they spread the message of Christ.
“And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone.” (Acts 19:18-19)
Does this mean Christians should avoid or oppose Halloween celebrations? Not necessarily.
There’s nothing wrong with dressing up like princesses, superheroes, etc. to go trick-or-treating, or to a party with friends. There are however certain darker aspects of Halloween that should definitely be avoided by Christians.
In all things, our dress, our attitudes, and our actions should reflect a redeemed life. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Ultimately, every Christian needs to make up their mind about how, or if, they celebrate Halloween. Many churches offer alternative Harvest Festivals or Trunk or Treat activities. Celebrations like these allow children and parents to dress up and have fun in a safe and God centered environment.
While spiritual attacks from Satan are certainly something the church needs to be aware of, division in the church is just as sinister. Whatever we decide to do, or not do, should be consistent with the principals of Romans 14:5-7 & 13:
“One person judges one day to be more important than another day. Someone else judges every day to be the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, and he gives thanks to God. Therefore, let us no longer judge one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister.”
Whether you decide to go to a party, take the kids out, or sit inside watching a movie, have a safe and happy Halloween!