In addition to Christmas, Halloween is one of the oldest and most popular holidays our culture celebrates. Every year Christians, families and churches face the following question – “Should we celebrate Halloween or not?” There are great differences of opinion on this subject in the Christian community. Halloween can be the source of controversy and even division in churches. One thing we know for sure is that Halloween is not going to go away anytime soon. A major reason for this is money; Halloween will bring in 3.3 billion dollars to merchants. One thing we should not allow Halloween to do is bring division to the body of Christ. This can be avoided by having a well thought out position rather than reacting emotionally to an opinion different from ours.
The Origins of Halloween
Is Halloween an evil, pagan holiday? The answer seems to be both yes and no. Google Halloween origins, which is what I did, and you will find several explanations for how this day started. There will be different versions of the story along with some common threads running through it. Halloween appears to have begun with the Celtic people of Ireland, Britain and France in pre-medieval times. They divided their calendar into halves, the light period and the dark period. This was based on the longer (spring and summer) and shorter days (fall and winter). They would celebrate the end of the light days with the festival of Samhain (“sow” – “en”). This date would be sometime in October or November based on the lunar cycle. When Rome conquered Britain, the Celts adopted the Julian calendar and fixed the date on Nov. 1.
Rome ruled Britain for 400 years until its fall. In 313, when Rome adopted Christianity, it spread Christianity along with its empire. Many countries it conquered had pagan holidays and in the attempt to Christianize them the church would often establish a Christian holiday on the same day to compete with the pagan one. However, often what would happen would simply be the “paganization” of the Christian holiday. The traditions would be merged and celebrated together. For Halloween it meant keeping things like costumes, the giving of treats and bobbing for apples.
The Christian part of this holiday came about when Pope Gregory III established November 1 as All Saints Day. This was a time when the church would remember and celebrate the martyrs of the church; this day was also known as All Hallows Day. The night before became All Hallows Eve, (from which we get today’s Halloween). Pope Gregory IV in the 9th Century A.D. extended the celebration of this day to all of Christendom. So this is why I said Halloween has both a pagan and Christian heritage. The pagan side dealt with the theme of death, skeletons, evil spirits and in some cases the occult. Christianity was remembering its martyrs.
When the Roman Empire fell, the church continued on and expanded its power and influence through the Roman Catholic Church. There was the Age of Exploration when nations like Spain, France and Portugal spread their power to the New World. They sought new sources of wealth, territory and the spread of Christianity. The church traditions and holy days were spread along with the faith. Then came the Age of Enlightenment and Reason of the 19th Century. A wave of secularism spread across Europe and her colonies in the New World. This produced a growing secularizing of church holidays (or holy days) such as Christmas, Easter and Halloween.
Meaning of Halloween Today
Halloween means different things today to different people. For some it is just a time for children to dress up in costume, gather candy and have fun – an innocent childhood rite of passage. Others see it as a time of danger when we disregard God’s warning not to play around with the occult. They will quote Deuteronomy 18:9-12, which states, “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone… who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord…”
Others see it as time that can be dangerous for their children in today’s climate of weird and perverted people. Or it is an excuse for older youth or adults to get drunk, party or commit vandalism.
The question could be asked, “Is it inconsistent to not celebrate Halloween but celebrate other holidays such as Christmas with Santa Claus and all its commercialism?” Perhaps we should just ignore Easter with its pagan symbol of the Easter bunny and eggs (speaking of fertility rites, and beside when was the last time you saw a bunny lay an egg). What about the nationalistic holidays we recognize in our churches such as July 4, Memorial Day or Labor Day? What do they have to do with the Bible? Could they not be offensive to other nationalities in our churches? After all our citizenship is in heaven rather than on earth, is it not (Philippians 3:20)? Some holidays such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Thanksgiving are easier to connect to spiritual themes. But even these are just human traditions. I am playing devil’s advocate to get you to think about things we so commonly accept but others may not. We need to be careful not to be so judgmental towards those who hold different views than we do. They may have a well thought out position for why they do or do not celebrate Halloween. That is the main point – think it through and know why you hold the position you do and do not simply be reactionary.
To Celebrate of Not
So far you may feel that I have not answered the question of whether a Christian should celebrate Halloween. Rather I have been trying to give you a foundation upon which to build your own answer. Allow me to share some final thoughts and principles that may guide you in your decision.
Principle of Doubtful Things
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses the subject of whether Christians should eat meat that had been offered to idols. Some of the meat after the religious ceremony would be sold in the marketplace. Paul said he knew there was no such thing as idols therefore it did not bother him at all to eat the meat. However he realized all did not have this knowledge and freedom. Some of the believers had been saved out of idolatry and in their spiritual infancy thought it was wrong to do. Paul said out of love for the brethren he did not want his liberty to cause a weaker saint to sin against their conscience and stumble spiritually. Therefore there would be times when around them he would not eat the meat.
Principle of Faith & Tolerance
In Romans 14:14-23 Paul again addresses the subject of doubtful things. By that I mean things that Christians have different opinions on. There are some subjects, such as adultery, that the Bible is clear on. There are other things on which God gives principles to guide us. For example, movies were not invented when the Bible was written so there is no command about if we are allowed to watch them. However, God says much about our thought life and this is one principle to guide us on what to watch. Then there are the gray areas – the preferences we all have. These areas will not necessarily make you a better or worse saint because you do or you do not practice them (1Corinthians 8:8). The question here is whether we are acting in faith or violating our own conscience. The principle is when in doubt – do not. Each of us stands or falls to our own Master, not each other. That Master will be Christ at His judgment seat. The guiding attitude should be in essentials, unity and in non-essentials, tolerance.
Principle of Motive
By this I mean why you do or do not do something. Paul had a burning desire to win the lost to Christ. He said in 1Corinthians 9:22 … “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Paul emphasized different things about himself depending upon whom he was with. To the Jew his Jewish heritage, to the Gentiles his Roman citizenship – whatever it took to connect with his audience. Many churches have Halloween events to reach families in the culture – they just call it something different. Their motive is the same as the Apostle Paul.
Should you celebrate Halloween or not? It’s your call. Use this information and these principles to guide you and remember that you are not more or less spiritual if you do or don’t celebrate the holiday. Do not be judgmental toward those who hold a different position from you. Give them the same tolerance that you would want from them.