The Christian and Halloween

Rev. Mike Frank

To the Reader:

The following is a paper which is designed to help you celebrate Halloween in a manner which is pleasing to God. The paper was written in response to a small tract which simply condemned the holiday in toto. I do not believe that such a wholesale condemnation is appropriate, but I do believe that, given the pagan roots of this seemingly harmless holiday, we must be very careful and thoughtful if we participate in the festivities. And so I have written this paper as a guide for the Christian layman or laywoman, especially if he or she is a parent of a young child.

Please note: Section C contains some practical suggestions for you. I am anxious that you read this section of the paper, even if you ignore the rest. Your best bet might be to read it first and then to read the paper from the beginning to the end. Section C contains the fruit of my reflections. I hope they will prove to be helpful.

Mike Frank

A) A Brief History of Halloween

Halloween, as we know it, has grown from several traditions and beliefs which were originally rooted in the soil of ancient superstition and paganism. Today these traditions have been transplanted into the soil of our own modern society.

The first tradition we note was a celebration by the Druids (an ancient, pagan religion fostered in the British Isles and finally supplanted by Christianity) in honor of the so called "god" of the dead. Accompanying this celebration was the notion that on Halloween the spirits of the dead would visit the households of their living kindred.

It is not too difficult to see how we have absorbed this first tradition. We decorate our windows with ghosts and skeletons, both reminders of the dead, and we carve the traditional Halloween pumpkin, which at one time was known as the "death head."

A second tradition which helped to form our present holiday comes from the religion of witchcraft. It developed in the middle ages when "witches" would gather together on their "sabbaths" for feasting and revelry. One of these sabbaths was Halloween. On this sabbath the witches supposedly arrived, flying on brooms, and sometimes were supposed to have celebrated by changing themselves into black cats.

Once again it is not too difficult to see just how we have digested this tradition. Our holiday decorations are replete with witches on brooms and black cats.

A third tradition we must note is perhaps related to witchcraft. It has to do with the belief that Halloween is a time when witches, goblins and fairies appear and play terrible tricks on human beings.

And once again it is not too difficult to see that the "prank" aspect of beggars might find its roots here.

A fourth tradition we note stems from the habit of pagan peasants gathering together on Halloween for a feast. In order to secure the necessary food for the feast they would go about and "beg" for the food. Then they would gather together and attempt to tell one another's fortune for the coming year.

Of course, our beggars night has its roots in this pagan celebration.

Finally, we should mention that the early Church attempted to supplant the pagan festivities with a feast of her own: the feast and celebration of All Saints Day. This was a time when God and all of His people (instead of Satan and his demonic horde) were to be honored. We mention this in passing, but note that it has not had very much influence on the modern, secular celebration of Halloween.

B. Celebrating Halloween in Light of the Coming of Jesus Christ

With the coming of Jesus Christ, pagan beliefs and practices are no longer excusable. For in Jesus Christ we are commanded to know the one true God. The gods and goddesses of earlier times are revealed to be idols and the worship of them is revealed to be sin. And so, as Christians, we must approach any holiday whose roots are utterly pagan, with the greatest of caution. We must ask this question: Are the modern practices involved in our celebration of Halloween still laden with pagan meaning and thus forbidden by God, or have these practices been rendered harmless by time and the grace of God?

Let me give an example of what I mean by this question. We have a tradition at Easter of coloring hard-boiled eggs. This tradition has nothing to do with resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact its roots go back to a terrible, pagan fertility ritual. And thus at one time, the act of painting a hard-boiled egg at the beginning of spring carried with it a terrible meaning for the painter. In fact, in painting the egg, the painter denied the God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, turning instead to the dark gods of idolatry.

But today painting an egg carries with it no such meaning. It is a harmless act which we perform because it is fun, and because our mothers showed us how to do it when we were children. And so, as long as egg painting does not interfere with a proper understanding of Easter, it is not forbidden.

The question we are asking in this paper is whether or not the activities of Halloween have been shorn of their original meaning (like the painting of the egg) and are therefore harmless, or whether they still carry with them pagan meaning and are therefore forbidden (and dangerous!) to the participant.

To help answer this question, we will turn to the letters of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth. At that Church, Paul encountered a situation which should help us understand our own problem better. It seems that the Christians at Corinth were faced with a difficult question: Could they eat meat which was sold in the market place? At first this might seem like a foolish question, until we realize that the meat sold in the market place came from cows and sheep which were slaughtered in pagan temples, during pagan worship services. In other words the meat had come from cows sacrificed before idols.

To this question Paul said three things. First he said that One True God was Lord over all the creation. And thus the fact that someone had involved a cow in pagan worship did not mean the cow belonged to an idol. The cow still belonged to the Lord God. Thus a Christian could buy meat in the market place. Second Paul said that even though idols had no authority over the creation, the Christian was not allowed to share in the pagan worship services. He was not allowed to do this, even if he claimed he really didn't believe in the gods being worshiped. He could eat the meat, in other words, but he could only render worship to the Lord. Third Paul said that a Christian, even if he were free to eat the sacrificed meat, should not do so in front of a brother whose faith was weak (that is, a brother who did not understand that the meat belonged to God, in spite of the pagan sacrifice). That is, Paul said, in all that we do, whether we eat or drink, we must be concerned with the welfare of the brother.

Moving from the situation in Corinth to our present day situation we observe that the following theological criteria apply to both situations:

A)    In Jesus Christ, God has reclaimed all of his creation. He made it. He redeemed it. It is His. It is therefore impossible for us to claim that a part of the physical universe is intrinsically evil. Thus, for instance, both eggs and paint are part of God's good creation. And we cannot make the claim that painting eggs on Easter is an intrinsically evil, and therefore forbidden, act. It is only when this act is fraught with idolatrous overtones that such an act is forbidden.
B)    In Jesus Christ God has claimed us as His own. Therefore any act which implies the worship of or trust in an idol is forbidden. We are freed in Jesus for God alone.
C)    Although idols have no real power over God's creation, they can snare a human heart. Paul therefore warns the Corinthians against becoming "Partners with demons."
Because Jesus took our bondage to idolatry so seriously, because he died to free us from the chains of demonic idolatry, it is not only our fear of God, but our love and appreciation of Jesus and all that He has done for us, that should make us wary lest we return to that bondage.
D)    In Jesus we have been freed for the love of God and the love of the brethren. Thus we must be concerned to act in such a way that benefits our brother. We must be careful to keep ourselves from those activities which will keep our brother from growing as a Christian.

Using these criteria, we can make the following assessments about certain Halloween traditions.

First we turn to that group of activities which are even today forbidden by God. Fortunately these activities do not accompany most Halloween festivities. Nevertheless, they do occur occasionally at some Halloween parties. I am referring to those activities best described by the word "occult." Such activities are fortune telling, palm reading, seances, Ouija boards, and so forth. In these activities, the participant reaches out, however superstitiously, to "supernatural" powers which are not the Lord God. They therefore involve a refusal to trust God, and are a form of idolatry. These activities have for a long while been integral parts of certain pagan religions, and they are specifically forbidden in the Scriptures.

Furthermore, these activities are dangerous to the participant. In seeking out the powers of darkness, whether seriously or playfully, the participant-is risking the danger of being "one" with these powers. In the act of disobedience, the participant says, whether consciously or not, "I reject the One God revealed in Jesus Christ and choose to dally with those dark powers that crucified the Lord Jesus." In short, these acts have not lost their original meaning. And they are therefore forbidden for the Christian.

Next we turn to those Halloween traditions which seem to be relatively innocent. We are referring to beggar's night, Halloween parties, and Halloween costumes. There is nothing intrinsically evil with candy, pumpkins, apples or costumes. To most people beggar's night is simply a time for children to go from door to door. Carved pumpkins are simply traditional decorations to most people. And to the children, costumes are simply imitations of cartoon characters or other children's costumes.

In short the original meaning of pumpkins, beggar's night, and the like, has been severed from the tradition. Therefore, these activities are not forbidden. A Christian is free to choose whether or not to participate, just as the early Christian was free to decide whether or not to eat meat which had been offered to idols.

Finally we turn to certain Halloween activities which, although they are not intrinsically evil, may prove harmful in the long run to certain people. As in the case of eating meat offered to idols we are faced with the consideration of the welfare of the brother.

a)    Certain costumes may lower a child's resistance to forbidden activities. For instance, although a child dressing up as a witch, or even as a devil, is not a child imitating a real witch or a real demon, but simply a child imitating a character he has seen in a cartoon or elsewhere, such a costume or cluster of costumes may so affect the child's thinking that someday he may say: "Oh, witchcraft! It's silly. But harmless. Why, it's no more dangerous than the costumes I used to wear on Halloween." He may even think this way about Satanism or Spiritism. From this kind of thinking it is only a short step to an actual dabbling in the Occult (out of an "innocent curiosity," the young man or lady will assure himself).

b)    Many groups are sponsoring "haunted houses" to celebrate Halloween. Now although there is nothing fundamentally wrong with using the art of surprise to make people jump and scream (many people enjoy it), there is the danger that the "haunted house" may teach children to fear death and the unknown. But Jesus has conquered death, and He will always be with us in such a way that we do not have to fear the unknown. Thus it is not good for Christians to fear either death or the unknown. Indeed, such fear can often hinder obedience to God. Thus this aspect of Halloween must be treated with great care, and is perhaps better left alone.

C) Some Practical Suggestions

1) Neutralizing the danger:

The danger in certain Halloween activities has already been noted. Some activities are fundamentally wrong. Others may be dangerous. Here are some suggestions for the Christian as he approaches this holiday.

a)     If your child is going to a party, speak to the host or hostess and find out what the party will consist of. If there will be any form of fortune telling, seances (and this includes Ouija Boards), spell casting, tarot cards, or any other form of Occult practices, explain to the hostess, gently and kindly, your objections. (This is a good time to witness. Do it in love.) If the hostess persists in planning these activities do not allow your child to attend the party.

b)     Explain to your child that Jesus has saved him from idolatry by making God known. Then explain to him that real witchcraft is as forbidden to Christians today as it always has been. Do this before beggar's nights. Encourage your child not to dress up in costumes which portray characters such as witches, wizards, demons, or the devil.

c)     Instead of "haunted house" have a fun house. Make it funny and surprising, not scary.

d)     On Halloween don't stress death and darkness. Instead focus on the innocent aspect of it by stressing healthy fantasy. One way to accomplish this is to decorate your house in a way which does not stress the frightening aspect of Halloween, but in a way which is bright and pleasing to the children. Walt Disney characters, such as Mickey Mouse, or even biblical characters, might fill your windows and porch.

2) Lifting Up Christ:

We mentioned earlier that the ancient Church designated Halloween as a Christian Feast (All Saints Day). It should be possible for us to also create activities which give glory to God.

a)     When you give out candy, also give out children's tracts, telling them about Jesus. There are special tracts done specifically for Halloween. You might also make your own tracts or write out Bible verses. There are many ways to share Jesus with the "beggars" on this night.

b)    Do some research on All Saints Day. Explain to your child what it is. Then explain to him how we get to be God's people and thus how we are also saints, because of Jesus. Explain to him how wonderful and astounding it is that we are allowed to be God's people.

c)    Explain to your child how Jesus has overcome death, and how we do not need to fear it. Explain to him how Jesus is always with us and thus we do not need to fear the unknown. Explain to him how Jesus has overcome Satan, and that Christians, therefore, do not need to fear the power of Satan, if they are trusting in the power and victory of Jesus.

d)    Plan a party on Halloween. There should be many ways to lift up Jesus in the midst of the games and the food. A Christian movie or video, is one way. Bible stories, acted out with costumes, is another. There are certainly many other ways as well.

D) A Final Word

In thinking about this holiday we must pass through a narrow pass. On the one hand we must be careful lest we stumble upon a godless legalism, which is based not upon God's revelation in Jesus Christ, not upon an abiding peace and sense of security we find as we look to Jesus, but instead upon the anxiety spawned from gazing only at the Kingdom of Darkness and God's judgement of it. On the other hand we must beware lest, in taking our eyes from Christ, we forget His agony on the cross, and thus forget the terrible enemy He has vanquished for our sake. It is this kind of lazy vision that causes a person to fall once again into those habits which Jesus died to free us from.

How does one walk through this narrow pass? By looking carefully to Jesus and walking in His power and His joy, and thus learning to put on His mind.

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MF©1974, 1998