Halloween and Christians

Is It Right for Christians to Participate?

Halloween and Christians. What about the upcoming celebration? Should Christians participate in it? Answers to such questions range from absolute refusal to have any part in the day's activities, to full and almost uncritical participation. Since the Bible does not specifically refer to "Halloween," a decision must be made on the basis of biblical principles, and according to individual convictions (cf. Rom. 14:5).

There is certainly nothing wrong per se with children using their imagination and dressing up as characters (either historical or make-believe) just for fun. Nor is there anything wrong with householders handing out occasional treats to neighbourhood children. But Halloween is more than that.

It apparently began in Ireland as an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. It was based on the pagan superstition that on that night the boundary between the living and the dead dissolved, and the dead could pose a danger to the living. They had the power to destroy crops, cause sickness, or wreak other harm. (Hence the practice of "treating" those dressed up as the dead, to win their favour.)

In 835 A.D., in an attempt to change the pagan intent of the day, Pope Gregory IV moved All Saints Day to coincide with this festival. The latter was designated as a day to celebrate those who had been beatified, granted sainthood by the Church of Rome.

Perhaps ironically, the date also coincides with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation when, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of Wittenberg Church, calling upon theologians of Rome to debate with him.

Protestant churches that have continued marking the day have simply made it a time to recognize the contribution of all the servants of God who have gone before us. The hymn "For All the Saints" has been traditionally used on this day. "For all the saints, who from their labours rest, / Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, / Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. / Alleluia, Alleluia!" (William Walsham How, 1864).

Author Don Cole calls Halloween "the year's ugliest holiday." Its background of occult beliefs has influenced it to this very day. (The pagan religion of Wicca, which practices a form of witchcraft, still celebrates it as a high holy day.) Your neighbourhood may be different, but in ours the majority of the costumes are of witches, demons, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, serial killers, gruesome corpses, and so on.

The money spent on decorations for the day now seems to rival those of Christmas. Some go to a lot of effort to turn their homes into scary "haunted houses" for the evening. In some communities, the night is also associated with destructive pranks and vandalism.

A number of these things should raise a warning flag. Are they not things believers ought to steer clear of as being unbecoming to the saints of God? The Law of Israel forbade involvement with anything connected with the occult (cf. Deut. 18:9-14; Lev. 20:6, 27). And we are to separate ourselves from that which is spiritually unclean (II Cor. 6:15, 17).

If it is argued that all this dressing up is merely make-believe, that is not a good thing either. The Bible clearly teaches that Satan and his demons are real and malignant spirit beings, determined to harm the saints and hinder the work of God (Eph. 6:11-12). Portraying them as make-believe characters like Snow White, or Spiderman, may lessen a concern for the real danger they pose.

And here is another irony. In the Bible, it is false apostles and Satan who are said to disguise themselves (II Cor. 11:13-15). But instead of trying to look like something evil and sinister, they take pains to appear as benevolent and wholesome.

Halloween glorifies the world of spiritual darkness, rather than the light of the good news of salvation (cf. II Cor. 4:3-6). And while death and damnation are a reality, awaiting those outside of Christ (Jn. 3:36), our focus should be on the gospel of grace and its promise of life through faith in the Saviour. Other considerations, however, have led many Christians to have some kind of limited involvement in Halloween.

To simply lock the doors and turn off the lights when children come "Trick or Treating" (or to purposely leave home that evening) may suggest a lack of friendship, of neighbourliness and good will, that is offensive. And it will miss making important contact with neighbourhood children, and the parents who often accompany them. To forbid one's own children from taking part keeps them from what can be a fun activity, and opens them to the ridicule of their peers.

Neither of these things is necessarily bad, of course. We must learn to take a stand for the right against the pressure of the world (Rom. 12:2). However, that only applies if we come to the conclusion that the celebration is intrinsically evil, and one to be totally avoided by Christian families. Parents and local churches have a difficult decision to make. And we should be cautious of condemning others who sincerely come to a different conclusion from our own.

Romans 14:1–15:3 is a good passage to study on matters that are not specifically condemned in the Bible. One of the points made there and elsewhere is that our actions are being observed. Sometimes, things we can do without harm will be a harm to others (cf. I Cor. 8:1-13). We may decide to avoid such borderline activities in order not to lead them astray. It is a point worth considering with respect to Halloween.

What are some ways in which families and churches have tried to retain the positives, while avoiding the negatives of this annual event? Some use the visit of children to their home as a way to distribute gospel tracts or invitations to church programs (Sunday School, or children's clubs) along with treats.

Some churches have Halloween events for outreach–programs that are carefully controlled. They may specify that children are to be dressed as real people (even Bible characters), with others given the opportunity to question them and guess who they are meant to be. Wholesome games and activities are planned. But, having said that, many of these things could be held at another time, so the association with Halloween is avoided.

It is important, whatever choice is made, to be clear and consistent as to the reasons, and help children to understand them. Before you decide what to do about Halloween, consider these passages of Scripture:

"Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good" (III Jn. 1:11). "Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good" (Rom. 12:9). "Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil" (I Thess. 5:21-22). "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph. 5:11; cf. Phil. 4:8), and "keep [yourself] unspotted from the world" (Jas. 1:27).

May the Lord direct us so that, by what we say and do, we "shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15).