We’ve talked about some pretty heavy subjects lately. I thought today we might lighten things up a bit – as you can tell by the quasi-costume I’m wearing. And, although the topic is on the lighter side, I hope our discussion is no less thought provoking. Should we, as Christians, celebrate Halloween: Yes or No.
Do a little research and you’ll see that the debate within Christian circles over Halloween is alive and well. Many folks get downright nasty in vehemently expressing their opinions. So I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the history of Halloween, some of the arguments from various sides of the issue, and to discuss our thoughts.
“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.”
Those of us who identify as Christian are often confronted with choices – whether participating in some festivity moves us toward or away from a relationship with God. And very often these choices give rise to sometimes very heated debates. Well meaning people stand firm in their position, which is as it should be.
All too often, though, these debates create division rather than unity, set up an attitude of us verses them, and, in so doing, reinforce an ‘attitude’ of superiority wherein the ideology is worshiped more than God Himself. This is clearly seen, as we’ve talked about before, in the debates over celebrating Christmas, Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, celebrating Easter, bunnies, and Easter eggs. This debate is also seen in a tradition to be celebrated this week, Halloween.
Debates continue between people of different faiths such as Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Debates also rage on between people within a particular faith. In Judaism, debates occur between followers who identify as Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Hasidic, and Kabbalah. In Islam, the followers of Bahai, Suffi, Wahhabi, Shi’ite, Sunni all debate with each other. In Christianity, debates rage on between Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and other denominations such as Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Amish, Quaker, 7th Day Adventist, Church of Christ, United in Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.; as well those identified as non-denominational and inter-denominational. For those of us who identify as Christian, these debates, while sometimes useful for education, enlightenment, and spiritual growth, more often serve to create division within the Body of Christ.
History of Halloween
One of the simplest resources provided a history of Halloween is Wikipedia:
Halloween, also spelled Hallowe’en, is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening,” or “All Hallows’ Eve.” Celebrated on October 31st, it is observed on the evening of the Western Christian “All Hallows’ Day,” which is November 1st. (Note – Eastern Christianity celebrates this day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.) The day is set aside to honor all saints, known and unknown. The celebration begins as sunset the evening before and continues to sunset on November 1st, at which time the celebration of “All Souls Day” begins.
Many scholars believe that All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast that was initially influenced by the Celtic harvest festivals, and may have had pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain (pronounced Sah-win or Sow-in). However, the original celebration of All Saints’ Day dates back to 609 or 610. Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to bless Mary and all the martyrs on May 13. The feast has been celebrated in Rome ever since. The day coincided with the pagan Feast of the Lemures in which malevolent and restless spirits were appeased.
The change to November 1st occurred as a result Pope Gregory III’s oratory in St. Peter’s. This happened to fall on the Celtic holiday Samhain. The celebration gradually changed over time, and has different meanings to various Christian denominations. For instance, the Roman Catholics still honor the saints on November 1st, and all the faithful who death have not been cleansed from temporal punishment (purgatory) on November 2nd. Protestant denominations celebrate to remember all Christians past and present; and is sometimes celebrated on the first Sunday in November.
The word Halloween is of Christian origin. It literally means Hallowed, or Holy, Evening. The word stems from the Scottish word for evening, which is even.
When contracted, evening becomes een, or more appropriately, e’en. In Old English, the phrase “All Hallows’ Eve” dates back to 1556. It wasn’t contracted to the Scottish ‘Halloween’ until somewhere around 1745.
Gaelic and Welsh Influence
Varying customs and beliefs associated with Halloween have been influenced by both those of Celtic-speaking countries, including some pagan, and Celtic Christianity. Some studies of folklore have found ties to the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds; and the festival of the dead called Parentalia. More typical is a tie to Samhain, which in Old Irish means “summer’s end.” It was the first and most important of four celebrations in the medieval Gaelic calendar celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Even at that time it was held on or about October 31st and November 1st.
The Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year. It was believed that at this time spirits and fairies could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. Offering of food and drink, portions of crops, etc. were left for these spirits and fairies to ensure that people and livestock survived the winter. People also set places at the table or by the fire to welcome the souls of the dead who revisited them. In the 19th century, Irish Catholic households lit candles and offered prayers for the dead. Following eating and drinking, games were played, often with the intent to divine the future of those assembled, especially in regards to marriage and death. Nuts and apples, and sometimes bonfires, were used in the rituals; the smoke and ashes having protective and cleansing powers that were used in divination. The Christian adoption of the bonfires was to scare witches and warn them of their awaiting punishment in hell.
Costumes & Trick-or-Treat
Going about in costume, known as mumming or guising (disguising), dates back to the 16th century. People went house-to-house reciting verses in exchange for food. It may have its roots in Gaelic folk origin; or it may be rooted in the Christian custom of “souling” – a custom of giving cakes of fruits and spices for the souls of the dead.
They were set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows’ Eve as an offering for the dead, and then on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day children would go ‘souling’ – literally begging for cakes door-to-door. This was seen as a means of alms-giving.
Depending on the custom of the regions, costumes included representations of the spirits, men dressing as fearsome beings, young people dressing as the opposite gender, as well as animals representing the wearer’s desire for his or her future. Many practices of costuming included a desire to ward off supernatural beings by imitating them or hiding from them.
Though guising (costumes) and souling (trick-or-treat) has been part of Hallowe’en for centuries, the recorded evidence in North America was a newspaper article in Ontario, Canada in 1911. Another reference appeared in 1915, and a third in Chicago in 1920. The earliest known printed use of the term “trick-or-treat” appeared in Canada in 1927. In the U.S., it didn’t become widespread until the 1930s. The first printed use of the term occurred in 1934 in both Portland, OR and Chicago, IL; and the first national publication to reference the term was “The American Home” in 1939. So, in North America, and the United States in particular, wearing costumes and going door-to-door begging for treats is relatively new.
Used as lanterns to be carried by guisers and pranksters, turnips were hollowed out and carved with faces to represent the spirits or goblins. They were meant to light the guisers’ way and to frighten away spirits. It wasn’t until immigrants brought the tradition to North America that the pumpkin was used. The pumpkin is much softer and larger, making it easier to carve than a turnip. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837, but was associated with harvest time. It wasn’t specifically associated with Hallowe’en until several decades later. And, true to American capitalism, the celebration of Hallowe’en has become just one more commercial enterprises.
Participate or Not?
So, should we participate in and celebrate Hallowe’en? Non-Christians may not have any issue at all. It may simply be a matter of a fun activity. For others, they may still celebrate one of the various harvest festivals, but, just because they occurs on the same day doesn’t make it a Hallowe’en celebration. Just as spring festivals and winter festivals really have nothing to do with Easter or Christmas. Some Christians choose not to celebrate Easter or Christmas. Others do, even though the Christian celebration happen to coincide with non-Christian festivities. And, like Christmas and Easter, some Christians celebrate Hallowe’en and some do not. It there one right answer?
The main argument against Christians participating in Hallowe’en focus on the pagan and occult aspects. They point to divination, communication with the dead, witchcraft, fertility rights, and, of course, following the practices, rituals, and customs of non-believers. And, of course, there are both Old Testament and New Testament teachings on, and prohibitions against, practicing witchcraft and participating in the occult. Most of the arguments against celebrating Hallowe’en revolve around a fear of evil, and welcoming evil into our lives.
Many argue that celebrating Hallowe’en is acceptable and appropriate. Are there Christian celebrations that coincide with non-Christian celebrations. Yes. But that’s not reason enough not to celebrate. Easter and Christmas are prime examples. The Christian celebration of All Hallows Eve, and All Saints’ Day, have nothing to do with Samhain. Additionally, the focus was not, is not, and does not have to be focused on evil. Costumes such as hobos, pirates, superheroes, princesses, etc. have nothing to do with anything sinister and evil. Even if one wishes a costume of a more “evil” nature, they can be used as a way to mock and laugh at evil – thus removing it’s power. Finally, in the true tradition of Hallowe’en, we can celebrate, honor, and remember our loved ones who have passed on. Sort of a Christian version of Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day.
As with most other aspects of our lives, celebrating Hallowe’en really comes down to intent. It would be wrong for a Christian to celebrate with the intent of honoring and bringing about evil. On the other hand, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the true meaning of Hallowe’en; just as we celebrate the true meaning of Easter and Christmas. And, just like Christmas and Easter, we should understand, and we should teach our children, why we celebrate Hallowe’en.
Regardless of our position on celebrating or not, we must be careful not to allow our differences to cause division within the church, the Body of Christ. The Bible is silent on actual holidays like Hallowe’en. Like Christmas and Easter, Christians must think and choose for themselves whether or not to celebrate. Like our quote from Voltair, we should incorporate the principles found in Romans 14, allowing each to think and decide for himself. Verses 1-6 tell us, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.”
In closing, I’d like to share a couple of brief statements I found while researching:
- “So, should a Christian celebrate Halloween? Is there anything evil about a Christian dressing up as a princess or cowboy and going around the block asking for candy? No, there is not. Are there things about Halloween that are anti-Christian and should be avoided? Absolutely! If parents are going to allow their children to participate in Halloween, they should make sure to keep them from getting involved in the darker aspects of the day. If Christians are going to take part in Halloween, their attitude, dress, and most importantly, their behavior should still reflect a redeemed life (Philippians 1:27). There are many churches that hold “harvest festivals” and incorporate costumes, but in a godly environment. There are many Christians who hand out tracts that share the Gospel along with the Halloween candy. The decision is ultimately ours to make. But as with all things, we are to incorporate the principles of Romans 14. We can’t allow our own convictions about a holiday to cause division in the body of Christ, nor can we use our freedom to cause others to stumble in their faith. We are to do all things as to the Lord.” Read The Full Article
- “Should Christians and their children participate in Halloween activities if they are unsure whether it is the right thing to do or are convinced it is wrong? The Bible teaches us that we should be fully persuaded in our own minds about these things—either pro or con. But we should not judge or condemn others who are of a different persuasion. The apostle Paul’s advice in Romans 14 can be applied to the question of Halloween activities.
If some people feel uncomfortable participating in Halloween activities, perhaps due to problems in their region, then they should not do so. The day has religious significance only to those who give it religious significance. (Of course, as mentioned earlier, we would do well to avoid those activities that still do have an unChristian flavor.)
It is the responsibility of each Christian to decide, based on biblical and Christian principles, whether to participate in Halloween activities, and to avoid judging other Christians who have different circumstances and make different decisions.” Read The Full Article
- “Why should Christians allow others to claim Halloween as their own? We should not. We should take it back All Hallows Eve by embracing All Saints Day and remembering our “saints”. By separating All Hallows Eve from the pre-Christian practices, Christians can take comfort in understanding the historical Christian remembrance that is associated with All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day. Children can collect donations for UNICEF or for a local cause. We Christians can also view Halloween as a fun event for children by having events in churches or in our communities where children and their parents can dress up, play games, and share some treats in a safe place.” Read The Full Article
And finally, this is a wonderful response to the above post and other comments that were made about it:
- “Christians are the most narrow minded people on the planet. Do you really think that God is up there saying.. “how dare you celebrate with candy and pumpkins?” Holidays are what YOU make them to be. My father is a fundamental baptist pastor, and I grew up with Halloween. We talked about how it was ‘all hallow’s eve’ and what that meant, then we celebrated with trick or treating and a party at our house for our friends/family. We do the same thing with Christmas. We talked about the real meaning and where it comes from and how it translated into Santa… I don’t feel jipped, I felt informed. Maybe if more parents spent time educating our children on the TRUTH we wouldn’t have so many leaving churches and God. Trust me, God will still love you even if you go trick or treating… Good Grief people get a clue!” (Kim R)
Personally, Hallowe’en as it’s commercially celebrated holds little meaning for me. I can take it or leave it. I don’t particularly enjoy Hallowe’en parties, decorating my house, or, dressing up in costume (though I did put on a bit of a costume today to make a point). My participation in the commercialized aspect of Hallowe’en is pretty much limited to giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. But, over the years, I have also learned to celebrate the true Christian aspects of All Hallows Eve and All Saints’ Day – taking time to honor and remember those who have passed on. That’s what works for me. I encourage each of you to decide for yourselves and, most importantly, not to judge others who might decide differently.
- Romans 14:1-6
- Philippians 1:27
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