What Do We Do About Halloween?

by David Crank

From Volume 3 Issue 4 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine


From an E-mail Received: "What is your view on the celebration and Christian involvement of Halloween? Do you believe that Christians should have anything to do with it, or that itís alright to participate?
Thanks for your opinion."

When I was a youngster, I enjoyed Halloween as much as anyone. It was great fun to dress up in a costume and getting a lot of candy was great too! But I was always a little troubled by the phrase you were supposed to say when you came to each house - "Trick or Treat!?"

Just what did that phrase mean? I was giving the people in that house a choice - either give me a treat (candy), or Iíll give you a trick (a mean one). Of course, that wasnít what I really meant. I would not do something mean to someone who did not give me candy - yet that seemed to be what the traditional phrase really meant. I also had heard of some bad kids who truly had done mean tricks to people who didnít give them candy. Was it right to threaten someone to make them give you something? Of course not, yet here was a tradition that made it acceptable in a sense (though very few children ever mean it as a threat today).

History of Halloween

After I was grown, I learned a little more about the origins of Halloween which made me more uncomfortable with this holiday. Though the celebration of Halloween seems pretty harmless today, it was not always so. In researching the history of Halloween on the Internet, I find some differences of opinion but significant agreement on most of the basics.

Halloween celebrations are traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhaim. This was celebrated on November 1st and was the beginning of their new year. It marked the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the cold, dark winter. The Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. Some claim that the Celts believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth at this time. It was regarded as a magical time and a time for divination. Their celebration was marked by huge bonfires and sacrifices to their deities.

The custom of wearing costumes on Halloween is explained by some as coming from a practice of wearing masks on that date when one went out of doors - so that the ghosts would mistake the people for fellow spirits. Others believe the costumes and destructive pranks were to scare away the spirits. The custom of "trick or treat" is thought by some to have originated with leaving food outside of homes to keep the spirits from coming in. Others believe it originated from the 9th century "Christian" practice of "souling." The poor people would go house to house begging food (receiving "soul cakes") and offering in return to pray for a familyís dead relatives (to more quickly escape from purgatory to heaven).

The name Halloween came about as follows. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saintís Day - a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is believed that the Pope was trying to displace the Samhaim honoring of the dead with this new Christian festival. In middle English, All Saintís Day was "Alholowmesse" (All Hallows Day), and the night before was All-Hallows Eve, which came to be Hallow Eíen. The attempt to replace Samhaim with a Christian holiday was only partly successful, as many of the elements of the celebration of Samhaim merely attached themselves to the new holiday.

With early New England being almost entirely Protestant, Halloween was rarely celebrated there. It wasnít until the second half of the 19th century when America was flooded with new immigrants (especially the Irish fleeing the potato famine) that Halloween became widely accepted and celebrated. In 19th century America, rural immigrants from Ireland and Scotland kept their Halloween customs from their homelands. The boys roamed outdoors engaging in pranks while the girls stayed indoors and engaged in divination games (such as trying to divine the name or appearance of their future husbands). By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular American holiday with parades and parties. Between 1920 and 1950, the practice of trick-or-treating was revived.

Dangers & Halloween Alternatives

Over the last 30 or so years, Halloween has also become a little dangerous for some children. There have been instances of terrible people trying to harm children with the candy they gave. So many parents have become more careful with the practice of Trick or Treating. Some go with their children everywhere and lead them only to the homes of people they know and trust. Some churches have come to offer alternatives with the opportunity to come to church dressed in a costume, to play games, and to receive treats from a safe source. These church alternatives may also try to further disassociate these activities from the origins of Halloween. Some will prohibit any costumes portraying witches, ghosts, devils, or other evil things. The phrase "trick or treat" is eliminated and even the term "Halloween" may be excluded.


Should Christians Participate?

Many Christians choose not to participate in Halloween celebrations. Many others see no serious problem with doing so. Others choose to celebrate the occasion, but attempt to do so in a way that leaves out the objectionable features of the holiday.

If our decision is swayed more by a desire to conform with our culture and fit-in than a desire to please God, then our decision will be based on the wrong motives. Yet even Christians who are seriously seeking to please God above all, and are not being swayed by the culture around them, still may come to different conclusions on this issue. Perhaps this is because we do not all view Halloween in the same way.

If you view Halloween as being of Satanic origin, of being a holiday for promoting witchcraft and trying to communicate with the dead, then the decision should be easy. As Christians, how could we participate in this? But if you view Halloween as just a traditional holiday having both pagan and Christian aspects, that can be celebrated in a way fully honoring to God, then you might see no problem with participating.

Similarly, if you view trick-or-treating as a custom rooted in implied threats of vandalism, imposing on others to give treats, then it would be hard to justify participating in this practice. Certainly there are folks who donít have candy to give or who donít want to participate in giving to trick-or-treaters. Going to these folksí homes to ask for candy, hardly sounds like the best Christian witness.

Personally, I am not comfortable with the practice of trick-or-treating, neither with what it implies, nor with its imposition upon others. Nor do I find much of merit in the holiday as a whole. Though most celebrations of Halloween seem pretty harmless, I am bothered by both the history of the holiday as well as continuing overtones of the supernatural and spirits of the dead. Not being Catholic, I find no worth in the Popeís attempt to Christianize the holiday for honoring the "saints". We can give our children candy at any time (if weíre not too concerned about their teeth and possible health impacts). We can provide lots of good wholesome costumes for children to play in on other occasions. So I see no reason for taking part in Halloween festivities and plenty of reasons to abstain.

What about participating in church sponsored alternatives to Halloween? Some churches truly do away with all objectionable parts of Halloween and often call their event a "fall festival". I have no serious objections to these, though I might prefer a different date than October 31st, just to further disassociate it from Halloween. Yet I know these are sometimes used evangelistically to try and reach non-Christian kids and their parents. They also help parents who want to provide a Christian alternative for their children for the "Halloween fun" they are missing out on. When done well, I can see where the Lord might honor these.

These are just my views. I urge you to consider the issues involved yourself and seek the Lord about what He would have YOU do. Take a close look at what you would be participating in and be sure this would be pleasing to the Lord - before you decide to do so. V