The other day, I walked into the local hardware store and was greeted with ghouls, ghosts, chainsaws, bloody vampires, werewolves, and other creatures on one side, and Santa Claus and Christmas decorations on the other. Was this a battle between good and evil?
Christmas is a Christian holiday, right? And Halloween is a pagan holiday, right? Should Christians celebrate one and not the other?
It’s a foregone conclusion that Christians can and will celebrate Christmas. It is a fun holiday. Our celebration of Christmas includes presents, trees, cookies, garland, and tinsel. But can Christians also have fun on Halloween?
Do the Origins of Halloween Mean I Shouldn’t Participate?
Most trace the origin of Halloween to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. During the festival, people would light bonfires and wear costumes in order to repel evil spirits.
They believed that on October 31, when summer ended and the cold winters began, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was blurred.
Thus, Samhain was not only a time to protect from evil spirits but also a time when Druids or Celtic priests would be given special revelations about the future. History.com explains some of the rituals:
“To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.”
When Pope Gregory designated November 1 as All Saints Day, some of the traditions began to merge. All Hallows Eve eventually became Halloween. By the 1920s, the celebration had merged into something similar to what we see today.
Trick-or-treating became popular, and people wore costumes and exchanged candy. It is doubtful that any who are “celebrating” Halloween are thinking about anything related to Samhain.
But does this mean it is entirely innocent? Is participation in Halloween also a participation in the evil origins of Halloween
Your eight-year-old is having a birthday celebration. To celebrate her birthday, you take all of her friends to the bowling alley, where the place is decorated with balloon animals, and there you will blow out eight candles on her cake as you celebrate her birthday. You have just participated in not one but three practices, which have unbiblical origins.
It is believed that bowling came from a weird religious practice. It’s not technically pagan, but it’s unorthodox and anti-gospel, nonetheless.
It is believed that picking up a game from Egypt, a group of monks would roll a ball known as a “kegel” towards pins, which symbolized pagans. At one point, it was believed that if you threw a strike before your death, you were insured a ticket to heaven.
Balloon animals and birthday candles definitely have pagan origins. The first balloon animals came from the Aztecs, who would tie together cat intestines, fill them with air, twist them into animal shapes, and set them on fire as a sacrifice to the gods.
And those birthday candles were first placed on a cake by the ancient Greeks, who did this as an offering to Artemis.
I have yet to read an article arguing that Christians should not have a birthday party at a bowling alley involving balloon animals and birthday candles.
The original meaning of these things has been lost. We’re just bowling. We’re just blowing out candles. We’re just enjoying a balloon animal. Meaning and intention matter and we know this.
Dare I mention that many of the things associated with Christmas also have pagan origins? There comes a point when symbols lose their meaning. When you’re bowling today, you aren’t thinking about knocking down pagans. And when you blow up a balloon animal, Aztec gods are not involved.
But even still, are there some elements of Halloween, which are darker and should not be celebrated? What role should the conscience play?
What Role Should the Conscience Play?
Paul’s words in Romans 14 are helpful as we think through whether or not Christians can enjoy Halloween. The church in Rome, to whom Paul wrote, began as predominantly Jewish. But after a decree, which booted all the Jews out of Rome, the churches were now led by Gentiles.
These were two different cultures, and when the Jewish people came back to Rome, it created a bit of division within the churches. They had different scruples about varying issues. This is what Paul said to them:
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Romans 14:2-4).
If we move Halloween to “disputable matters,” we will find some help. I realize that for those with strong convictions against Halloween, moving it to disputable matters will seem like acquiescence. It will feel like caving to the culture.
But that was also the case of those who believed eating food formerly sacrificed to idols was ungodly. Paul seemed to argue, both in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians, that Christians are free to partake.
Much in the way that Christians know that evil is real, idolatry is real, the occult is wrong, etc., but also that portals to the underworld are not opened on October 31, so also the Christians in the first century understood that food was food — regardless of where it originated.
But some still had scruples. So, Paul writes to both the “weak” (those whose conscience calls them to abstain) and those who are “strong” (those who are able to, in good conscience, partake). If we substitute, celebrate Halloween with “eat anything,” it helps us to see the role that conscience should play here.
If someone’s conscience allows them to participate in Halloween joyfully, so long as you are honoring Christ in how you do it, then celebrate joyfully. But as you do this do not “despise the one who abstains.”
Likewise, if you are not able to participate in Halloween, then those who do not abstain should respect your conscience.
If you feel that Halloween is wrong and pagan and part of the occult and your conscience will not allow you to participate in your church’s Trunk-or-Treat, then don’t do it. But you also do not judge those who are able to participate.
Each should entrust the other to the Lord Jesus. If they are wrong or their conscience is weak, allow the Holy Spirit to do the convicting. Obey your conscience and let them obey theirs.
Personally, I would argue that Halloween gives us a tremendous opportunity within our community. We can use Halloween for God’s glory.
How Can Christians Use Halloween for God’s Glory?
Here in Southwest Missouri, we are a very cordial people, but oddly enough, we aren’t incredibly neighborly. It’s rare to see homes opened up to one another. COVID certainly did not help with this dynamic.
But there is one day per year when people open up their houses to others. (Actually, there are two. We have an all-town garage sale day where many homes are opened). Why would Christians not welcome this opportunity?
In years past, our churches have worked to use this as a great outreach tool. One year we did a Backwards Halloween, where we went out on October 30 and gave people candy at their homes.
Another year we created an event called “First Stop,” where we encouraged our community to make our church the first stop.
We filled them with a nice bag (with our church logo), which they could use for the whole night. We also created a maze throughout our church, and as they left, we gave them a bit of food and hot chocolate to fuel their evening.
Every year we strategize on how to use this night to love and bless families within our community. I think Tim Challies says it well:
“Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on. It is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Halloween may serve as a bridge to the hearts of those who live around you who so desperately need a Savior.”
Obey your conscience. If you are able to enjoy it, enjoy Halloween to the glory of God. And as you enjoy it consider the missional opportunity that this day presents.
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