Do you celebrate Halloween? If you answered, “yes,” then you agree with the majority of Christians in America. A 2015 Lifeway Research survey found that 54% of Christians believe that Halloween is “all in good fun,” and another 18% celebrate while avoiding the pagan elements. Only 23% of Christians avoid the holiday completely.
The majority opinion does not necessarily equate to truth, however, and the question that is too seldom pondered is, “Should Christians celebrate Halloween?” In preparing for this post, I spent time reading articles and listening to messages on both sides of this issue, including one writer who claimed that Halloween was, “more Christian than pagan,” and a pastor who argued that pagan roots cannot produce anything but pagan fruits. Let’s explore some of the facts surrounding this holiday.
Christian or Pagan Roots?
While there are Christian practices in the history of Halloween, it’s earliest roots can be traced back to Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). Samhain was a pagan festival that marked the final harvest and the end of summer for the ancient Celts, who lived a little over two millennia ago. It was held on the last night of the year and into the next day (October 31-November 1). October 31st was believed to be the one night of the year that the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was thinned as Samhain, the god of the dead, allowed the spirits of those who died that year to return to visit their friends and family once more before being reincarnated (the good into humans and the bad into animals). The people would light up the hilltops with bonfires where they would offer sacrifices (both human and animal) to appease Samhain, the god of the dead, and don masks and costumes in order to ward off the evil spirits. (The word bonfire is believed to come from bone-fire because the Celts used bones to fuel their fires.) They would also put out banquet tables full of delicious food to welcome the wandering spirits of their loved ones.
After Rome conquered Celtic lands, (appx. 43 a.d.) they combined two of their festivals, Feralia (another festival of the dead) and Pomona (named after the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, whose symbol was the apple) with Samhain, co-mingling traditions from all three.
It wasn’t until the eighth century A.D. that the Christian, or to be more accurate – Catholic – aspects of Halloween came into the picture. It was during that time that Pope Gregory III expanded All Martyrs Day (a holiday that was established to coincide with the pagan Lemuria Festival) to All Saints Day or All Hallows Day and moved the celebration from May 13th to November 1st, in an attempt to Christianize the festival of Samhain. Thus, the preceding night became All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween. In 1000 A.D., the church added All Soul’s Day on November 2nd and the trio of “Christian” holidays was celebrated much the same way as Samhain with bonfires and costumes.
Halloween was not commonly celebrated in America until the late 19th century after more than 650,000 Irish immigrants came here seeking relief from the potato famine. As they settled into this great “melting pot,” they introduced many of their cultural traditions to their new land, including Halloween. Although Halloween is celebrated in other countries, it is still most popular in America and Ireland. Following are some of the Halloween traditions and their origins.
Costumes are one of the most anticipated parts of Halloween for children and adults alike. As mentioned previously, this part of Halloween originates from the costumes that the ancient Celts donned in order to confuse and ward off evil spirits on Samhain.
Every October, throngs of children visit pumpkin patches, most in order to select the best pumpkin for carving their perfect jack-o-lantern. There are a couple of theories as to the origin of this practice. The first is the legend of stingy Jack, a man who made a deal with the devil in order to stay out of Hell when he died. Nevertheless, when his time came, he was rejected from Heaven because of his stingy life. When he ventured down to Hell, he was not welcomed there either, as the devil had a promise to keep. So, as he left to wander the earth, the devil threw a burning coal at him, which he placed inside a turnip to use as a lantern – hence the modern jack-o-lantern. Despite the dreadfully erroneous theology at the basis of this story, it is a reasonable explanation. The second theory is that the Jack-O-Lantern originated with the witches’ use of skulls with candles inside to light the path to their coven meetings.
One belief concerning the origin of trick-or-treating was that ancient witches stole the supplies needed for their festivals. Another connection is to the Druids (Celtic priests), who would go door to door begging for materials for their Samhain bonfires. Later, after the institution of All Soul’s Day by the Catholic church, the people began making and eating Soul Cakes for the dead. They believed that the more Soul Cakes they ate, the more souls they could save from Purgatory. The poor would go around their neighborhoods begging for soul cakes because they couldn’t afford them. (Interestingly, the concept of Purgatory developed not from the Bible, but from the Celtic belief that gifts and sacrifices offered to Samhain could help to lighten their punishment.) The “trick” aspect of trick-or-treating can be traced back to the belief that spirits would play tricks or make mischief if they weren’t provided with treats on Samhain.
Bobbing for Apples
This tradition was added to the Samhain festival by the Romans, who used bobbing for apples as a way to divine (foretell) who their future spouse would be. Apple divination was a common practice in Scotland and other cultures as well. For both the Celts and the ancient Romans, Samhain was a special night of divination. Celtic divination mostly revolved around human sacrifice, which was ended by the Romans.
Although the majority of people who celebrate Halloween consider it a secular holiday, Samhain is still practiced by Wiccans and neo-pagans and the church of satan describes Halloween this way, (note: this is a link to a Christian website. Please don’t carelessly visit the website of the church of satan or others like it. It is spiritually dangerous to dabble with things like that unless you are well grounded spiritually and have a specific, God-given reason to do so.)
Satanists embrace what this holiday has become, and do not feel the need to be tied to ancient practices. This night, we smile at the amateur explorers of their own inner darkness, for we know that they enjoy their brief dip into the pool of the “shadow world.” We encourage their tenebrous fantasies, the candied indulgence, and the wide-ranging evocation of our aesthetics (while tolerating some of the chintzy versions), even if it is but once a year. For the rest of the time, when those not of our meta-tribe shake their heads in wonder at us, we can point out that they may find some understanding by examining their own All Hallows Eve doings, but we generally find it simpler to just say: “Think of the Addams Family and you’ll begin to see what we’re about.” (emphasis mine)
Is the Bible Silent?
Often, Christians will excuse certain activities because, they say, the Bible is silent on the issue. There are indeed many things that the Bible does not directly address. In reality, the only way that the Bible could possibly address every issue that has arisen throughout 6,000+ years of human history would be to continue it’s writing indefinitely. However, the Bible does lay out principles that can guide us through every situation in life and Halloween is no exception. Let’s look at a few scriptures.
9 “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, NKJV)
According to scripture, Samhain was and is an abomination to God and not only does virtually every aspect of Halloween have it’s roots in that pagan festival, but Samhain is still celebrated today by Wiccans, Neo-Pagans and others worldwide (appx. 3 million Wiccans and 1 million Neo-Pagans in America alone). This commandment still applies to us today. We are to be separate, in the world but not of it, and we should not adopt the wicked customs of our culture just because everyone else is doing it.
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” 17 Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18, NKJV)
Halloween is a dark day – I don’t think anyone would disagree with that – and New Testament scriptures instruct us to have nothing to do with darkness. Ephesians 5:11 tells us to, “… have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”
God takes spiritual darkness very seriously. The punishment for things like witchcraft and sorcery in the Old Testament was death. Why? Because our loving Father knows that those things will destroy us and He didn’t want them to have any part in the congregation of His people. So, why do so many believe that taking part in a holiday that glorifies darkness is okay? Romans 16:19 implores Christ followers to be innocent of evil and 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
My family celebrated Halloween until I was 10 or 11 years old, when my parents felt that God was leading them to stop participating. Since Matt made a personal decision in high school to stop celebrating, it was a given that we would not celebrate the holiday with our own children. In the early 2000’s, our church decided to directly confront Halloween in an attempt to reach out to our neighborhood. For several years, we held an annual “Dragon Slayer Party” with the theme of slaying the dragon (satan) as followers of Christ in order to bring souls into God’s kingdom. As with Harvest Parties, we invited the community to come in their costumes and join us for a meal, games and candy and during the night they would hear a short, casually presented Gospel message. Later, we held Harvest Parties at our house for our extended family. Our children and their cousins dressed in costumes, we had hay rides, bounce houses and candy. We tried to keep the party at least a couple of weeks before October 31st, but since half of the family celebrated Halloween, our younger children became confused and believed that we were celebrating Halloween just like everyone else. As we attempted to explain, they didn’t understand why Halloween was bad and what the difference was between Halloween and our Harvest Parties, so we stopped holding or attending Harvest Parties altogether.
As our children get older, our story may change, but we are committed to avoiding all appearance of evil in the form of Halloween and anything else that God convicts us of. Harvest Parties can be a great outreach, but we should always be careful to obey God’s command to, “come out and be separate,” which is what holiness is. One pastor that I listened to explained his belief that we should attract people to Christ, not through entertaining them but by just being different so that our friends and neighbors will realize that we have something they don’t and come to us for answers on Halloween and every other day of the year and I think that is the best that we can strive for.Tags: evangelism, gospel, Halloween, sharing faith