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.
When it comes to Christian apologetics, my logical side can really take over. The sheer number of facts supporting the Bible is so astounding to me that sometimes I neglect to impart the other side of the coin – experience. Revelation 12:11 tells us that the end times saints (followers of Christ) will overcome the enemy, the accuser of the brethren, “…by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” Very often, it is our testimonies of God’s faithfulness, of His working in our lives, answering our prayers, protecting us through trials and performing miracles on our behalf that can take someone from teetering on the edge of faith in Christ and propel them into His arms. I was recently reminded of this during a Sunday morning church service.
A couple of nights before, I was laying in bed struggling with some fear and anxiety that was preventing me from falling asleep. I prayed for deliverance, for God to help me to fully trust Him and prayed some scriptures over myself and my family. Eventually I fell asleep, but it was a restless night and I found myself awakened a couple of hours later. My husband woke up and we talked and prayed together and I felt quite a bit better the next day. Then, on Sunday morning, after praise and worship, our pastor came up to pray and started praying against fear and speaking one of the scriptures that I had prayed over myself that night. It may not sound like a lot, but it was so stunning to me that I had to check with my husband to make sure he hadn’t spoken with anyone from the church or asked for prayer for me. He had not. I sat there in church just so in awe of how much our Heavenly Father cares for each of us – how much He cared for me – that He would take the time to answer my specific prayers and comfort me in that way. Even the message that day, delivered by a guest speaker, spoke directly to my situation. God brought such peace to me that day that I am still amazed by it.
Over the last several weeks, I have been meditating on the many things God has done in my life that have shown me that He is who He says He is. While I have had what I feel is far more than my share of trials, I have also seen God work in some pretty amazing ways, some of which I would like to share with you.
One day in the first grade, I passed out in class. I can still remember coming back to consciousness and being very confused about what had happened. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there and I passed out many more times over the next couple of years. My parents tried many things, from following the advice of a Christian chiropractor who suggested getting me off of sugar to checking me into the hospital for testing. The EEG as a little girl was a little scary, but the cards and gifts I got from friends and family made up for it. They were never (to my knowledge) able to figure out what was going on. Over the next couple of years, I had frequent dizzy spells and passed out a couple of more times. Then, my dad gave me a notepad that his Christian boss had given him with Philippians 4:13 printed at the bottom of each page. He told me to pray that scripture – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength – whenever I started feeling like I might pass out. I began to do that and God completely healed me.
When my husband (Matt) and I were dating in high school, I had gone up to Colorado Springs with him for a track meet. He was taking me home and we were using the time to study for a Bible college class we were taking together. We were traveling down a dirt road and hit some loose gravel on a curve and rolled his old 1980’s Plymouth. This was before everyone had cell phones and we were miles away from anything, but apart from being pretty shaken up, a scratch on his nose and some soreness in my wrist from bracing myself, we were perfectly fine. There is no doubt in my mind that He performed a miracle for us that day and that what the enemy meant for harm, God turned into a testimony. He certainly had His hand on us that day!
Years later, I was 6 months pregnant and involved in another car accident. Matt and I were youth pastors at my dad’s church at the time. I was at the church with our 2 year old (our oldest was playing at my parents’ house) preparing for youth group while Matt was still at work. As I was getting ready to head out to Pueblo West to pick up my little brother and his friend, my 2 brothers-in-law noticed something about my car that they thought they should look at. They suggested that I take my sister’s little Toyota Echo and leave my car there with them. I agreed and loaded Bethany’s car seat into my sister’s car and drove away. Fifteen minutes later, while waiting to turn left onto my parents’ street, I was rear-ended by a truck going 45-55 mph who didn’t see me before he reached down to pick something up off the floor. As you can imagine, the car was completely smashed, with the trunk pushed up to the front seat. It was nothing short of a miracle that both of my daughters (our unborn child as well as my 2 year old in the back seat) and I all came out unscathed. I had pain in my neck and back for awhile, but even that was healed after a local pastor at a multi-church event prayed for me.
These are 3 of the most significant events in my life where I saw God’s hand, but there have been many more, some just as miraculous, but too personal to write about here. This world is fallen and, until Jesus returns, will be a tumultuous place where we will face trials and heartache. However, when we belong to God, we will also see Him intervene mightily on our behalf throughout our lives.
God made us all different and while some, like me, will lean more on the evidence when telling people about Christ, others will lean more on their experience. The reality, however, is that we need both. With only our experiences, some will respond with doubts based on what they view as a lack of evidence and chalk our experience up to mere coincidence. However, if we rely on just the evidence, others will not see the real and present and loving Father that we know our God to be. Evidence combined with experience is the most powerful way that we can overcome the enemy and bring souls into God’s Kingdom. So, don’t neglect your story – it is God’s gift to you and He can use it to make a difference in the lives of others.
“People will only see Jesus in us if they hear about him from us. There is no gospel without words.” John Piper
Yes, as believers in Jesus Christ we are born again. We have been redeemed. Our debt to God for our sin has been paid through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Being redeemed brings freedom that is glorious beyond words. Salvation is a free gift, a treasure discovered, the most important thing that happens in a believer’s life. As a receiver of this precious gift there should also be a longing and desire to share what we have. Unfortunately sharing faith is not a common practice of many Christians. According to the Barna Research Group, only 55 percent of born again Christians believe it is their responsibility to even share their faith at all. According to Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, only 2 percent of Christians share their faith on a regular basis.
What does it say when we have the cure to the biggest problem and cause of death, which is sin, and keep it to ourselves? Knowing the fate of those around us, how can we not share the salvation offered? A deep conviction should pierce every believer’s soul when scales are removed and spiritual eyes see a dying world. Paul was so concerned for his fellow man that if he could, he would gladly take their place.
We must remember our own salvation and that we are beggars showing other beggars where to find bread. Urgency should be stirred in us when we understand the person in front of us will face God on judgment day he needs to be warned of the wrath to come. Alerting them is our job and God draws them in unto salvation.
The more we mature and grow in Christ through prayer, His Word, and fellowship with believers, we will see that sharing our faith is not an option. We cannot stay inside of the church and keep what we know from others. “How then shall they call on Him of whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Evangelism should be at the forefront of our minds as we interact in the world, looking for opportunities in our jobs and with our neighbors, opportunities when out in the community and with our family. Looking with spiritual eyes we will see opportunities daily.
Jesus said, “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This is a command, not an option, for the Christian. Understanding that “The harvest truly is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37) should ignite our hearts to take time to talk to the person in front of us in line at the grocery store, or the stressed mother who is in need of encouragement and the gospel, or the unbelieving co-worker who lost a family member. This should move us also as fellow believers to go out into our community and talk with people together. We have a worldview that is different then the world’s. Our perspective is one that needs to be shared. Understanding that the Word will change others, our job is to preach it and it will do its job.
“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose and the lion will defend its self.”