Should I celebrate Halloween?

Halloween: Norman Rockwell cute, or Freddie Krueger Evil?

Question:
What is Halloween?  How should we teach my children on Halloween?  What does bible say about Halloween?

Answer:
When I was growing up, I loved Halloween.  Well, let me be more specific, I loved trick-or-treating, bowls of candy corn, and episodes of “The Simpson’s: Treehouse of Horror”.  My good Christian parents never alluded to the fact that there might be something dark and backward about the holiday so when I came into contact with Christians who did not participate in Halloween I was confused and intrigued.  I want to use this blog post to talk about some of the history of Halloween and it’s interesting connection to the Church, but also to provide some things to think about for parents.  At the end of the day, parents need to make a decision about what they will teach their kids about Halloween so it is important for your spirit to be aware and your mind to be informed of what it is all about.

History of Halloween:

I don’t want to turn this into a dissertation so I’ll strive to be brief.  There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the details concerning our modern celebration of Halloween so I will shy away from those details and try to give a general overview.

Most of our Christian Holidays find their origins in ancient pagan practices.  For example, December 25 is not the actual date that Jesus was born (we don’t know the date), but as early Christians encountered Pagan beliefs and celebrations they used the pagan holidays to help explain the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  That is why Christmas is only days after the winter solstice.  Ancient pagan cultures celebrated the solstice as the mark of the Sun returning, because after December 22 the days begin to get longer instead of shorter. This does not make Christmas a pagan Holiday.  Celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 began as a way of spreading the good news to those who were lost.

Halloween has similar kinds of origins.  Ancient pagan cultures (including the Celts and the Britons) used to celebrate a harvest festival in which one of their gods would summon together the dead from the past year.  Something like a ‘harvest of souls’.  This was a common practice in many pagan cultures including ancient Rome.

Thus, when the Christians began to evangelize and teach about the good news of life after death they helped explain the doctrine of salvation by contextualizing it to the culture of the pagans.  Centuries later, the Church officially established All-Saints Day.  All-Saints Day is the day on the christian calendar that Falls on November 1 (originally it was May 13th).  It is the day on which Christians remember those saints who have gone before us to eternal rest.  On All-Saints Sunday we remember those who have passed away since the previous November 1.

Halloween is the eve of this Christian celebration.  The word ‘Halloween’ is derived from the phrase “All Hallows (saints) Eve” i.e. the eve of All Saints Day.  The evening before All Saints Day became a time of warding off spirits that were evil, people would set out food or drink to appease wandering spirits or unruly people who masqueraded as evil spirits (an early precursor to trick-or-treating).

As you can see, All Hallows Eve, was easily confused and corrupted by the early Celts who where learning about Christianity.  Not because they had sinister motives or witchcraft in mind, but because the new teaching on the communion of the Saints and the celebration of All Saints Day, still lead to some confusion.  That confusion has carried over to today…

Halloween Today:

Many of the practices of Halloween can be traced back directly to the early practices of pagan Celts and the efforts of Catholic missionaries to present them with correct teaching about Christ.  Things like trick-or-treating, pumpkin-carving,  parties, etc all have roots that were positive, not sinister.  Though they were certainly the result of misdirected pagan spirituality which we denounce as a part of our faith.  However, this does not mean it was not evil.  Anything outside the truth of Jesus Christ is evil, especially in the spiritual world that we do not see.

But just as the Christian missionaries sought to supplant the evil spiritual rituals of the Celts and Britons, today the Christian traditions of All Hallows Eve have been supplanted by secular practices and worse.  Those who do practice witchcraft, divination, satanism, or other evil practices have adopted this holiday as their own.  One can see the natural draw after generations of dressing up like evil spirits, horror movies, monsters, and more.

What Should We Do?

As a parent I think you need to pray about this, inform yourself, and teach your kids about Halloween as you go.  Halloween is not evil in-and-of itself, but there are definitely evil things that go along with it, because of the ways we have allowed it to be corrupted.  But the same is true for Christmas as well.  It’s easy for us to say that witchcraft and divination are evil (and they are), but what about the rampant consumerism that goes with Christmas or other Christian holidays.  Many Christians are willing to say, “We’re not going to let our kids participate in Halloween because there is too much spiritual evil on that day.”  But how many of those same parents are willing to say, “I’m not going to buy my kids Christmas presents, because consumerism is such a systematic evil.”

We must be thoughtful about all of the practices in which we participate, especially when our children are involved.  And we must be aware that we live in a world in which spiritual evil is rampant.  I don’t mind dressing up my son on Halloween and sending him out for some candy, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the spiritual evil that can surround this holiday.  If you feel that Halloween too flippantly engages with that spiritual evil then you need to prayerfully consider those feelings.  But remember, that our cultural practice of Christmas has allowed the spirit of greed and consumerism to place a stranglehold on many people and even our entire economy to the extent that our economic system is dependent on Christmas sales for survival.  There is much we must consider at all times, not just Halloween.

I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).  There are a lot of things that don’t fit that description on Halloween, but if you saw my son dressed up like a little lion last October 31, you might find something ‘pure’ on Halloween to think about.

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3 Responses to “Should I celebrate Halloween?”

  1. Karen Yaw Says:

    I’m not sure if I really want to write this response, mainly because I know that I’m in the minority with how I feel about Halloween. But I think that it’s worth whatever backlash—as my motive is not to prove what is wrong or right but rather it is to get people thinking about why we do the things we do.

    Firstly, thank you Pastor Stephen for your take on Halloween. This is the first year that I’m faced with making a decision on where I really stand with this “holiday.” Living overseas has sheltered my son from homes and stores decorated with ghosts, goblins, skeletons, etc. Now that we are in the States, there is no hiding it. It’s everywhere and my son wants to know why there are so many “debils” around. I’ve spoken to a hand full of friends and acquaintances to get some feedback on how to approach Halloween in a godly way. I’ve received many different takes and appreciate them all. This really has been a prayer point for me over the last two weeks.

    Here’s what I found on the origins of Halloween (I have the whole article if anyone is interested in reading more):

    From October 31 to November 2, the Celts celebrated a 48-hour festival, the Vigil of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”). They believed that Samhain, the pagan lord of the dead, assembled the souls of those who had died during the previous year and decided what form they would take for the next year. On the night of October 31, the eve of the new year, the Celts, after harvesting their crops and storing them for the coming winter, began their festival. First, they extinguished the cooking fires in their homes. Then the Druids (Celtic priests) met on hilltops in the dark oak forests (they viewed oak trees as sacred), and built huge sacred bonfires to frighten away evil spirits and to honor the sun god.

    At Samhain, held on November 1, the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to mankind, and the gods played many tricks on their mortal worshippers; it was a time fraught with danger, charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices and propitiations of every kind were thought to be vital, for without them the Celts believed they could not prevail over the perils of the season or counteract the activities of the deities. Samhain was an important precursor to Halloween.

    During the first century, the Roman Empire invaded Ireland and the British Isles, conquering most of Celtic territory. The Romans ruled over them for hundreds of years, influencing Celtic and Anglo-Saxon customs and traditions. During this time period, two Roman festivals mixed in with the Celts’ festival of Samhain—Feralia and Pomona Day. Several American cities bear the pagan name Pomona, thereby unwittingly endorsing “Pomona Day.”

    The Catholic Church, tired of admonishing the Romans for engaging in drunken revelries as an excuse to honor the dead (and desiring more converts), Pope Boniface IV, in A.D. 609, declared Feralia to be Christian. Instead of honoring all of the dead, they were now just to honor dead “saints.” Instead of drunken revelries, it would be a day of prayer and meditation. Instead of calling it Feralia, he changed it to All Saints’ Day. And he moved the date of its observance from February 21 to May 13. “Boniface IV, [on] 13 May, 609, or 610, consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, ordering an anniversary” (Ibid.).

    Then, Pope Gregory III, who reigned 731-741, “consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November” (Catholic Encyclopedia). He broadened “the festival [of All Saints’ Day] to include all saints as well as all martyrs” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

    Meanwhile, the Celts were still observing the festival of Samhain in one form or another. The Catholic Church took note and Pope Gregory IV (827-844) attempted to replace it by moving All Saints’ Day from May 13 to November 1—the same day as Samhain—officially extending the festival to the entire church. All Saints’ Day became known as All Hallows Day, while October 31 became All Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

    But the white-washing process was not finished. In A.D. 988, the Catholic Church instituted another day—All Souls’ Day—to commemorate “all the faithful departed, those baptized Christians who are believed to be in purgatory because they have died with guilt of lesser sins on their souls. It is celebrated on November 2. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that the prayers of the faithful on earth will help cleanse these souls in order to fit them for the vision of God in heaven…The date, which became practically universal before the end of the 13th century, was chosen to follow All Saints’ Day. Having celebrated the feast (All Saints’ Day) of all the members of the church who are believed to be in heaven, the church on earth turns, on the next day, to commemorate those souls believed to be suffering in purgatory”

    (Encyclopedia Britannica).

    Additionally:
    ORIGINS OF HALLOWEEN CUSTOMS
    Below is a list of widely-held customs and their ancient roots:

    Mischief-making, playing tricks: Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead who returned to earth on the night of Oct. 31 caused trouble and damaged crops; they also believed that their gods played tricks on them.

    Black cats: Celts believed that bad spirits would take the form of cats and other animals on the night of Oct. 31.

    Costumes: Celts (and other Europeans) wore masks when they left their homes after dark to avoid being recognized by ghosts who might mistake them for fellow spirits. “Guisers” dressed up to impersonate the returning dead, singing and dancing to keep evil spirits away. Catholics dressed up as saints, angels and devils during Hallowmas.

    “Trick or treat”: Prior to the Protestant Reformation, women and girls went “souling,” visiting houses and begging for “soul cakes.” Seventeenth-century Irish peasants went door to door asking for donations for a feast to honor St. Columbia (whom they believed had replaced the Lord of the Dead). Up until the early 1900s, the Irish went about asking for contributions in the name of “Muck Olla,” a legendary, gigantic boar.

    Bonfires: Druids built sacred bonfires to frighten off evil spirits on Oct. 31, eve of the new year. Worshippers used them to burn animal and crop offerings to their sun god; they also rekindled their cooking fires to protect their homes from evil spirits. The Scots built bonfires, called Samhnagan, not for Samhain, but for Halloween merry-making and as a defiant welcome to the coming winter. The Catholic Church continued with the bonfire tradition on All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2.

    Fruits, nuts and other goodies: Handing out fruits and nuts may have originated from Pomona Day, named for the Roman goddess of fruits, trees, gardens, harvests and fertility. Later used for divination games.

    Apple-bobbing, apple-ducking: May have come from Pomona Day; the Romans viewed the apple as a sacred symbol of their goddess Pomona. Apple-ducking was a divination game used to predict future love and marriage; for example, if a girl peeled an apple in front of a mirror in a room lighted by a candle, an apparition of her future husband would appear behind her in a mirror. Also, apple-ducking represented soul symbols (apples) in the Cauldron of Regeneration (the water), similar to the lord of the dead gathering dead souls to regenerate those who had been condemned to inhabit animals for the past year.

    Parades, parties: The Scots, Celts and Welsh built bonfires for parading, dancing and merry-making; the Celts did so, wearing costumes made from animal skins and heads. The Scots assembled marriage-minded young people for divination games. Europeans who migrated to America brought with them “play parties” and public events to celebrate the harvest, as well as telling ghost stories and pulling pranks.

    Jack-o’-lantern: The name may have come from a night watchman. In the British Isles, turnips and rutabagas were commonly used; pumpkins are the American tradition. In Britain, people hollowed out turnips and placed candles inside them to make food offerings to the dead; later on, they were posted just outside homes to keep away evil spirits.

    SOURCES: Encyclopedia Britannica; “History Channel Exhibits: The History of Halloween” (www.historychannel.com/exhibits/halloween/ hallowmas.html); “From Samhain to Halloween” (www.auburn.edu/ ~kerrlin/Samhain.html).

    ****Based on the historical context above, there is no denying that Halloween was rooted in evil. However, I’ve resolved to praying and asking God ways that my family and I can show His love to the unbelievers on this “holiday” without actually partaking in it. I’m not exactly sure what that is going to look like this year or the years to come.

    I’ve been comforted by Paul’s take on the Believer’s Freedom, and I hope that you are encouraged too:

    “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

    So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

    -1 Corinthians 10:23-31.

    Seasoned with love, grace & much thoughtfulness,
    -Karen

  2. Carlon Says:

    I have been seeking some guidance on this and I must say that you have provided me with: clearly presented information, insightful suggestive opinion and most of all scripture filled guidance.

    Thank-you, and may God continue to lead and Bless-you.

    Carlon

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