Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?
The roots of the American holiday of Halloween go back more than 2000 years. European Celts celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new year in a festival called Samhain. It was also a time of communing with spirits, lighting bonfires in honor of the dead.
Fast forward a few centuries and the observance began to change. Several Christian popes attempted to replace “pagan” holidays like Samhain with events more suited to the Christian faith. By 1000 A.D., All Souls’ Day on November 2 served as a time for the living to pray for the souls of the dead. All Saints’ Day, assigned to November 1, honored saints and also was sometimes called “All Hallows.” That made October 31 All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.
Despite the new religious focus, the Old England and Irish association of the season with the wandering dead continued. They set out gifts of food to please the spirits, and eventually, people took up dressing in scary costumes to gain treats for themselves — a practice called “mumming,” which is similar to today’s trick-or-treating.
So, should we participate in the American tradition of Halloween, which seems to jumble together old pagan and Christian festivals?
The New Testament tells us that Christians have permission to make decision about pagan or secular practices with which they may come in contact. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addresses a debate within the church. Some of the Christians were refusing to eat meat that was used as a sacrifice to foreign gods. Other Christians thought it perfectly acceptable since they were not actually worshiping the gods, but only eating the meat after it had been brought to market. The Apostle Paul gave freedom to Christians individuals to make their own decision regarding this issue, but with a warning: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Paul’s point was this: we have great freedoms as Christians to determine what is beneficial or harmful when it comes to participating in public life, but we should also be concerned with appearances, and with causing others to stumble. Christians may enjoy a beer at the bar, attend yoga classes, or dress up for Halloween, but in each of these things we should be careful not to let any aspect of a secular or pagan practice detract us from following Christ and bringing him glory in all we do. Drinking too much beer at the bar, embracing the polytheistic, religious components of yoga, or becoming enamored with the idea of spirits, hauntings, or demons could in their own ways each damage our ability to witness to others and distract us from our worship of God alone.
Perhaps then, we do not “celebrate” Halloween, but we may choose to participate in some of the more benign traditions of the day – trick-or-treating, dressing up in costume, or placing jack-o-lanterns on the porch. Of course, other Christians may decide a “harvest party” or “trunk-or-treat” activity is a better choice for their family. Regardless of those decisions, what we do celebrate with joy is the November 1st Festival of All Saints. This day is a chance to remember those who have died in the faith, some of whom may have influenced our lives or shaped our walk with Jesus. We celebrate that those who have gone before us now rest in glory with their Lord, and one day we will be united with them there. This Sunday in our service at Calvary, we will take time to light candles as a way to remember the saints who have gone before us.
Tonight, my family, and perhaps yours, will go trick-or-treating. It is a great opportunity to mingle with neighbors and participate in the life of the community. And as we go we will also reassure our kids if they see anything that scares them, or seems too spooky, that because of our faith in God, we have nothing to fear in the physical, or even the spiritual realm. In Holy Baptism we are sealed as people of God, with the Holy Ghost being the only spiritual force having any power in our lives.
~Pastor Mike Middaugh