Can Christians Celebrate Halloween?

J.R. Waller, MBA

Introduction

Where I live people are decorating homes with all manner of spooky garb, and candy is flying off store shelves at a pace that would make any dentist smile with glee.

Meanwhile, signs advertising pumpkin patches, corn mazes (yes we have them in Florida!), harvest festivals, and trunk-or-treats are gracing the lawns of nearly every church and park in the area.

Its honestly enough to where I could probably arrange my calendar so I won’t have to buy a meal in the next week – I could just live off costume party fare and festival food.

“Christians tend to have mixed feelings about Halloween.”Of course, my stomach has other sentiments about all that and I’ll digress.

What I’ve just described is of course the ramp up to Halloween. As of this post it is just several days away, and suffice to say, I’m looking forward to it.

However, over the years I’ve observed that Christians tend to have mixed feelings about Halloween.

In fact, it often conjures up (sorry, pun intended!) polarizing responses among Christians.

Many claim Halloween is solely a pagan holiday and that believers should not associate with it in the slightest.

Others have no qualms about it whatsoever. They wholly endorse everything about it, even things that are clearly forbidden by scripture.

Regrettably, both stances can unintentionally (or intentionally) harm the majority of people who are somewhere in the middle.

Herein lies the issue; Halloween, like most things in life, carries with it some good and some bad and a lot in between.

Therefore, a proper, balanced response to Halloween takes discernment.“Halloween, like most things in life, carries with it some good and some bad and a lot in between.”

This article intends to help Christians better understand Halloween so they can respond to it Biblically.

As such, we’re going to look at the history of Halloween, from its Celtic roots to the commercialized fanfare of today.

Then we’ll see what the Bible has to say about it all before concluding with some helpful thoughts on discernment.

Halloween’s History – The Most Co-opted Holiday of All Time?

Halloween’s origins are just as complex as its etymology.

The word “Halloween” is actually not a word in and of itself. It’s a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve,” which is the day before the related holiday All Saints’ Day that takes place on November 1.

All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day is the Christianized version of Halloween instituted in the 800s that honors dead “Hallow” (per Old English) or “Holy” saints.

As if things weren’t confusing enough, the period from October 31 to November 2 (All Souls’ Day) is sometimes known as Allhallowtide.

The word “Halloween” is complex because the holiday’s history is complicated.

Halloween’s earliest forerunner was the Celtic “End of Summer” festival known as Samhain.

Samhain was part of four celebrations that marked the four different seasons on the Gaelic (Scottish) calendar.

“The word ‘Halloween’ is complex because the holiday’s history is complicated.”The Celts considered November 1 New Year’s Day and the first day of Winter.

The day before, modern October 31, was celebrated as the demarcation between autumn and winter with Samhain.

Samhain was riddled with ancient religious superstition as was Celtic society in general.

For example, during Samhain it was believed that the barrier between earth and the realm of the gods would be temporarily broken.

Souls who had died in the previous year were thought to pass into the underworld.

Those who had died in years before were expected to return to earth during the holiday.

Many modern believers cite the fact that druids made sacrifices during Samhain during divination rituals, and that people warded off spirits with bonfires and carved turnips (later pumpkins).

All of that is true, however Samhain existed in an age where people were incredibly uneducated, and where most of the known world was superstitious.

Even the educated centers of the world like Athens were filled with superstition as St. Paul often spoke about.

Furthermore, Samhain was also a harvest festival and feasts occurred separately from the acts of the druids.

We must remember too that the druids didn’t keep records. We actually know most about them from Julius Caesar.“Overall, much of the meaning behind the activities of Samhain has been left to exist in a world that is now foreign to most people.”

Also, druids were the higher class of Celtic society, so not all ascribed to or understood what they did.

Surely some of the pagan activity that went on during Samhain clearly went against God’s word, and some of it did not.

Overall, much of the meaning behind the activities of Samhain has been left to exist in a world that is now foreign to most people.

Halloween’s origins are not relegated solely to the Celts though.

In the first century Samhain began to taken on a new flavor, a Roman one.

When the Romans conquered the Celts (Gauls) in France during the Gallic Wars (about half a century before Jesus’ birth), they brought their own spin to bear on the holiday.

The Romans mixed elements of their Feralia and Pomoma festivals into Samhain.

Through these, and in a similar vein to the Celts, the Romans honored the passing of the dead, and celebrated harvests, albeit in different ways than their Celtic brethren.

Of course, Rome eventually declined and morphed in the Catholic West and Byzantine East.

Eventually, with the legalization of Christianity in 313, Halloween underwent even more changes.

“The Church kept some of the pagan aspects of Halloween and turned All Saints’ Day into a Christianized version of Halloween as a way to further divorce the Catholic Church from the world.”

By the seventh century Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day. After him Pope Gregory III worked to popularize it even more.

All Saints’ Day was instituted to commemorate all of the martyred saints of the Church.

However, like most things in the Roman Catholic institution, when the Church adopted Halloween it did not do away with all of the pagan aspects of the holiday.

Instead, the Church kept some of the pagan aspects of Halloween, and turned All Saints’ Day into a Christianized version of Halloween as a way to further divorce the Catholic Church from the world.

It is interesting to point out that both the Celtic, Romanic and Roman Catholic versions of Samhain/Halloween all honored the dead in some way and all involved feasts.

In 837 Pope Gregory IV ordered the general observance of All Saints’ Day.

Yet, once the Protestant Reformation arrived centuries later Halloween and All Saints’ Day went out of vogue, as did all things Catholic for a lot of people at that time.

In fact, some in the American colonies forbid Halloween altogether not just because of its pagan roots but also due to its religious ties to the Catholic church.

“For most people today, Halloween is a commercialized affair – candy, games, parties, feasts and decorating are its hallmarks. “

However, Halloween saw a revival in 19th century America. Harvest festivals began to incorporate elements of Halloween back into their celebrations.

The holiday then gained an especially strong foothold in the public consciousness through the influence of Irish immigrants and their strong affinity to Halloween traditions.

By the 20th century Halloween morphed again. With the advent of a more commercialized America Halloween’s flair for trick-or-treaters going from house to house caught the attention of corporate interest.

It comes as no surprise then that Halloween as we know it today is primarily nothing more than a cog in the money-making machines of big business.

For most people today, Halloween is a commercialized affair – candy, games, parties, feasts and decorating are its hallmarks.

And the rest as they say, is history!

To be fair, this was an incredibly concise treatment of a complex holiday.

Fully understanding the ramifications of the Celtic, Roman and Roman Catholic versions of Halloween takes research and scholarly insight into pagan religious culture and customs.

However, we can be certain of this: Halloween has always incorporated some bad, some good and a lot in between.

It’s taken on new meanings depending on the culture and era that its found itself in.

Meanwhile, our increasing distance from the ancient world has eroded a lot of the deeply held pagan beliefs previously believed by those who celebrated the holiday.

Of course, some still do practice the occultist side of Halloween, but for most today Halloween is a materialistic and family oriented holiday.

Now that we have a tighter grasp on the history Halloween, we’re going to look at what the Bible says and learn how to respond Biblically to the holiday.

A Biblical Response to Halloween

Avoid all forms of evil

Halloween is just like anything in this world, it can be used for good or evil, and like most things in this world it has been and still is used for both.

Regarding Halloween’s involvement in the superstitious and the occult, the Bible is clear.

Such things are the work of the flesh and darkness, they are sinful and are used by Satan as a form of spiritual warfare to deceive and lead people away from following Christ. (Gal. 5:19-20, Acts 19:19, Is. 19:3, Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 4:4)

In Biblical times witchcraft was a bit different than what it would become over time, but it has always incorporated a lot of deception and drug/chemical use to interfere with people’s perceptions.

Many times witchcraft is also done in obedience to a higher power other than God and is thus anti-God.

Sadly, many today still engage in occultism and adhere to demonic religious practices.

“The occult in any form elevates people’s trust in things not of God – things that serve the works of darkness and that are unfruitful.”

Ultimately, the occult in any form elevates people’s trust in things not of God – things that serve the works of darkness and that are unfruitful. (Eph. 5:11)

The occult, superstition, witchcraft, wiccan and the like are exactly the kind of thing Paul referenced when he exhorted the Thessalonian church to “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thess. 5:22)

Many take Paul’s exhortation here to mean that Christians are to avoid engaging in anything that might be seen or misconstrued by others as evil or wrong.

However, the word “appearance” in Greek is the noun “eidos” which means “form.”

Thus, Paul is commanding believers to avoid all forms of evil, such as the occult and false religions.

In addition, in the context of the passage, Paul was teaching about proving all things. (1 Thess. 5:21)

The occult isn’t always blatantly anti-God. False religions often appear to be truthful.

This is why everything must be discerned and proved right against God’s word.

It is impossible to avoid everything that is gray, but those things whose form(s) is/are evil we are to avoid as we prove what is untruthful and cling to that which is good. (1 Thess. 5:21-22)

So, there are certain aspects of Halloween that we ought to avoid and in other areas that are not as clear we are to apply discernment.

How we do that is where we will turn our attention to next.

Applying discernment to Halloween

Discernment helps us make Godly decisions. It aids us in determining which things are out of bounds.

It enables us to identify stumbling blocks and to learn which things we can happily permit.

Such decision making brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)

“Discernment helps us make Godly decisions. It aids us in determining which things are out of bounds.  It enables us to identify stumbling blocks and to learn which things we can happily permit.”

A discerning mindset seeks God’s kingdom first, lets the Holy Spirit lead, prays, is not conformed to this world, does not go out of the world entirely and follows after righteousness. (Matt. 6:33, 1 Thess. 5:19, Phil. 4:6, Rom. 12:2, 1 Cor. 5:10, Mk. 2:15-17, 1 Tim. 6:11)

Ultimately, a discerning mental posture is informed by a constant tendency to do and prove God’s will, and to act according to how he works in you as you are made more like him. (Rom. 12:2, Phil. 2:13)

Moreover, the believer is not to shun the world. Rather, he is to face the challenges of the world so he can become strong in discernment from the constant practice of applying God’s word to situations. (Heb. 5:14)

Liberty and respect

Another important thing to keep in mind when it comes to Halloween, is that Christians have liberty and autonomy to refuse sin and to follow God and be like him. (Rom. 6:18, Gal. 5:13)

Nevertheless, the actions believers take because of Christian liberty can vary depending on a given believers spiritual maturity, personal convictions and personal relationship with Christ. (1 Pet. 2:2, Rom. 14:21)

Put simply, in gray areas we won’t all make the same choices, and that’s ok.

Christian liberty also implies that we also not act like our former worldly selves. (Eph. 4:22)

“A discerning mental posture is informed by a constant tendency to do and prove God’s will.”This ought to inform how we respond to varying views of Halloween by Christians.

For instance, there are undoubtedly some believers who used to be involved in the forbidden aspects of the holiday.

Consequently, they might refuse to take part in Halloween because the holiday is a stumbling block for them, and other Christians are to respect that. (1 Cor. 8:13)

Still, others might be content to enjoy costume parties, family feasts and the traditions of Halloween while avoiding any directly forbidden aspects of the holiday like the occult.

The point is, in light of Christian discernment and liberty, the views of both those who accept Halloween and those who do not are equally valid.

The Christian’s response to Halloween, apart from those things clearly outlawed by scripture (occult, etc.) are matters of personal conviction, preference and conscience – they’re not to be based on what others say but on each believer’s relationship with God.

Thus, to try to legislate intentions, or craft a blanket morality and force it upon others in regard to Halloween isn’t the approach believers ought to take.

Instead, we must respect the views of other believers and always love our fellow brethren in matters not clearly outlined by scripture. (1 Cor. 8:9, Col. 3:14)

Conclusion

This article was intended to help believers better understand Halloween so they can respond to it Biblically.

To that end we looked at the history of Halloween, from its Celtic roots to the modern commercialized fanfare of today.“The Christian’s response to Halloween, apart from those things clearly outlawed by scripture (occult, etc.) are matters of personal conviction, preference and conscience – they’re not to be based on what others say but on each believer’s relationship to God.”

We learned that superstitious religious ritual was a part of the origins of Halloween.

We also saw that not everyone involved in the celebrations necessarily took part in such activities and that there is distance between us and the ancient world and its beliefs.

Ultimately, Halloween has always incorporated some bad, some good and a lot in between. It’s also taken on new meanings depending on the culture and era that its found itself in.

For most today, Halloween is a materialistic and family oriented holiday.

Next, we looked at scripture and learned how to make balanced and discerning responses to Halloween.

First, we discovered that there are things about Halloween that are expressly forbidden by God – demonic activity, the occult, and similar darker elements and rituals of Halloween are to be avoided as they are forms of evil, works of spiritual warfare and things that lead us away from Christ.

Regarding things about Halloween not expressly condemned in scripture, we looked at what it means to apply Biblical discernment.

We learned that a discerning attitude is a mental posture informed by a constant tendency to do and prove God’s will, and to act according to how he works in you as you are made more like him.

“When it comes to gray areas, believers have freedom to choose, it’s part of our sanctification in Christ, and it is a beautiful thing.”Lastly, we looked at the doctrine of Christian liberty and learned that in morally ambiguous areas we can make our own decisions out of personal conviction, conscience and from our relationship with God.

This means we are to respect the choices of other believers even if they differ from ours, and especially if people refuse something because it is a particular stumbling block for them.

In the end, a Christian’s response to Halloween must be based on an understating of both the holiday’s bad, good and morally neutral sides.

From there, each individual Christian is free in Christ to make the best decision for themselves according to God’s working in them.

When it comes to gray areas, believers have freedom to choose, it’s part of our sanctification in Christ, it is a beautiful thing.

May we in all things always be “wise as serpents” and “harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16)

Soli Deo gloria!

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