I must admit that I sympathize with Christian parents who struggle with how to relate to Halloween. As a major celebration in our culture, Halloween has become big business in Canada garnering some $1 billion a year in retail sales — apparently a larger per capita expenditure than in the US. But beyond the commercial aspect of Halloween, questions often emerge about it because of its dark and evil imagery as well as its pagan origins.
In summary of many articles regarding this subject on the Internet, it seems Halloween started out as a pagan celebration among the Celtic peoples of northern Europe. November 1st marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of winter and the new year. The occasion was celebrated as the Festival of Samhain (pronounced, SAH-win), in which it was believed that entry into winter also marked entrance into the underworld of the dead (Samhain means “Lord of the dead”). Celebrations included large fires and sacrifices of thanksgiving and appeasement of spirits. It was also believed that at that time, the spirits of the dead came to do bad things to the living. In order to distract or dissuade evil spirits from harassing people, people dressed up in costumes resembling death. Food treats of various kinds were also offered as means of placating evil spirits.
Several centuries later, possibly under Pope Gregory I, the Roman Catholic church identified November 1st as All Saints Day. It was to be a day to remember and honour those who had been martyred for their faith. The evening of October 31st was a holy or hallowed evening in anticipation of this important event. Thus, October 31st became known as Hallowe’en. In the end, perhaps because of confused teaching, Halloween continued to be associated with images from the pagan practices of the Celts.
With this background in mind, it’s not surprising that Christians have often expressed discomfort and opposition to participation in most Halloween activities in our western culture. Some have seen it as an opportunity to provide age-appropriate instruction to their children about the reality of Satan and evil spirits, and the victory that has been won over these by the death and resurrection of Christ. Biblical references include ones like Colossians 2:15, Hebrews 2:14,15, and 1 John 3:8. Most of us, no doubt, have attached little meaning to Halloween beyond the opportunity for kids to have some fun dressing up in character costumes and collecting some candy from the neighbours.
At the least, by living in the culture that we do, and in seeking to relate positively to our friends and neighbours concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it seems impossible simply to ignore the event. In a way, it represents an example in our times of the challenge Christians face to use wisdom in their witness to the truth of the Gospel. Christians should try to be informed about the origins of Halloween and the implication of reckless engagement.
On the other hand, considering the victory that has been established in Christ over sin and Satan, Christians need not necessarily fear some participation or association. Also, it’s important to remember that Christmas too, for example, had pagan origins but has been successfully transformed, in many respects, into a wonderful celebration of Christ’s incarnation! Perhaps something similar could be done with Halloween. In celebration of God’s love and goodness, Christians could dress their children in positive character costumes and share generous treats with their neighbours. There may even be opportunity in some contexts to speak of Jesus and His victory over sin and Satan. But I think this should be done in a natural, non-confrontational kind of way, as the opportunity presents.
In summary, Halloween is not going away soon, and cannot be ignored by Christians who are seeking to engage with people in their every-day world. We should recognize the origins of the celebration, realize the reality of sin, evil, and the demonic world, and thank God for the victory that has been won in Christ. While disassociating with evil imagery, we can still testify to God and His goodness through good character costumes, generosity, and some good fun for the children. Perhaps it could lead to opportunities to bold and loving conversations about Jesus and His great victory over sin and evil, thus possibly leading to people’s faith and conversion. In the end, in line with passages like Romans 14, Christian parents have to prayerfully make up their own minds about how they want to regard Halloween and what to do about it.