Over 2,000 years ago, before the dawn of Christianity, Celtic druids in Ireland and the British Isles celebrated Samhain (“Sow” + “when”) every October 31.
According to the druids, this day marked the end of the harvest year and the night when the souls of that year’s dead crossed over to the other worlds. The wall between earth and spirit world was quite thin and so to prevent evil spirits from possessing or harassing them, the Celts dressed up as demons, turned out all the lights and behaved badly.
The strategy was: fool evil spirits into thinking we’re one of them.
More than 2 millenia have passed and we still do something similar every October. We call it Halloween. The question every Christian has to ask themselves in October is, what is the biblical view of Halloween? What should I do on October 31 of every year? In order to address this sensitive question, let us take a closer look at the origins of our Halloween tradition and at the Bible.
In about 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV decided to turn a pagan pantheon in the city of Rome into a Christian one. So instead of celebrating hundreds of roman gods, the building was dedicated to “all of the saints of Christendom.” The name for the pope’s party was “All Hallows Day.” The date for this yearly celebration was set for November 1 in order to squash Samhain. About a thousand years later, in the 1500’s, October 31 began to be referred to as the Eve Before Hallows Day. It was then shortened to Hallows Eve and then to Halloween.
Despite the name change Halloween still carries the ancient Samhain’s focus on the dark spiritual themes of British, Irish and Scottish superstition. A mixture of Christian and druidic demonic imagery is pervasive. Yet, it is by no means a re-enactment of the druidic Samhain. Two other cultural traditions have merged with Halloween and it would be mainly unrecognizable to the eyes of 1st century Celts.
Trick or Treat
Trick or treating does not relate back to Celtic Samhain but to medieval England. On All Hallows Day (November 1) the poor would go door to door and beg for food. In return they would pray for the souls of the donors’ dead relatives. With Irish and British migration to North America, this tradition continued on our home turf. And in the early 1900’s it switched from being done on November 1 to being a staple of October 31. The custom also morphed to being for young children who wowed shop keepers with witty rhymes. In return they would receive nuts or other treats. Then in the 1930’s in western United States and Canada the term “trick or treat” was first used. There is no religious significance to the door to door solicitation of food or candy and no connection to Samhain.
Carving pumpkins is also unrelated to the Samhain. Although it was traditional for the Irish and British to carve vegetables into lanterns, it was not until 1837 that the term “Jack-o-Lantern” was used for a variety of different vegetable lanterns. And it was not until the harvest festivals of North America that the pumpkin became a preferred vegetable for lantern carving.
And then, it was simply used during general harvest festivals. Contrary to popular knowledge, it was in North America that the pumpkin “lantern” began to be a staple of Halloween festivities. And this was not until 1866. There is no link between the carving of pumpkins and occultic rituals.
Except for cross-dressing with the serious intent to be of the other gender (Deut 22:5) there is no biblical commandment against costumes. Religious costumes to mimic occultic practitioners would obviously mock the biblical mandates to have nothing to do with sorcery or extra-biblical spiritual practices (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).
Other than that, dressing as bears, cows, caterpillars, super heroes, celebrities, etc cannot be condemned from the bible in a manner in which the context and intent are respected.
The question is, what is a modern Christian to do with this popular and inescapable celebration? When it comes to non-essentials (such as the Halloween question), we need to identify strict boundaries within the biblical framework.
Ephesians 6:11-12 states that the demonic realm is very real and very evil:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Satan is a real person and he leads a real super-structure of organized government against humanity and against God. Demonic imagery is no laughing matter. No one would show up to a Jewish family’s home wearing a Nazi SS uniform. So why would anyone “jokingly” wear occultic-themed costumes?
The temptation for the Christian during Halloween is to join hands with the culture and laughingly downplay dark spiritual themes. This is where a line should be drawn. The war against the evil demonic empire is central to the Christian’s life. The realm of Satan is the least funny or casual subject matter possible.
We need to realize that we cannot escape Halloween. We will have dozens of people show up at our very door step wearing all manner of costumes, speaking and acting in ways that make light of the demonic and occultic realm.
Again, what is the Christian to do? The apostle Paul makes a very important point in regards to a similar struggle faced by 1st century Christians. In his time, the roman empire was littered with idols and false gods. Spirituality was so popular that an entire industry existed to supply animals for idol worship and sacrifice. Keen restauranteurs purchased the post-sacrificial meat and sold it to their customers.
To these early Christians, meat that had been meticulously prepared for, and ceremonially sacrificed to a demonic force was an evil perversion of the God-ordained Levitical sacrificial system. A system that foreshadowed their Lord Jesus Christ. To them, that meat was synonymous with blasphemy. Surprisingly, to the apostle Paul, it was synonymous with… burgers.
“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” -1 Corinthians 10:25-26
Essentially Paul’s overall view of sacrificed meat was that poor, lost pagans were foolishly serving non-existent gods and the meat used was simply made by God for man’s nourishment. So eat. This is important because idol worship and false religions are nearly always a communication and worship of a specific demonic spirit and a gross rupture of the very first commandment (1 Cor. 10:20, Exodus 20:1-6).
Yet Paul saw no problem with the intimacy of eating the very meat that had just been offered spiritually and killed ceremoniously by a priest of a demonically inspired worship service. In this service, the attendants desired to willfully worship an idol and the demonic power behind it. In contrast, Halloween is typically done tongue-in-cheek in our culture.
Few people we meet are serious about demon worship. Therefore, the candy they prepare or hand out cannot be worse than the meat of true idols. A Christian can eat Halloween candy. Roman Christians could easily have avoided sacrificed meat. There were other sources of meat and food. It was not a matter of survival that led God to okay this for them the way He let David and his men eat the sacrificial bread. Likewise, Christians don’t have to worry about the spiritual tainting of food. No matter what process it has undergone.
We can see that trick or treating and pumpkin carving are simply evolved from non-occultic, cultural traditions. Wearing costumes that disguise the individual as an evil spirits on October 31 is the only real and direct remnant of the occultic Samhain. This is clearly incompatible with Christian principles. Not costume wearing in general. Decorating our homes or children in occultic imagery is not biblical for Christians. But on October 31, most of the North American Christian population finds itself in the middle of unavoidable and overwhelming Halloween traffic.
A Christian can bow out of this cultural phenomenon or he can navigate that traffic with discernment. Personally, I don’t see any problem for adult Christians to participate in Halloween especially if there is an unavoidable work or family function incorporating it. But for those who have small children, it is unnecessary to ask children to step outside of the trick or treating and pumpkin carving aspects of Halloween. Kids are thinking about fun and candy. Not evil or witchcraft. Just as it is possible for a Christian to go to a corrupt workplace and remain honest himself, it is possible for a family to go out into the neighbourhood on Halloween and remain innocent.
Many churches have a “Harvest Festival” on Halloween. Kids dress up and eat candy and play games. This is an obvious parallel to Halloween with an attempt to take all the “dirt” out. Yet essentially, it is an evening whose calendar date and activities are dictated by the cultural Halloween surrounding it. Such churches agree that “neutralizing” an otherwise part-pagan, part-secular celebration is possible. And I would agree.
The answer to what should a Christian do on Halloween is up to the individual Christian. A Christian can participate in Halloween without compromising or sinning. But, on an individual basis, “should” he or she?
“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12
If a Christian comes out of an occultic background, he or she may have different views on Halloween for them or their children. And it would be perfectly understandable for them to completely boycott this festivity.
The Parenteau family “celebrates” Halloween. To be perfectly honest, we really enjoy it. I love the feeling of the city peacefully (for the most part) engaging in a singular community act.
But most importantly, it is on Halloween that our family does the most neighbourhood evangelism of the entire year. We individually pre-prepare bags of candy for our trick or treaters. Each bag contains the following home made tracts. Further, at each and every door our boys hand out these tracts as well:
Each year, over 150 tracts are handed out to our neighbourhood. Satan does not own a single day on the Parenteau family calendar. In fact, the day most people associate with the god of this world is the day our family dedicates to distributing the most Truth.
Enjoy your Halloween. No matter what decision you make!