The first time I met Halloween was more than 20 years ago.
On the way to church, I was looking out the window of our family’s old station wagon as my father drove us to a Sunday morning service that happened to fall on October 31st, the first of many Halloweens in the US.
Nothing appeared out of the ordinary on this particular morning. Except a medium-sized spotted cow, walking on its two hind legs.
“Must be going to some weird costume party,” I thought.
Later that day, my parents received detailed instructions from other church members: This is an evil holiday, celebrated by all Americans, who dress up in various costumes and go door to door, asking for candy. Lock your doors. Turn off your house lights and keep quiet.
The “or else” was the “trick” part of the “trick-or-treating,” whereby we were warned of the somewhat unpleasant consequences that unfortunately befall those who choose not to “treat” the unwelcome house guests (egged house being one of those unpleasant consequences). Read “The History Of Trick Or Treating Is Weirder Than You Thought.”
So we did just that.
Huddled in the back room of our house and quietly reading Bible stories, we survived our first Halloween night.
It was actually quite fun for us, kids. As if we were in a mystery plot of some sort.
My imagination ran wild with hundreds of various stories I was pretending to be in, while my father’s reading of the Bible stories would fade to a distant background…
Many more Halloween nights went by since that day, some more interesting than others (like when we visited another Christian family after skipping school on the “most evil” of all days in the year).
Did we miss out on not getting candy? That was probably the only thing we missed, unaware of the blessing in disguise (the blessing being that while virtually all of the neighborhood kids joyfully munched on sugar, we were spared a trip to the dreadful dental office).
Recently my younger brother and sister shared with me how their desire for boatloads of candy drove them to do the unthinkable: They sneaked out of the house, dressed as king Xerxes and queen Esther and quickly ran to one house.
But alas, they did not get any candy that night. “The feeling that the devil was all around us was too strong and the guilt overpowering. We just couldn’t go through with it.”
As we got older (and wiser), we no longer felt the need to keep up the pretenses to such extravagant measures. And we were no longer confined to just one room (perhaps the teenagers needing more personal space prompted the relaxed measures).
The only light that remained off was the front porch light – who in their right mind would let their kid walk up an unlit walkway with no Halloween décor, right?
A note was placed on the front door just for those who dared come and knock despite the “unwelcome” surroundings: “WE DO NOT CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN!”
“We do not celebrate Halloween” became the most repetitively used October phrase at public places like stores, school, and work.
We became experts at dealing with the quizzical glances (oh, you are one of those religious fanatics), and the questions posed by curious acquaintances and co-workers.
All humor and stories aside, WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL ABOUT HALLOWEEN?
On the surface it may appear pretty harmless to many Christians:
- What’s the harm in dressing up as angels, princesses, cute animals, etc.? After all, we do not dress up as goblins, or zombies, or witches. We just go around our harmless little neighborhood getting free candy, while our innocent children are being exposed to all kinds of horrific and scary images and costumes. (Would you agree that the Halloween décor has only become more evil and sinister? Too many times I had to quickly ask my children to close their eyes as we walked/drove in our neighborhood, so that they don’t have to deal with nightmares involving headless-bloody-gory-zombie-looking-monsters). And can someone tell me the reason for the skimpy-sexy costumes? Would I want my kids meeting these characters in real life?
- We are redeeming Halloween. Isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t we supposed to be the light in the world? Why hide that light in the darkness of your closed home? (While I agree that Christians can and should use the holiday to evangelize – what a great opportunity when all your neighbors come to your door – I believe most Christians would honestly agree that evangelizing during trick-or-treating simply is not feasible).
- The phrase “you are legalistic” gets thrown in the mix of things. (I came out of a legalistic background. I am rejoicing in my freedom in Christ just as you are. But I cannot let the pendulum swing 180 degrees to the other side, to the belief that I can do anything in the world and this “everything” will somehow still edify me). Don’t we still use discernment in deciding things such as “will it be edifying or beneficial to me to watch the latest horror movie?”
In the words of Paul, “’All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.'” (1 Cor. 6:12 ESV). The NIV reads, “‘I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial.'”
So, is Halloween beneficial to the believer? What is the origin of Halloween? Who or what is being celebrated on this day? Are we celebrating Jesus like we do on Easter and Christmas?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN
Halloween owes its origin to the Celtic festival Samhain (pronounced sah-win/sow-in), or the Celtic New Year. It was also knows as “the day of the dead” on which the Druids (Celtic pagans) believed the souls or spirits of all the deceased in the previous year would be roaming the earth on the night of Samhain. Celebrations of Samhain included a “great fire festival to encourage the dimming Sun not to vanish, dancing around bonfires to keep evil sprits away, but leaving their doors open in hopes that the kind spirits of loved ones might join them around their hearth; divination was thought to be more effective than any other time, so methods were derived to ascertain who might marry, what great person might be born, who might rise to prominence, or who might die.” The Celts also “wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes”. There were crop burnings and animal sacrifices. The spirits were thought to be “entertained by the living”, or to “find a body to possess for the incoming year.” Perhaps the reason why people started “dressing up like witches, ghosts and goblins” was to avoid become possessed by the spirits.
Enter the Romans (43AD), bringing their own influences by incorporating Feralia (the commemoration of the passing of the dead) and a day to honor Pomona (the Roman goddess of fruits and trees ).
Christianity’s influence didn’t start until the Middle Ages, when “the Roman Catholic Church often incorporated modified versions of older religious traditions in order to win converts. Pope Gregory IV wanted to substitute Samhain with All Saints’ Day in 835, but All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2nd), which is closer in resemblance to Samhain and Halloween today, was first instituted at a French monastery in 998 and quickly spread throughout Europe.”
Modern Halloween came to the United States when European immigrants “brought their varied Halloween customs with them”. In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants including the Irish fleeing from the potato famine in Ireland in 1846. By combining Irish and English traditions, Americans began the “trick-or-treat” tradition. In the later 1800’s the holiday became more centered on community and in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Halloween became “a secular, but community-centered holiday”. In the 1950’s leaders changed Halloween as a holiday aimed at the young to limit vandalism. This all led to what Halloween actually is like today. (“The Origins Of Halloween” University of Albany)
So what? you may say. We are not associating ourselves with the Druids. We are not putting our masks and costumes in order to change our personalities so that we can communicate with the spirit world like the Druids did. We are not trying to attract/absorb the powers of the animals/personalities represented by our costumes like the Druids did, etc.
Are we just being ignorant then? Ignorant of all the facts before us, dismissing them in lieu of “simple fun?”
I will pose this question yet again: WHO OR WHAT ARE WE CELEBRATING?
A former witch who became a Christian recently wrote a blog post, briefly describing her past celebrations of Halloween, as a witch “deeply involved in the occult,” and her present state of grief at seeing multitudes of clueless Christians celebrating a holiday that has NOTHING in common with light but EVERYTHING with darkness.
“When I was not an actively practicing witch I still reveled in halloween. It was a time to party! Halloween is sensual and exciting! There are sweet treats, fun costumes, games, music, laughter. It is a time to decorate, carve pumpkins and get together with friends and family. What is not to love, right? We always had great costumes such as vampires, witches, ghosts and other ghoulish characters. We also decorated our house with skulls, bats, corpses, head stones, rats and other treasures. It was all in good fun! Of course celebrating halloween doesn’t have to be about ghouls and scary things. You can decorate for fall and dress in innocent costumes such as princesses and super heroes. It makes for good wholesome fun. So just take out the evil and you have changed a night of evil into something perfectly good. Right? Wrong. I am so sorry to say that you cannot take halloween and make it good, wholesome, or innocent, no matter what changes you try to make of it. Halloween from it’s very origins is evil, and it still is today.” (Feel free to read the rest of “Halloween and Christianity“)
“How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15 NLT)
“What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” (NIV)
So this year, yet again, we will not be celebrating Halloween. We will celebrate light and life instead of darkness and death. Our children will be safe at home, their minds unaffected by all the gruesome images. They will stay free of nightmares and free of dental caries.
We will sing praises to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ by the wood stove fire (unless the California weather brings back summer again) and pray for those who are still on the fence about whether Halloween is harmless or not.
(Disclaimer: In no way did I write this to pass judgment on those Christians who are sincerely misguided on the “harmlessness” of Halloween. If you dissent with this post, your opinions are very much welcome and will be published. I only ask for civility, i.e. comments with foul language will not be approved).
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