I may as well tell you right off the bat that I don’t have a simple “yes” or “no” answer to this question. So if you’re looking for simple, save yourself some time and read something else.
When I was a kid, Halloween was second only to Christmas as the greatest day of the year. As soon as we got home from school, we put on our costumes and headed out the door till supper time. After supper, we emptied our pillow cases full of candy and went out for round two – better this time because it was dark. The evening ended with piles of candy on the living room floor and trading with my brothers. When we got a little older, trick-or-treating gave way to visiting spook houses.
I don’t think I ever heard anyone question this practice, even though I grew up in a very conservative fundamentalist church. Everybody did Halloween. Sure, a few of the costumes were creepy, but that was just part of the scary fun.
But over the years, this childhood innocence has been harder to maintain. First, there were the sickos who poisoned candy and put razor blades in apples. Then, too, there’s been an increase in occultism, Satanism, Wicca, neopaganism, and slasher entertainment. Christians have wondered whether we and our children can have anything to do with a holiday that’s become so dark. An article in Christianity Today a few years ago put it this way: “The thoughtful believer might visit a spook house sponsored by a Christian group. Should he become entangled among the screaming and often genuinely terrified thrill seekers, he may wonder about the edifying value of butcher’s gore depicting brutalized humans, or vampires and executioners reaching out for one’s throat. At the other end of the spectrum, he hears of parents forbidding any festivities, including the use of costumes or creatures or imagination. Were he to quiz other Christians about Halloween, he’d find an awkward vagueness, or perhaps fulminations against wickedness, or simply appreciation for pumpkins, costumes, and mystery stories.”
This article (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/octoberweb-only/42.0.html) goes on to suggest ways Christians can celebrate in a spiritual way “All Hallows Eve,” honoring departed saints and affirming God’s victory over death and darkness. There’s some good stuff there. But that’s not what this blog entry is about. I’m talking about the traditional “spooky fun” aspect of the holiday. Is that something believers can participate in?
I’ve learned that this is an emotional issue for some people. One young couple visited a church I pastored. One of the first questions they asked was “Does your congregation celebrate Halloween?” “Well, no,” I said, “not Halloween, per se, but we do have a Harvest Party when kids and adults come in costume just for fun.” But even that was so offensive to this couple, so much like a compromise with the powers of darkness, they never came back to our church.
Although I don’t mind taking a hard line where I think it’s called for, this is one issue on which I admit to being conflicted. I’m nostalgic for the old days when Halloween was a day kids could look forward to for weeks. But I’m sympathetic to those who view it with grave suspicion. So let me ride the fence on this one, and end by quoting another blogger, James Watkins.
Search Google for “Should Christians celebrate Halloween?” and you’ll get about one thousand sites covering everything from “it’s completely harmless” to “it’s completely hellish.” Here’s site 1,001 that’s somewhere in the middle:
Origin of Halloween
Halloween’s origins date back two thousand years to the Celtic New Year festival of “Samhain” (pronounced sow-in) named after their god of the dead. (If it’s been a while since World History class, the Celts occupied England, Ireland and northern France.) Samhain was also one of the four high days (sabbats) of witchcraft or, more accurately, Wicca.
On the night before the November 1 new year, Celts believed that Samhain and the dead would roam the earth causing all kinds of trouble. So the Celtic priests, Druids, would demand that all light be extinguished on Halloween night and sacrifices be made to prevent trouble.
To avoid “tricks,” the villagers would bake up “treats” to appease the dead. They would also dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade to the outskirts of town hoping the departed souls would follow them out of town.
After sacrifices, villagers would carry the fire, thought to be sacred, back to their homes in carved out vegetable shells.
In the eighth century Pope Gregory II moved the church festival honoring martyrs of “All Saints” to November 1 as a Christian alternative to the Celtic New Year celebrations. “All Hallow’s Eve” or “Halloween” means the “evening of holy persons” and was to be used in spiritual preparation for All Saints Day.
So, what should a Christian do?
The Apostle Paul deals with these kinds of issues when he addresses meat offered to pagan idols. Is this wrong for the Christian—who doesn’t believe in the false gods to whom the meat was offered— to eat meat offered to idols? Here’s Paul’s advice:
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall (1 Corinthians 8:4-13).
If Paul were alive today, he might write something like . . .
Don’t worry about the ancient association of these holidays with paganism since we know there are no gods of sun and death, and that the dead don’t roam the earth. You’re not appeasing Samhain when you go “trick-or-treating” or sacrificing to the gods by carving a jack-o-lantern. But if your family or friends have reservations about these things, don’t encourage them to do something they feel is “sinful.”
Ken Langley, Senior Pastor
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