Halloween: Should You Participate?

Each year I get the same question – should we participate in halloween? It seems each year I ask myself that same question. Answering that question boils down to being a matter of conscience. In other words, I can’t answer for you. But I do think I can help inform you.

Festival Celebrations

One of the first questions we should be asking is not necessarily about Halloween but festival celebrations in general. What purpose do they serve? In ancient times, festivals either served to celebrate something (like the harvest), honor God (or gods), or both. For example, the Bible tells us of a number of festivals that the Israelites were to celebrate each year. While some of these feasts corresponded with the seasons (and harvest), they were all related to God’s redeeming work. Passover, for example, reminded the Israelites about how God rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. The prescribed feasts helped tell this story of God’s redemption and reminded them continually of God’s provision and care. We still mark significant events with feasts. Thanksgiving marks God’s providential care in bringing the puritans to America in order to advance the Christian faith. Christmas marks the incarnation of Jesus. Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. These all help tell our story. Sadly, our culture is distancing itself from the story being told by our feasts. We are aware of the battle surrounding Christmas and Easter and whether or not these can be publicly supported. The reason the battle rages is because of the failure of our culture to disconnect the story of Jesus from these “feasts”. Still, there is a growing disconnect between feasts and their story. Is that okay? While it may be sad, it isn’t morally wrong. The Christian is not a Christian because he observes particular feasts (see Colossians 2:16-17).  When people participate in halloween today, it is largely out of a disconnect to its story. For most Americans, it is just a “thing we do”; an excuse to dress up, visit our neighbors, and collect candy.

The Story of Halloween

While most Americans have no idea the story behind Halloween, it’s never a bad idea to learn it. You can never fully divorce the story from its celebration. People will always want to know why we do what we do (we fill in the blanks if we never learn answers). Halloween ties back to a number of things, the foremost being “Samhain” (summer’s end) – the day between the end of the harvest (“the season of life”) and the coming deadness of winter (“the season of death”). The ancient celtic people believed that this day bridged the living and the dead and that “malevolent spirits could rise from their graves and walk among the living.” The druid priests believed that they could learn about the future survival of their villages through contact with these spirits. Regular farmers built large bonfires and dressed up in disguises to repel and confuse these spirits. In the eighth century the pope Gregory III established All Hallows day (all saints or all holy ones or all “hallowed” people’s day) on November 1, the day after Samhain. In Ireland this was adopted but never replaced the Samhain day rituals. With the new holiday, Samhain became know as “All Hallows Eve.” When the puritan pilgrims first came to America, they left this heathen holiday behind. But in the mid-nineteenth century, a potato famine drove many Irish immigrants to America and with them came their folklore. But the traditions were adapted to the new setting. The roaring bonfires became gourds with candles in them, the celtic demonic disguises became costumes, and the connection to a day that bridged the living and the dead was largely lost.

So, the modern halloween observance fails to tell a clear story. So why is halloween so popular and celebrated today? It is certainly not to tell this story (since hardly anyone knows it). It is popular because people like to dress up, kids like candy, and businesses make a ton of money by promoting it so heavily. This is more of the story that our own culture tells of halloween.

Christian Participation

So, should we participate as Christians? As I wrote above, I think it comes down to a matter of conscience. Paul instructed the church on a similar matter when they wanted to know if it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul responds in 1 Corinthians 8.

4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one. 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many gods and many lords— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Unless you’re engaging in or embracing paganism in your participation of Halloween (which is idolatry), I think you can substitute “participate in halloween” for “eat food sacrificed to idols” and have your answer.

Sola Deo Gloria,

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