All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween in its modern incarnation, is a subject of much debate in evangelical circles. Often, mostly due to incorrect propaganda from the early 20th century, Christians of many traditions consider Halloween a Satanic holiday, or wonder if it’s okay for their children to participate. Well, before I give my opinion, let me give you some of the history of Halloween.
The idea of a harvest festival, at or near the Autumnal Equinox, is very old. Many of our current Halloween practices can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “Sow-in”). The Celts were a race of people who lived in what is now Europe, and are especially known for populating Gaul (Western Europe) and the British Isles during the time of Julius Caesar. Samhain was a time when the world “died”, part of the natural cyclic order of the world (similar to Greek beliefs about Persephone). The Celts did not worship a “Lord of the Dead” named Samhain, as I have read on other Christian sites, and it was not a festival worshipping death in any form. Rather, it was a belief that at this time, the boundries between the spirit world and the human world were thin. I’m certainly not saying that this is a valid belief, but it is worlds away from the assertions of some Christian writers. There is not a single shred of historical or anthropological evidence that the Celts worshipped death (and I have studied them for the last 15 years). They did believe that evil spirits roamed the earth more freely at this time, and took steps to try to protect themselves, not welcome the evil spirits. They often wore masks or costumes at this time to try to frighten the spirits away, which is most likely where we get the current custom of dressing up.
In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV created a special feast day to honor saints and martyrs. It was called All Hallow’s Day (“Hallow” means “holy”; in Old English, Alhalowmesse) and the night before was called All Hallow’s Eve, from which we get “Halloween”. Many scholars believe that Boniface created the day to replace Samhain with a church holiday.
Immigrants to America brought many of their Halloween traditions with them, but some are unique to the US. One such custom is “trick-or-treating”, where children dressed in costumes go door-to-door begging for candy (the trick part is still practiced in some areas, but has been frowned upon since the late 1800s). Trick-or-treating began when young immigrants dressed up and wandered their neighborhoods, begging for food or money.
I think that a large part of the confusion about Halloween stems from, as usual, ignorance. There is a world of difference between paganism ( believing in false gods) and Satanism (intentionally worshipping the Enemy of God). Although the powers behind paganism are demonic, the intentions of the practitioner are not.
In case you’re wondering how I know so much about this stuff, like I said before, I’ve studied Celtic culture and history for years. But, there was also a time when I practiced paganism, including celebrating Samhain. Of course, I am not advocating paganism! It is wrong, and a sham. God alone must be worshipped! But I, along with many others, worshipped out of ignorance, not with the intent to worship the Enemy. And I think that’s important to keep in mind when considering Halloween. Remember, the intent of the day was NEVER to glorify Satan.
All that being said, I still think it’s prudent to approach Halloween very cautiously. Whether or not it’s intended to worhsip Satan, the fact remains that the holiday is all about death, and death is not natural, according to God’s Word (it was brought into the world through the sin of Adam and Eve).
I think that many of today’s activities are harmless. Luke, my oldest, is dressing as Buzz Lightyear from Disney’s Toy Story. Brennan is dressing as an adorable little monkey. We’re going trick-or-treating, then to a party at a local church (the party is open to the public). There’s no harm in any of these activities. But there are many activities associated with the holiday that can be harmful.
- Dressing up as a demon, witch, ghost, horror movie character, etc. This is common sense.
- Seances, Ouija boards, tarot cards, and other methods of divination. We are expressly commanded to avoid these things. (Deut. 18:10)
- Pranks. Don’t be a jerk to people. Duh.
Overall, participating in Halloween is a personal decision. If you feel the Holy Spirit telling you to stay away, then by all means listen!! But please don’t judge those who feel that it’s ok to enjoy the harmless aspects.
*Most of the material here is re-written from a lesson I taught several years ago, but I did some additional fact-finding and checking. Some places that I used to check facts include the History Channel's site and the site from the About.com Guide to Christianity. Whatever you do, though, always read more than one source before you form an opinion! That goes for everything (except Scripture)