Halloween: A Christian’s Guide

Posted: October 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

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How does a Christian parent “navigate” Halloween? Is it good or bad? Celebratory or satanic? Here’s a CONDENSED version of the history of Halloween and some ideas of what we can do with it:

A Christian Perspective on Halloween: Hallowed or Harmful  (excerpt from CBD article 10/20/98)

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Celts, inhabitants of Britain and Ireland, observed a festival on October 31.  Unlike modern-day Halloween, theirs was no children’s holiday.  The Celts and their priests, the Druids, celebrated Samhain, a festival that marked the eve of the Celtic New Year, which began on November 1.

The fall harvest was complete and winter loomed ahead. The Celts believed the power of the sun was fading. For the next several months, darkness would prevail.

The Celts believed that during Samhain the veil separating the living from the dead was at its thinnest. They believed that on the evening of October 31, evil spirits and the souls of the dead passed through the barrier and entered the world of the living. Departed family members would revisit their earthly homes. The thought was frightening — and exciting!

The Celts believed these spirits and dead souls could torment the living. Crops might be destroyed, babies stolen, farm animals killed. But this was also an opportunity to commune with the spirits — and divine the future. The Devil, the lord of darkness, was ordinarily feared, but during Samhain, his power would be called on to foretell the future.

Trick or Treat

The Druids were charged with appeasing the goblins and preventing harm to the people. Huge Samhain bonfires were lit to guide the way of the spirits. Various sacrifices — including human — were performed to assure a good year. Several ancient authors commented on the gory religious rites of the Druids.

It is believed that, like many pagan cultures around the world, the Celts left out food for the spirits, hoping that a “treat” would prevent an evil “trick.”  Centuries later, descendants of the Celts continued to observe the Samhain festival by dressing as evil spirits. They roamed from house to house demanding food in exchange for the “spirits” leaving the home unharmed. They carved demon faces in hollowed-out turnips and lighted them with candles.

That night they also practiced many customs designed to divine the future. Young people roasted nuts in Samhain fires to see which would crack first — and tell them who they would marry. The person who retrieved an apple with his mouth from a tub of water assured himself of a lucky year. Obviously some of these customs (like “apple-bobbing”) have remained with us, strictly as amusement.

All Hallow’s Eve

When Christianity began to spread through Europe in the third and fourth centuries, the pagan temples were torn down. But pagan worship never completely disappeared. The festival of Samhain remained a primary pagan festival.  Belief in spirits may have waned, but many of the old Samhain traditions continued to be practiced — especially by the children. Primarily in Ireland, children dressed as spirits went from house to house demanding a treat. If they received none, they performed an unwelcomed trick. They were play-acting the part of evil spirits that had to be appeased, just as in the old Samhain festival the people believe they really did have to appease spirits.

In the 700s AD the Church decided to combat this festival by replacing it with a celebration of the Lord of life. Instead of honoring evil spirits and the souls of the dead, the church chose to recognize the saints — or hallowed ones — who had lived godly lives. The Church seemed to be saying, “All right, if you must have a day to celebrate the dead, then celebrate those who died and are now with the Lord.”

So November 1 came to be called All Saints’ Day, also called All Hallows’ Day. The evening before was called All Hallows’ Evening. From that we get the modern name of Halloween. But pagan customs continued. And with the growth of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, additional symbols became associated with Halloween — black cats, witches, bats, and skulls.

Halloween in America

Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s brought to America the Halloween customs we’re familiar with — costumes, trick-or-treat, carved Jack-o-lanterns, etc. (The Jack-o-lantern is simply an American version of the hollowed-out turnip, mentioned earlier. The pumpkin did not grow in Ireland and Britain.) Unfortunately, they also brought “tricks” with them — which often involved breaking windows and over-turning sheds and outhouses.

Even though the practice of actually performing a trick if no treat is given has faded, the custom of children going “trick-or-treating” has become an established American tradition. Only in recent years have parents hesitated to send their children into the streets because of the increased danger of accidents, poisoned food, and menacing strangers.

Nonetheless, despite the dangers associated with trick-or-treating, Halloween is celebrated more than ever. In fact, the night is the second most popular party night of the year (after December 31) for “baby-boomer” adults. Many adults look at it as the one night of the year they can dress up and act foolish.

But while children and adults innocently imitate ancient Celtic customs, darker practices persist. Witches and Satanists still consider Halloween to be one of the strongest times during the year to cast a spell. On Halloween most witchcraft practitioners participate in a ritual called “drawing down the moon.” In this the chief witch of the coven (group of witches) becomes, they believe, a channel for the moon goddess. During this ritual the participants, both male and female, are ‘sky-clad” — that is , naked.

Stonehenge, the mysterious ancient stone formation in England, is often the site for bizarre gatherings of occultists, some of who believe they are modern-day Druids. (Many people believe that Stonehenge was a Druid religious site.) And evidence persists that some Satanist and voodoo groups offer sacrifices — usually animals, but, possibly, human babies.

The Biblical Response to Halloween

Witches and Satanists are, of course, a small minority. Few people who celebrate Halloween these days ever think about the darkness that underlies most Halloween practices.

A beaming child dressed in a black pointed hat and matching gown — with a wart carefully drawn on her nose and a trick-or-treat bag held tightly in her hand — is hardly thinking of death or the spirits of departed relatives. Nor should she be. She’s thinking of candy and fun. She’s glowing because of her delight in her special costume. And she’s anticipating the adventure of her house-to-house pilgrimage.

Merchants also look forward to October 31. The sale of candy, costumes, decorations, and party goods make Halloween one of the major retail seasons of the year. Surely, no one can deny children or adults all the Halloween fun simply because of its unsavory history. Can there really be anything wrong with this lighthearted revelry?

Does the Bible have anything to say about celebrating Halloween?  In Corinth, meat that had been sacrificed to idols was sold in the market. People who bought it then ate it in honor of that particular pagan god. Speaking of his freedom to eat food that a pagan had dedicated to an idol, the apostle Paul said, “Everything is permissible” (I Corinthians 10:23). After all, he didn’t believe the pagan gods really existed.

If we apply Paul’s statement to the celebration of Halloween, then one could argue that Christians can dress in ghostly costumes and practice the traditions that have been passed down from the ancient Celts. After all, the supernatural powers they tried to appease don’t have power over those who belong to Christ.

The Bible says that Jesus destroyed the power of death when He went to the cross. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, anyone who gives his or her life to Jesus doesn’t need to fear evil. But Paul didn’t stop with a statement of his freedom. He said, “‘Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is beneficial.” It is in this light that Christians need to examine how to observe Halloween.

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WHAT TO DO WITH IT:

REDEEM IT. Halloween may have had pagan roots, but in many ways, the modern version demonstrates the REDEMPTIVE POWER of the cross.  2 Corinthians 5:17-19 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation: the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ…”  The truth is, Halloween is what you choose to make it. Stay away from any ‘appearance’ of ‘darkness’. Remember, the Church ‘reclaimed’ Halloween back in 700AD and turned it into a celebration of All Saints day (All Hallows Eve). It has been redeemed. We usually love it when we benefit from something that’s been redeemed. No one complains when they see their kids playing on massive playground sets built from recycled plastics. Those plastics have been put to better use! No one complains about huge city parks or recreation centers paid for by ‘drug money’ seized by the police. What once was intended for evil has now been purposed for GOOD. It’s time to take Halloween and turn it into something FESTIVE and FUN. You have been redeemed and so has Halloween. Don’t feel guilty about celebrating it.

RECLAIM IT.  While Halloween remains the biggest satanic ‘holy day’ on the calendar, it’s time to reclaim it. It is not something to RUN FROM, but rather RECLAIM. Put a stake in the ground and ‘claim it’ for Christ. Show an “unbelieving” world how it can be celebrated in an innocent and fun way! 1 John 4:4 says, “You, dear children, are from God, and have OVERCOME them, because the one who is in you is GREATER than the one who is in the world.”  The power of GOOD can overcome EVIL. Yes, it’s good to be educated on the pagan roots of Halloween, so that we’re AWARE; so that we can AVOID and STEER CLEAR of any appearance of, or association with, evil. That’s where you need to lean on the Holy Spirit to guide you on what to do. I just stay away from anything macabre. There are a gazillion options for costumes and decorations out there to have fun with!! (Read Philippians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 10:23,24 for further reference) And because the power of Christ inside of us is so much greater, we don’t have to FEAR it, we can make it FUN!

RETELL IT. What’s the best way to SHARE the GOOD NEWS or BE the GOOD NEWS to your neighbors? I don’t think it involves locking the doors, turning off the lights and staying indoors on Halloween. Jesus didn’t avoid certain towns, no matter what their pagan practices were. He took the good news TO THEM. Go OUT! Get to know your neighbors. Walk the streets with your kids (or greet the trick-or-treaters at your door) with a SMILE. Talk to people & get to know them. Halloween is the one time a year where your neighbors COME TO YOU! 1 Corinthians 9:22,23 says “To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in it’s blessings.” The writer, a murderer-turned-Christ-follower named Paul saw the value of being culturally relevant to win people to Christ. Maybe we should set aside personal preferences and simply ask ourselves, ‘what will win more people to Jesus’? (see also Matthew 28:19,20)

We have decorated our house in pumpkins & “harvest festival” themes for years. Our neighbors flock to our place because it’s the ‘fun one’ on the block. Friendships with our neighbors have been formed, our kids have made friends, and we look forward to it every year. I have seen Halloween events literally transform and “bond” a community.  We even have people driving from far away to check out each years’ decor! Sadly, we have had people leave the church we attend, just because we had a pumpkin patch in our front yard! I think sometimes Christians need to examine their own practices in light of the gospel that gives freedom. In my opinion, a greater good is being done through the redemption, reclamation, and retelling of Halloween.

Our kids associate Halloween as a fun family time. We usually watch some animated Halloween-themed movie (Nightmare Before Christmas; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Hocus Pocus, Corpse Bride; Coraline; Hotel Transylvania; Haunted Mansion, etc) and have dinner together before the ‘festivities’ begin. We usually have games for trick-or-treaters to stay and enjoy, like a bean bag toss, an eyeball toss (ping pong balls painted like eyeballs), bobbing for apples, dart throw, and some sort of bouncy house. We have a prize table set up where kids can choose between candy and/or other prizes like stickers or little Halloween themed tattoos, pencils, etc. (non-candy options are a huge hit with parents). In it’s ‘hey day’, we even had face painters, a hot dog vendor, flame throwers and more!  Our neighborhood still talks about it. The point is to make it fun in your own way and CLAIM it for Christ.

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WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? (quick reference guide)

Costumes – The meaning of costumes has a couple possible ‘origins’ 1) The Druids gave a large feast, which was eaten by the townspeople, in honor of the souls of the people who died the previous year. The ghosts were then escorted out of town by the people dressed in costume representing the souls of the dead. And, since ancient people also believed that goblins and other unfriendly spirits were around them on Halloween, many dressed up as goblins in order to keep the malevolent beings from bothering them. As if to say, “Hey, I’m a goblin/ghost just like you!”  2) The early Church would honor the saints (All Saints Day) by dressing up as them in costume.

Black Cats – The Celts believed all black cats were reincarnations of people. They thought ‘bad magic’ had changed them into cats.

Witches – In Scotland, people once believed that all witches met on Halloween, when the devil called them together and they danced all night.

Jack-o-Lanterns – These ‘lamps’ were hollowed out and used to light Halloween gatherings in Ireland. The name ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ is from an old Irishman named Jack who, according to legend, was rejected by Heaven (because he was a miser) and by Hell (because he played jokes on the devil). Thus he travels the face of the earth, lighting his way with a lantern. People in England and Ireland first carved out beets, potatoes, and turnips, placed a candle inside them, and used them as lanterns. Pumpkins began to be used with Irish immigrants came to America.

Trick-or-Treating – This practice has two possible origins 1) The Celts believed that “treats” left outside their door would appease the evil spirits and prevent a “trick”. 2) Irish children offered to fast for the dead in return for money or an offering.

Apples/Nuts – The Roman festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruit, included giving apples to the gods. Dunking (bobbing) for apples and other apple games derive from the belief, probably from England, that they could be used for telling fortunes. Offering nuts was a method of honoring the goddess Pomona in the Roman festival. The English threw nuts into a fire, and the way in which they burned would foretell the quality of love between two people. If the nuts exploded, then a bad marriage was predicted. If they burned quietly, that meant a good marriage. Anyone want to burn some nuts?

Pumpkins/Scarecrows/Candy/Harvest decor – When these ‘ancient’ Halloween traditions blended into modern day customs, it collided with the ‘harvest’ culture of middle America. The use of hay bales, corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin patches, scarecrow decor, pumpkin pies, pumpkin EVERYTHING, have all become a part of Halloween ‘mainstream’ here in the US. Halloween is now the #2 largest consumer-spending holiday, eclipsed only by Christmas.  We will spend $9.1 Billion on Halloween this year, with 190 million Americans will participating in Halloween festivities.

 

 

 

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