Halloween. It’s the time of year when the days get shorter and the coldness begins to spread throughout the land. For many Brits, there is an excitement and eager expectation of celebration for what is the spookiest holiday of the year. Children in schools are dominated with this theme and in their classes they will be carving out pumpkins and if your family was exciting enough then, spooky decorations would fill your house. Retailers also take the opportunity of this dark holiday by providing costumes and dark decorations at reasonable prices but I must say that some of the costumes cost more than my most expensive clothes. Halloween is seen as an opportunity for huge profit in the market place as it is only surpassed by Christmas in terms of economic activity. Nevertheless, Halloween brings with it a festive mood where children seek to trick or treat and adults see it as an opportunity to dress up and party. So, how should Christians engage with Halloween?
The name Halloween derived from the old English ‘Hallowed’, meaning holy, sacred or sanctified. Halloween became attached to this word because of a Christian festival known as All Saint’ day or All Hallow’ Day. This was a day to honour all saints and particularly a day to honour saints who didn’t have a day of their own. Prior to All Saint’ Day was All Hallow’ Eve which was the evening before All Saint’ Day began, the time of remembrance. As Christianity spread throughout
Europe it collided with pagan cultures and their festive holidays. Many of the new pagan converts still enjoyed their pagan holidays and in order to prevent a defilement of the Christian faith, the Church would commonly move a Christian holiday to a date on the calendar that would challenge a pagan holiday. Therefore, new converts don’t have to miss out but now they too can celebrate. The Church only succeeded in Christianizing a pagan ritual because the converts still held on to their old rituals but mixed with Christian symbolism. This is what happened to All Hallow’ Eve.
The pagan alternative to All Hallow’ Eve is a festival known as Samhain which ‘celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days-October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living-ghosts haunting the earth. Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought "divine" spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects…..For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper sendoff with treats--possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably "treated" would "trick" those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime,’ Travis Allen.
Understanding the Pagan background of Halloween, how should Christians respond? Should Christians withdraw entirely and sanctify the day as was originally intended by the Church? Should we be counter cultural and instead of embracing and treating the demonic spirits, should we rather honour the saints above? Should Christians like Christians of old who knew of the pagan roots of Halloween who confronted pagan rites which appeased the lord of death and evil spirits? Albert Mohler, in his article Christianity and the Dark Side — What About Halloween? writes that ‘The complications of Halloween go far beyond its pagan roots, however. In modern culture, Halloween has become not only a commercial holiday, but a season of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Even as the society has pressed the limits on issues such as sexuality, the culture’s confrontation with the “dark side” has also pushed far beyond boundaries honoured in the past’. With all these in view, how should Christians engage with Halloween?
According to John Piper, this kind of question is whether a Christian sees Christ against culture, Christ in Culture or Christ over culture. Our views on Christ on culture will determine our engagement with Halloween. Churches are filled with members who hold to different perspectives varying in degrees and Piper encourages Christians to think biblically and carefully about any holiday, any event, and how they might be salt and light in it. The last point on being salt and light should dominate our hearts when engaging with Halloween. How can I be salt and light to a people who are in darkness and bring to them the light of Christ. Parents should be wise and make ‘careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success’ Mohler. As Christians we should take the opportunity to promote the cause of Christ, proclaiming his victory over Satan and his entire host, offering reconciliation through the message of the cross.
Sources: Albert Mohler: http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/10/31/christianity-and-the-dark-side-what-about-halloween/
John Piper: http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/what-are-your-thoughts-on-halloween