Perhaps it’s my background, but I never cease to be amazed how many people these days so enthusiastically celebrate Halloween. Houses are decorated with spooky graveyards, skeletons, a witch or two, and the mandatory ghosts. Eerie music and subtle lighting are added for effect. Towns will have Halloween parades and even adults get into their costumes and party, party, party. So, with this as a growing phenomenon in our culture, what should we as followers of Christ do or not do?
A little history might be helpful at this point. Historians trace the origins of Halloween back to the ancient Celts who lived in the region of present-day Ireland. They were pagans who had a fall holiday knows as Samhain which marked the beginning of winter, but also a time when the living and the dead could co-mingle. We can only imagine what that holiday included. This holiday entered western culture through the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church attempted to Christianize popular pagan holidays (including Christmas/the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia) so that pagans could be more comfortably be folded into the Church. In 835 AD, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday, now called “Hallows” day to November 1st. This was linked to “all souls day” on November 2nd. This was a day when souls trapped in “purgatory” would be prayed for with the hope that they would be released and go to heaven. And the custom developed where children would go door to door begging for special little cakes. In return for these treats, they would pray for souls in purgatory (sound a little familiar?). But the dead and the supernatural have always been part of this holiday. The night before all of this was, of course, October 31st, which was “all Hallow eve” (Halloween).
The modern American version of celebrating this holiday is fairly recent, less than 80 years old, though there are ancient echoes in it. For example, in Europe turnips were carved and not pumpkins as is true in America. The “trick or treat” (particularly the “trick”) phrase does reflect the violence that dominated the night of October 31st for many years until it was tamed by politicians and business leaders. Movies have recently played a large role in promoting the sinister, macabre emphasis in Halloween, with the first film called “Halloween” which came out in 1978. Since then, the horror films have multiplied, so that today the “walking dead,” vampires and untold number of gruesome characters are a fixed part of American culture.
With that very brief background, the issue is the Christians response and participation in this holiday. The dark side is clearly an integral part of it. But what about that cute little five-year-old girl dressed in her princess costume who is simply asking for candy? Or that boy who dreams of being an NFL star and dresses up in a football uniform. Surely that doesn’t fit the dark “evil” category!
Several years ago, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, publicly thanked all Christian parents for allowing their children to celebrate Halloween. This word of praise is hardly something Christians want to receive. But it does raise the point that perhaps Halloween is not as innocent as some pretend it to be. A pastor, who was a dedicated satanist for 25 years, warned Christians to stay far away from any celebration of this holiday. He wondered why believers want to put themselves and their children in spiritual danger. As a satanist, he and others would even pray over the candy that they would hand out. Now frankly, I am not sure what that was supposed to do, but it does show that those deeply into witchcraft and satanism saw this as an opportunity to pull others into their movement. As we think about all of this, it might be well to reflect on what the Scriptures say.
Believers must never forget Satan’s basic nature. He is a deceiver. The Book of Revelation emphasizes that deception is one of his character traits (Rev. 12:9; 20:3, 10). He knows that believers would normally be repulsed by overt displays of raw evil, with the result that he disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Believers are simply not going to be attracted to nighttime satanic sacrificial rituals in some deep, dark forest. But having “innocent” fun is something else. It seems to me that this is what we should be alert to. We must never forget that Satan is a deceiver.
The Bible is so very clear that dealing with the occult is off limits for believers. Early in Israel’s history, God told His people not to be involved with the occult.
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God.”Deuteronomy 18:10-13
These practices are very real and they are very harmful. So, God says that they “shall not be found among you.” There can be no argument that the occult has been part of this holiday from the very ancient beginning. And no healthy believer wants to be “detestable” to the Lord.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s reminds believers that we are in a spiritual war with the Evil One (Eph. 6:10-18). It is a war that is constant. To win, we must put on the full armor of God (which means it is not on us automatically). We must do this because of the “schemes of the devil.” The Apostle also observes that there are the “evil days” which indicates that there are special times when we are confronted by satanic forces. Believers ought to consider if Halloween might be one of those evil days.
Several years ago, some religious folks complained that too much was made of their playing with the Ouija board. They had enjoyed playing with it numerous times with no ill effects at all. Perhaps that was true. However, the Ouija board has clearly sucked some people into the occult world. There is danger there. Proverbs 27:12 says that “a prudent (wise) man sees evil and hides himself, but the naïve proceed and pay the penalty.” No one is saying that the cute little girl in her princess costume is going to become a satanist. But it is foolish to say that because she will not become a witch or satanist that there is no spiritual danger. Satan, the deceiver, baits the occult hook and sees who will bite. Keep in mind that when there are no “ill effects” believers can become complacent, resulting in a more accepting attitude towards those things prohibited in Deuteronomy 18. Sort of, the frog in the kettle phenomenon.
Well, what should we do? Children of believers should be taught about the Devil on this holiday of his. They need to be informed of the Evil One, who does not wear red tights and is a cartoonish character. He is a deceiver, a liar and one who murders (so says Jesus in John 8:44). This can be an important time for the input of a biblical perspective. Many churches have wisely given children a fun alternative. But it seems that while getting tons of candy and playing games, the church should include the sharing of truth about Jesus Christ, the Light, as opposed to the darkness of the devil. If no church activity is available, then believing parents should get together and creatively provide some excellent time for their kids. As our culture darkens, we should not be passive about that which is evil, even if the culture calls it “good.”