This Halloween I had five groups of kids come trick or treating. I had to break each one of their little hearts. I told them that I already ran out of crap to give them, but I actually just hadn’t expected anyone to come. Halloween was never such a big deal in Australia. I was surprised to find it’s celebrated quite widely in New Zealand. This means that it might be time for me to get off the Halloween fence and pick a side in the great debate. The question du jour around this time of year is ‘can Christians celebrate Halloween’? In the end, your engagement with Halloween is about your personal conscience before God, so I’m not going to say ‘yes, you can’ or ‘no, you can’t’, but I do want to address what seem to be the three issues. Origins, intention, and perception.
Halloween has its very distant roots in the Celtic druid festival of Samhain (pronounced sow wen… obviously). The belief was that during the three days before the darkest half of the year, spirits were free to roam the earth searching for bodies to inhabit. If you were dressed as a spirit during this time then you would be safe, as spirits can’t inhabit other spirits. If that’s not sufficiently creepy, Samhain is still celebrated by witches and Satanists. This is kind of like the biggest day of the year for them. However, it should be noted that they are not celebrating Halloween. They are celebrating Samhain. Technically they’re also celebrating it incorrectly, so have reaprropriated the day themselves.
Then along comes the church. Early missionaries found that pagan festivals were so ingrained in culture that they become stumbling blocks to new Christians. The person couldn’t divide themselves between a culture of Christ and a culture of pagan rituals and celebrations. The church moved Christian festivities that already existed to the same day as pagan ones. Essentially the Christian celebration was super imposed on the pagan one. This meant people could still partake in the celebration without engaging in anything demonic. Christmas was super imposed over Saturnalia – a day for gift giving and a bit of human sacrifice, Eostre became Easter and Samhain became All Hallows Eve. All Hallows Eve was a day to pray for souls in purgatory. People would go door to door asking for soul cakes – possibly the orgins of trick or treating. Upon reciept of a soul cake they would pray for the dead members of that person’s family. All Hallows Eve eventually became Halloween.
So let’s be clear, Halloween is Halloween, not Samhain. Samhain is not Halloween otherwise Satanists would be observing a day originally designed to pray for people. They are two separate holidays, only one was moved to cover the other.
So does any of this matter? Originally I thought the issue was the origins of the day itself. For some it may be, in which case there is then an issue with Christmas, Easter and colour runs, which come from a Hindu festival. The origins discussion becomes an issue of ‘where do we draw the line?’ Personally I don’t have an issue with origins. I think a more important issue is, what has Halloween come to mean? When you go trick or treating, do you ask the family if you can pray for their dead? Are you Catholic? If not, you aren’t celebrating All Hallows Eve. Do you dress as spirits to avoid possession and make sneaky blood sacrifices? If not, you aren’t celebrating Samhain
If origins is an issue for you, you can stop reading here. Romans 14:5 says ‘One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.’ Don’t ignore your convictions if they strike you here. If not, scroll on down.
In my opinion, the meaning of Halloween today is so far removed from its origins that it’s become a completely separate entity. It’s less pagan ritual and more costume party. If you sailed past the origins section free from moral quandary, the next question is: if my intention is to not treat Halloween as a celebration of the demonic but as a simple costume party am I in the clear? Of the 5 groups that came to my door last week, the witches were greatly outnumbered by the Elsas and myriad other Disney characters. But even if the majority of costumes are harmless, I think it would be naive to ignore the death imagery surrounding the day. We can’t ignore that the general theme of Halloween is revelry and enjoyment of spiritual beings. So the question, to which I do not have an answer, is how much does personal intention matter? If I go to a Halloween party and I dress as Elsa instead of something demonic, am I in the clear? Or is any level of participation an engagement with death imagery? If so, Ephesians 5:8-11 is very clear when it says ‘for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of the darkness’
My questions around perception come from Romans 14:14 ‘as one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.’ When perceived by a non-Christian, will your participation in Halloween lead them to think you are a hypocrite? If not, no problem. If yes, problem. Secondly, will your participation cause another Christian to stumble? Like I said in the beginning of this article, this is about your conscience before God and other Christians should also be content with that, but if you live in the world you’ll know that is not how things go. Part of being a Christian is about giving up your rights, and if you believe it is your right to celebrate Halloween but it causes another Christian to stumble, then I believe Romans 14 tells us to give up that right. It’s an unfortunate reality that people’s perceptions of your actions have real results in their ideas of Christianity as a whole or from Christian to Christian. Whether you participate or not, I think it’s important to look around and see the affect that your participation is having on those around you and be prepared to give up your rights if necessary.
After all that I’m not much closer to picking a side of the debate, but when I do I hope that I’ll be thinking of Romans 14:5 and not celebrating unless I am fully convinced.