What are your thoughts on Halloween? Do you know why you think what you do? Do you have a game-plan to teach your kids about Halloween and why you've made the decision you have regarding the holiday? In today's episode, Chris Hilken teaches the history of Halloween, and what the Bible has to say about it.
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SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN?
By Chris Hilken
Halloween is a mut. There isn’t a simple story of how it began and it’s really a mix of a lot of old traditional festivals. As traditions normally do, throughout the years, as the holiday spreads over time and across cultures, it gets changed and new ideas are added while some old ones fall away. Scholars aren’t in total agreement about the exact origins but here’s what I have found to be the big pillar ideas regarding the origins of Halloween.
Our best guesses seem to indicate that Halloween originated in the Celtic festival to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of winter. This was a festival called Samhain which is pronounced Sah-win and literally means “summers end.” This festival celebrated the end of the harvest season and the coming of winter.
It was believed during this transition of seasons that the veil between the living and the dead was the thinnest. As such, people would participate in various traditions meant to ward off those evil spirits from coming into their homes or haunting their families. People would try scaring off these spirits with costumes or faces carved into flaming turnips(which would later be the tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns). Some cultures would light of this by insisting that their neighbors give them a treat or else they were likely to have the spirits scare them.
According to some sources, this festival may have included the slaughtering of the animals to be eaten during the winter months. They would celebrate this harvesting of meat by taking the bones of the cattle and throwing them into a big bone-fire, which is how we now have the word bonfire. So there’s admittedly a lot of death and maccabre traditions surrounding the history of Halloween.
Similar holidays like “Dia de Los Muertos” and other European traditions also celebrate this idea of the dead using the thin veil to visit the realm of the living.
Then, like with almost every Pagan holiday, the Christians got a hold of it… and ended up making it worse. Pope Gregory III moved the festival called all saints day to November 1 in an attempt to stop the pagan practices. Didn’t work super well. In fact, historians believe that after a failed attempt to assassinate the Pope by Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot in 1605, protestant Christians started new traditions of mischief including the “hanging” of figurines of the pope and other dominant catholic figures, drinking, and vandalism. The poor would dress like Fawkes and go door to door asking for money or food and would threaten the destruction of property if they were refused.
In the 1840s, with the Irish Potato Famine, many Irish came to America and brought these traditions with them. A woman in Kansas was so tired of having her garden vandalized on Halloween that she started a town-wide Halloween party with dancing and drinking and candy and what we would know as Halloween decor. This spread to many other communities that wanted the vandalism to stop and Mrs. Krebs became the pioneer of the modern Halloween party.
During the Great War, it seems like these traditions of candy, trick-or-treating, and dressing up was taken over by the kids back home and so it has become a somewhat child-friendly holiday.
So our modern American holiday takes a little Celtic, Kansas, Irish, Catholic, Protestant, Hispanic and European celebrations and rolls them into one big mut of a holiday that we call Halloween.
So, should we participate in Halloween as Christians?
There are three categories that flow from the Bible when it comes to morality:
What makes Halloween a “yellow light” issue
There is obviously no Bible verse that speaks of Halloween. Instead, it is up to the Christian individually to assess what to do with things like this. Three helpful questions whenever you are navigating a yellow light issue are to ask:
The Bible wants us to ask these questions with whatever we do in the adiaphora(yellow light) category. After assessing our answers to these questions we can choose one of three paths(a heard a great pastor one time use these three R’s which I am stealing here.
Three Responses to Halloween: #1 - Receive it
RECEIVING HALLOWEEN SOUNDS LIKE THIS:
“Halloween is fun. It brings people together. Kids love it. You can invite your non-believing neighbor to your Halloween party and let them see that Christians don’t need to be vanilla and boring all the time. Plus, what other night are you going to get to interact with your whole neighborhood? What kind of a believer would pass on an opportunity like that?
And if you want your kids to start resenting your beliefs, start by taking away the one day a year where they can dress up and run around the neighborhood getting free candy. You don’t need to get drunk or set the cemetery on fire to enjoy Halloween but if you stay within the guidelines of what is appropriate, your family can still have an amazing time trick-or-treating, scaring each other, dressing up, and indulging in some sugar for a night.
And… If you do reject Halloween because of its pagan roots or if you reject it for the witchcraft, then if we are consistent, you need to throw away
And if we are rejecting magic and witchcraft then, if we are consistent, we probably can’t read the Chronicles of Narnia where the white witch uses her occult practices to turn talking animals into stone; nor should we let them watch any Disney movie where the opening tune is from “When you wish upon a star…” Another pagan and astrological idea.
So you guys can all reject it all you want but for me and my household, we will enjoy Halloween responsibly and won’t feel bad about it.”
That’s perhaps the argument from someone who would Receive it.
Halloween Response #2 - Reject it
SOMEONE WHO REJECTS IT MAY SOUND LIKE THIS:
“The Bible makes one thing perfectly clear.
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You see, it’s all right there.
If I told you to guess what holiday I’m talking about when I say, drinking, debauchery, darkness, evil, foolishness… what would come to mind? HALLOWEEN!
How could we dress up like demons while glorifying God?
How could anyone claim to be a Christian while celebrating evil?
Trick or Treat? Do you want your kid yelling that at your neighbor? How is that the heart of God? Give me food or else? And the gluttony? And the vandalism? And the alcohol?
Sure Jesus was a friend to sinners, but not WHILE they were sinning. That is condoning the behavior. I will love and be friends with my neighbors in a God-honoring space or during a barbecue that lifts up the values of a real Christian home so they can see who we are and know who God is like Matthew 5:16 states.
My kids will not probably understand now, but when they grow, they’ll appreciate that Dad stood for what was right and didn’t give evil any foothold in our home. So as for me and my household, we will not participate in Halloween.”
Halloween Response #3 - Redeem it
THIS IS HOW THE “REDEEM IT” CAMP MIGHT SOUND:
“You can’t celebrate Halloween like the unbelieving world around us. That ain’t happening.
But there’s no reason why we can’t take some of the customs and put them into an unmistakably God-honoring setting.
Why not have a harvest festival at the church where kids can dress up in APPROPRIATE costumes of Bible characters or professions they want to be when they get older? Even if they wanted to do a Marvel superhero, doesn’t seem to be harm in that. So why not get rid of the demonic, paganism and keep the worthwhile traditions of fun?
We probably won’t be going trick or treating, sure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun scaring each other and walking around the neighborhood talking with people and growing relationships. You don’t have to swallow it hook, line, and sinker nor do you need to avoid it like the plague. You can be different without being the weirdo who stays home all night and shuts the windows and turns off the lights.
Why not just have the family hand out candy and get to know the neighbors? If there’s an inappropriate costume or mischief, you can redirect your kids on what’s good and right and it can even be a teaching time to help them understand that we are called to be different and set apart. In the world but not of the world.
So for me and my household, we will modify it to fit our conscience and will redeem an otherwise unsavory holiday.”
Heaven will be full of people who chose one of these three options for their families. While the Bible doesn’t give us a manual on how exactly to navigate things like this, it is explicit in one truth: We are to treat other Christians who do something different than us with kindness and respect. Judging a fellow believer harshly or calling them our on social media because they are participating in Halloween breaks a number of God’s explicit laws while trying to correct the Halloween celebrater on a yellow light issue.
It’s like when I tell my kids to get in their beds and stop talking; then my oldest, Peyton, comes downstairs to tell me his brother sneezed too loud for his liking… which would require Peyton to get out of his bed(rule #1) and tell me what happened (rule #2). He broke two of my direct commands to tell me that someone else did something that I’ve neither commanded nor forbidden.
There’s a great quote on this that I want to use to close:
Remember that essentials are our red and green light issues, non-essentials are our yellow light issues.
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,”