In a few days, beautiful children dressed in wild and zany costumes, will invade your neighborhood, ring your doorbell and cry out, “Trick or Treat!” That cute little cowboy, adorable princess or strong super hero will expect a sweet treat when they come to your door.
In the United States today, Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. Americans will probably spend over $8 billion dollars on Halloween this year. A full 25% of annual candy sales occurs during the Halloween season.
So, how did we get here?
The Ancient Origin of Halloween
In Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, centuries before Jesus was born, there lived a group of people known as the Celts. As harvest season ended and winter, with shorter daylight hours began, they celebrated a holiday called the festival of Samhain. This pagan festival, originally known as the Day of the Dead, was from sunset October 31 to sunset November 1. They believed the souls of dead people returned to earth only on this day. Ghosts or spirits of those who had died would supposedly visit their homes and mingle with the living.
The Celtic people would often light bonfires to ward off evil spirits who were supposed to be present that night. Some people would wear masks, costumes and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the witches and ghosts they thought were near.
In the 7th century the Catholic Church began celebrating All Saints’ Day on November 1, in an effort to replace the pagan holiday of the Druids with a Christian observance. So, the evening before All Saints’ Day, October 31st, became a holy, hallowed, evening—and thus the name Hallow’s Eve – or Hallow-Een, and thus Halloween was born.
The Modern Tradition of Halloween
The observance of Halloween was mostly forbidden among the early American colonists. But during the 19th century, as large numbers of immigrants from Ireland and the United Kingdom came to America, many Halloween customs came with them. As the Christianized version of Halloween became more accepted, the number who observed the holiday increased.
By the mid-20th century, Halloween, largely separated from religious overtones, began to be accepted almost entirely as a secular holiday. Today, most celebrants wear masks and costumes for parties and trick-or-treating, without a hint of religious connections.
The Christian’s Attitude toward Halloween
Everyone agrees on the pagan origins of Halloween, but many believing Christians are divided over their participation in this media-driven holiday. If Halloween is celebrated as it is in the religion of witchcraft, of course, believers in Christ should have nothing to do with it. But if it is celebrated as a secular, American, non-religious, event, like a birthday party or the County Fair, there doesn’t seem to be any harm. For the Bible-believing Christian, the practice of Halloween celebrated today has nothing to do with the pagan roots of the holiday. They think of Halloween as a night filled with candy, parties, pumpkins and weird costumes.
So, is there anything evil about a Christian dressing up as a princess or cowboy and going around the block asking for candy? No. Are there things about Halloween that are anti-Christian and should be avoided? Absolutely. The proper attitudes and actions call for wisdom, humility and understanding.
So, what should Christians, do about Halloween?
First – Do not treat Halloween like superstitious pagans. Evil spirits are no more active or sinister on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Remember that, “greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Thanks be to God, He has forever “disarmed the rulers and authorities” and has “made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” [Christ] (Col 2:15). This promise belongs to every believer in Christ: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
Second – Christians should respond to Halloween with wisdom and caution. Some people use Halloween as an excuse for sinful behavior, drunkenness and vandalism. But believers should exercise caution as stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian people should avoid secular Halloween parties where there may be alcohol, drugs, or other sinful behavior. Evil themes do not have to be a part of Halloween festivities and should be left out of celebrations of this holiday.
Third – Believers in Christ should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The subject of death, dying, and what happens when a person dies, may allow an opportunity to share the saving gospel with an unbeliever. Halloween can be an opportunity to witness for Christ. After all, Jesus holds the keys to death and hell, and He has overcome death and defeated it forever.
Fourth – Churches can offer creative alternatives to traditional Halloween activities. Some churches have a “Trunk-or-Treat” night – where sweet treats are provided from the trunks of cars in the church parking lot. Other churches use this time of year for a “Fall Festival” and invite children and parents to their facilities to enjoy fun games and activities, as well as special treats. Participants can dress up in costumes, or just come as they are.
It would be best for each family to develop their own approach to Halloween based on their own convictions and the options for celebration available to them. Providing a safe, fun, Christian environment must be a priority.