A brief history…
Did you know Halloween has been celebrated by Christians for over a thousand years? It was a precursor to All Saints Day (or All Hallows Day), a celebration of the martyrs who died in the name of Christ which was first officially celebrated in 609AD. The evening before, All Hallows Eve was treated as an opportunity to pray and fast ahead of the feast the day after.
The date of All Saints Day was changed to November 1st by Pope Gregory III between 731-741 and therefore All Hallows Eve moved to October 31st. Some people theorise that the date was changed to replace the festival known as Samhain which was celebrated in Ireland and Scotland but there is no evidence at all that that is the case. The Church did have form for this though using Easter as an alternative for the celebration of the Spring Equinox and Christmas as an alternative celebration for the Winter Solstice.
Like the tree at Christmas, some of the traditions lingered into All Hallows Eve, things like carving root vegetables that originally were used to ward off evil spirits or as part of the harvest festival people would go door to door asking their more well-off neighbours for food to see them through the winter. These were adopted into Halloween celebrations, not with the original meaning behind them but became part of the Christian tradition. For example in medieval times with a growth in the belief of purgatory, the poorer people who went asking for food would offer to pray for dead relatives in exchange for the food that was given.
The main thing we can take from the history of Halloween is that it was actually one of the clearest examples of a celebration actually started by Christians, not used to replace another festival.
Whatever the history it’s fair to say that a lot of the western church, even if they mark it in their calendar wouldn’t celebrate All Saints Day to the same degree as Christmas or Easter. Even for those that do it hasn’t permeated into culture in the same way as other Christian events. Therefore Halloween has become interpreted by culture rather than the church. If we don’t shout loudly about what these days mean culture will use them how they see fit. With the links to death and remembrance of those who are still alive spiritually, some groups have certainly made the night a superstitious one, and some groups treat it like an evil high holiday. On the other hand, some of the traditions that persisted and we see today came from Christians. It was popularised in America when the Irish Catholics emigrated over there and took their celebrations with them. Today these things look like carving pumpkins, trick or treating, or dressing up.
With the history and today’s practices in mind, we need to be clear about some things before we can consider the practicalities. First of all, Psalm 118:24 encourages us that ‘this is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ Every day is created by the Lord and is His. The 31st of October is not an evil high holiday even if it’s treated as one. It is the Lord’s day, it is not evil in itself but there may be more occult activities practiced on that day. Even if this is the case though we as Christians must not be afraid and should be salt and light on this day like every other one.
We should also be aware and clear that the majority of people are not engaged in that type of activity when they carve a pumpkin or go trick-or-treating. These activities are not inherently evil in the same way they are not inherently Christian.
Understanding the spiritual realm
That brings us to the need to understand how the spiritual realm works. The Bible is clear that there are beings and spirits that we can’t see other than God. Satan and his demons are at work in the world and we must be aware of them.
When it comes to spiritual things we need to be most conscious of our participation with them. For example, I can eat a bread roll and drink a glass of wine without partaking in the covenant meal. It can simply be something to eat and drink. If, however, I attach faith to the eating of those things I can remember Christ, engaging with Him through this spiritual practice and these simple food items become an opportunity to engage with God in the spiritual world.
In the same way, if I carve a pumpkin and put a smiley face into it for fun I have not somehow accidentally allowed evil into my home. If however I do so engaging with spirits trying to implore something other than God to protect me I can engage with something that is not good, allowing it into my life. It’s all about the application of faith and actively participating with spiritual things. Another example not related to Halloween specifically might be crystals. I can wear a diamond ring on my finger because I think diamonds are a beautiful thing created by God or because I am trying to invoke the energy of the diamond into my life. In doing these things we open ourselves up to the supernatural in a way that God does not say we can meet with Him, so we need to be careful about what we could meet with.
It’s important to know that you can’t catch a demon like a cold, just by being in proximity to them they don’t have the authority to impact and influence our lives. We have to give them that permission by engaging with them through harmful or inviting practices. We do have to be discerning but the reality is these practices are obvious a lot of the time either because they are sins that we are instructed to avoid in scripture or they are human practices that are clearly intended to engage with the spiritual world.
So, should a Christian celebrate Halloween?
Primarily Halloween is a Romans 14 issue, please read the chapter for yourself but it essentially says 3 things:
- If something is not sin and you do it, don’t insist someone else does it if they feel it’s wrong, and don’t rub it in their face that you do it
- If you think a practice isn’t right but the bible doesn’t clearly state it’s sin, don’t pass judgment on another Christian for doing it
- Don’t do something that you think is wrong even if someone else doesn’t think it is, otherwise that is sin for you
Anyone involving themselves in Halloween for the purposes of engaging with spiritual things other than God sins against Him. If, though, a Christian chooses to go trick or treating, or carves a pumpkin, whether you or I may like those practices in and of themselves they are not sin and we shouldn’t pass judgment on each other for doing them. Neither should Christians parade their involvement with these things in front of the members of the church if they think there may be brothers and sisters that could be stumbled by your involvement in it. What we should do is practice Colossians 3:12-13…
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
Whatever you do on Halloween, do it in faith. If you do nothing do it unto the Lord, if you join in in some way do it unto the Lord. If I can encourage you to do anything though it would be to recapture the original intention; why not invite Christians over, eat together, celebrate those promoted to glory, and pray for the church across the world as they are persecuted and martyred? That would be a great use of an evening and you can even get sweets for the kids!
A couple of practical warnings and encouragements
I would like to finish this article with a couple of practical warnings and encouragements that are some things I would and wouldn’t do. We would be burying our heads in the sand if we thought nothing evil was going on at Halloween or that many people might engage with spiritual things unaware of its significance.
On Halloween if you choose to go to parties or gatherings with friends people may include interactions with spiritual things as some sort of game, maybe they bring a Ouija board or hire a medium. Maybe they encourage each other to manifest or try to absorb the power of crystals. Maybe friends invite you over to watch movies that glorify demonic things that take our minds away from the things in Philippians 4:8 that God tells us to keep our minds on. These kinds of things are not trivial and are not games and certainly are not for us that are walking with God. He has made it clear how we engage with the spiritual world and it is to be through Him, and through His Holy Spirit any other means are counterfeit, at best is a waste of time and at worst you could be engaging with spiritual things other than God.
You can be a light in the darkness in these places, setting an example in what you wear, how much you drink, not engaging in these things, and even being bold enough to discourage the use of them. October 31st is not just another day, it’s the Lord’s day and we must use it to glorify Him the best we can!
If you’d like to look further into the history of Halloween then there are lots of places you can look but for some more basic information check out Encyclopedia Britannica online.