Summary: Christans often think of Halloween as evil. Paul says it is not. Here is a historical, biblical and practical perspective on Halloween.
If this sermon is helpful to you look for my latest book, “The Greatest Commands: Learning To Love Like Jesus.” Each chapter is sermon length, alliterated, and focuses on the life and love of Jesus. You can find it here:
by Scott R. Bayles, preacher
Church of Christ
This time of year is unlike any other in many respects. Every shopping center and grocery store is filled with all sorts of candy, costumes and colorful decorations. In a few short days children will parade up and down the streets disguised as their favorite characters chanting “Trick or Treat” and hold out plastic bags or molded plastic pumpkins in hopes of collecting vast amounts of candy. This will, of course, result in a stomach ache the next day.
For Christians, Halloween is perhaps the most difficult holiday with which to deal. Its darker side is so disconcerting, yet it holds a bit of charm for us as we remember our own childhood experiences with the day. A myriad of questions surround Halloween. Should we participate? Accommodate? Or vigorously denounce Halloween?
When I first researched Halloween I discovered hundreds of web-sites with articles, sermons, or editorials condemning the observance of this holiday. In fact, many Christians have taken a very strong stance in opposition to Halloween on the grounds that it supports Satan-worship and pagan gods. This places many of us, especially those with children, in an uncomfortable position. How should we, as Christians, respond to this holiday? Is it sinful and evil or just fun and games? Is it a problem or a potential opportunity? To answer such questions, it’s helpful to view Halloween from the perspective of history. So let’s begin this morning with a…
• HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF HALLOWEEN:
First, we ought to recognize that the American celebration of Halloween draws heavily from Scottish and Irish folk customs that can be directly traced to pre-Christian times and is indeed rooted in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain (sah-ween). Although modern Halloweens can be viewed as nights of rollicking fun and eerie games, its pagan beginnings were not so innocent.
Originally, Halloween was a celebration of the Druids in honor of Samhain, whom they believed to be the Lord of the Dead, and whose festival fell on November 1st.
The Druids believed that on the eve of this festival, Samhain, the Lord of the Dead, called together the wicked souls that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. The veil, they believed, between the present world and the spirit world, or the world beyond, was pierced, releasing demons, witches and hobgoblins en mass to harass the living.
Interestingly, they thought that the cat was sacred because they thought that cats, especially black cats, had once been human beings whose spirits were transferred into the cat as a punishment for their evil deeds—which makes you wonder why they were sacred.
There was a prevailing belief among many nations that at death the souls of good people were taken by good spirits and carried to paradise, but the souls of wicked men were left to wander in the space between the earth and the moon, or consigned to inhabit animals. Typically, the Druids believed that on this one night of the year, the eve of the Samhain festival, the spirits of the dead returned to their original homes along with other ghosts and goblins.
In order to protect themselves or make themselves immune to the attacking demons, people disguised themselves as witches, devils, and ghouls—from wince we derived the custom of wearing costumes for Halloween. They also attempted to ward off evil spirits by carving scary and grotesque faces on various gourds illuminated with candles (including pumpkins, of course). In order to placate the evil spirits they offered a variety of treats—fruits, vegetables, and other types of food usually. If the demonic hordes were satisfied, it was believed they would leave you in peace. But if they were not satisfied—if you didn’t offer any treats or your offering wasn’t good enough—the ghosts would trick you by casting a spell on you and reeking havoc in your home. Thus the tradition of “trick or treat” was born.
Despite its sinister origins, however, I think we can learn a lot from how the early Christians responded to this Samhain festival. As Chrsitianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and Europe, many pagans and even Druids converted to Christianity, but they were still very superstitious. They didn’t have Bibles back then and most of them were illiterate anyway. So, without proper education, many of these new believers brought their old superstitions with them into the church—including their belief in ghosts and goblins.
In order to establish a rival celebration and to better educate new believers, the church designated November 1st as All Saints Day. Rather than fearing the onslaught of evil spirits who had been condemned during the course of the year, All Saints Day celebrated and honored all the saints, or martyrs, who had died that year. The mass held the evening prior to All Saints Day was called All Hallowmas. And October 31st itself became known as All Hallow E’en (Halloween). Literally then, the word Halloween means Holy Evening. Thus, All Hallows Eve was an attempt on the part of Christianity to overwhelm the tradition of ghouls with the truth of the gospel! So, with this historical perspective on Halloween in mind, let’s get a…