Summary: How does a Christian deal with Halloween in a way that glorifies God?
Halloween can be a troubling holiday.
Many of us carry fond memories of Halloweens long ago, back when we were growing up. Many of us remember it as innocent fun—a special day just for children.
I remember dressing up in silly costumes and going door to door begging for candy. When I was little, I carried a small, decorated bag. When I got a little older, I began to carry a pillowcase—the better to carry my loot home. My favorite house to visit was on my block, a few houses down and across the street. A little old lady lived there, and every Halloween she gave out homemade popcorn balls—mmmm, mmmm, good!
That was another time…before parents even thought to bring their children’s candy to the police station to be x-rayed…before it became common practice to throw away anything not in a sterile sealed commercial wrapper.
On the other hand, even more ominous than concerns for safety, many of us are growing more and more aware of the pagan origins of the holiday and the pagan, and even satanic, activities associated with Halloween.
In some places I have lived, it has been common practice for people who owned outdoor cats to bring them inside in October, especially if they were black cats. Experience showed that as Halloween approached, unwatched pets would begin to disappear, and it wasn’t just due to childish pranks.
What’s a Christian to do?
The short answer is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
So how does a Christian deal with Halloween in a way that glorifies God?
First, become informed about Halloween’s pagan origins.
(A number of sermons at sermoncentral.com helped provide information. Thanks are due to the following preachers: James Bryant, Christopher Roberts, Ronnie Thrower, Joe Bedy, Michael McCartne.)
Long before the gospel of Jesus Christ came to northern Europe, the Celtic people of that region were pagan and the Druids were their intellectual or priestly class. The Celtic new year began on November 1, and so their new year’s eve was October 31.
The Celts believed that as winter approached, the sun god was growing weaker and the “lord of death” was growing stronger. October 31 was considered to be the day when the barriers between the world of the dead and the world of the living were most permeable. The “lord of death” (also known as the “grim reaper”) came at the new year to retrieve the souls of those who had died during the previous year. The evil spirits of those who had died were loosed for awhile to haunt the living.
By lighting bonfires on the hillsides on the eve of their new year, the Celts hoped to scare away the evil spirits. Also on October 31, all the cooking fires were extinguished in the kitchens around the land. New fires were then lit from the great bonfire to honor the coming of the new year. By waving burning wisps of plaited straw aloft on pitchforks, people tried to frighten off demons and witches. Sometimes they also put on grotesque costumes, in the hopes that the evil spirits would think they were evil spirits too and leave them alone.
The wandering evil spirits were believed to cause all sorts of mischief and disaster, from spoiled milk to sickness. Food left on the door step would convince the spirits to pass your house by. (The Druids would collect the food and burn it a sacrifice to their gods. They might burn the house down or castrate the males in the house if no offering was provided. The Druids are also thought to be the builders of England’s “Stonehenge”, to be used as a sun worshipping temple and site for human sacrifice. The special day for human sacrifice at Stonehenge was October 31.)
The jack-o-lantern was also a Druid symbol. People put a candle inside a hollowed-out gourd or pumpkin to show that they were supportive of the Druids and deserved mercy from them.
After Christianity spread across northern Europe, the Roman Catholic Church sought to overcome the pagan traditions of the people, in part by Christianizing the most important pagan holidays.
A lot of the traditions that we associate with Christmas and Easter actually have origins in Celtic pagan religion. The Church co-opted these traditions and symbols and gave them Christian meanings. For example: evergreen trees, wreathes of pine boughs, and holly all were involved in old Druid rites but now have Christian meanings. Some Christians do not celebrate Christmas precisely because of these pagan associations. On the other hand, many Christians feel that the Church’s co-opting of old pagan rituals has been successful, so that the birth of Christ is indeed celebrated at Christmas and the resurrection of Christ is indeed celebrated at Easter, even when some of the old symbols are used, and in both cases the glory goes to Jesus Christ.