“I think Halloween is a godless, pagan, devil-worshipping holiday, and I don’t want nothing to do with it!”
It was a blunt but honest answer by a man at a Westmorland gas station whom I had randomly asked his opinion on the subject. I had a camera and liked to randomly interview people when I was in Jr. High, and this gentleman gave me what I considered some great footage.
“Oh, ok,” I responded.
But it also communicated to me that some people had a vastly different perspective of Halloween. I was too old to go trick-or-treating that night, but I had trouble seeing how a bunch of kids coming to my door asking for candy was associated with worshipping the devil.
Today, while I respect Christians who choose not to participate in the holiday, I do think there is a credible Christian position that involves participating in Halloween.
First, I would remark that Halloween has very Christian roots. It was the celebration of All Hallow’s Evening, or in more modern terms, Saint’s Eve, where Christians would remember the martyrs and other Christians who had died. Like the other Church calendar event, Ash Wednesday, Saint’s Eve was a reflection on death and man’s mortality this side of heaven, while remembering those who had lived faithfully for God.
What about the dressing up and asking for sweets? That also started with the church. Christian children would dress up in costumes and perform street plays on Halloween. The practice was called “mumming” and would also be combined with “souling” or going door to door to pray in exchange for “soulcakes”, which I imagine wasn’t quite as sugary as a Twinkee, but I could be mistaken.
So while there was clearly a lot of non-biblical folk-traditions involved with October 31st, Halloween was not seen as an ungodly holiday by most Christians until recently. But is the modern expression of Halloween comparable to the Halloween of old?
Whatever your answer to that question, Halloween today still is redeemable for Christians. Perhaps every expression of Halloween can’t be embraced, but neither should all that is associated with Christmas be embraced by Christians (e.g. gluttony, greed, selfishness that Christmas can often promote).
What’s good today about Halloween? Well, first, it makes us think about death. It’s been said that the Victorian age was obsessed with death, but anything sex-related was absolutely taboo. Today we have the opposite problem. Sex is always being discussed but bringing up death is generally considered impolite and depressing. But Halloween makes discussions of death, mortality, and the afterlife culturally mainstream, and allows us to remember that man is but grass. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Halloween also a reminder that our world is spiritually charged. Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien loved myths because, in part, they gave internal evil a physical representation. A wicked heart is often hidden from our view, but in Middle Earth, creatures who have given in to evil often show it with grotesque appearances. Halloween, with its ghouls, zombies, and witches can remind us that our hearts too can be given over to overconsumption, mindlessness, and lust for power.
Of course, Christianity doesn’t stop with saying that death is the last word, or that there are rampant evil spirits or vices we are helpless against. There is hope and assurance that death has been defeated, and the all the powers of darkness have been overthrown. Jesus himself mocked death when a young girl had been killed by sickness: “She is but sleeping,” he said. And that’s all death was to the One who would bring the death of death by dying on a cross. In a similar way, Christians can confidently rebuke death and laugh in the face of its threats by dressing up in mockery of death. “Where’s your sting, bro?”
Aside from the theological considerations, dressing up is good for the imagination, and going house to house for candy is just plain fun. Some themes should be avoided, no doubt, but Halloween can be a redeemable event, and there should be freedom of conscience on how each Christian should approach this holiday.