Since Halloween is coming up, my nephew asked me to go to a haunted house. I said, “No,” because I looked on the haunted house’s web site, it looked demonic, and it had a cannibal scene. I want to know if it is ok for followers of Christ to visit haunted houses, or attend costume parties, but dressed in non-scary costumes?
I think we can learn a lot on how the early Christians responded to Halloween. October 31, the eve of prior to All Saint’s Day, was actually by early Christians designated as a spiritually edifying holiday. By the way, we get the word “holiday” from holy day. This was a holy day on which to proclaim the supremacy of the Gospel over the superstition of ghost. All Hallows Eve (All Saint’s Eve), from which the word Halloween is derived, was actually an attempt on the part of Christianity to over overwhelm the tradition of ghouls and ghosts with the truth of the Gospel.
Certainly, Halloween, as you allude to in the prologue to your question, is once again predominately pagan, but there is a silver lining. I think the trick is to treat Halloween as a strategic opportunity rather than a time of oppression. To recognize that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).* If you look at spiritual warfare in general, you realize that the emphasis is on the power of God to protect rather than the power of Satan to pillage.
I think we can involve ourselves in those things which are right, good, and morally beneficial to society. We also can have fun in the process. The real issue is understanding what the early church did. How they responded. It is a great lesson for us today. It is not just a matter of cursing the darkness, it is as I like to say about building a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm.
If someone has children, can we do something like my grandmother did, she used to give us activities to do, but they were fun activities at the church, is that fine?
Yes. You can have fun with it, but there is something more foundational that I am trying to communicate, and that is make sure your kids know what is really going on. In other words, this is a wonderful teaching opportunity. Rather than just saying, “No,” I taught my kids what Halloween represented, the origins of Halloween, and what the early Christian church did respecting this holiday. They did not try to de-paganize it, they really in a sense setup a rival celebration. Focus on those things that are good and honorable, as opposed to those things that are about ghouls, ghost and hobgoblins, which are superstition.
Once I explained that to my kinds and they understood what was going on, I was not that worried about my kids and certainly did not want to tell them they could not have fun. What I wanted them to do was to be knowledgeable so that they could communicate with their own peers what was really going on. That is why I actually write the entry “How Should Christians Respond to Halloween?” in the Complete Bible Answer Book Collector’s Edition, updated and revised.
Halloween is rooted in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain (sha-ween). The druids believed that on the eve of Samhain the veil between the present world and the world beyond was pierced, releasing demons, witches, and hobgoblins to harass the living. In order to make themselves immune, people disguised themselves as witches, devils, and ghouls. They were trying to ward off evil spirits by carving grotesque faces on gourds and illuminating them with candles; and placating the spirits with a variety of treats. That is kind of the backdrop to it. You can curse the darkness or you can build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm. That’s precisely what the early Christians did.
Now we think of the word Halloween we do not realize that it is derived from All Hallows Eve. There was a method to the “madness” of the early church. They were building a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
For further related study, see also our Trusted Resources for Reformation and All Saint’s Day.
* All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), unless noted.
This blog adapted from the October 20, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast.