Every year on October 31st, people across the United States enthusiastically celebrate Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve. This holiday, which primarily caters to young children who relish dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating for candy, and carving pumpkins, has remarkably become the second-largest commercially celebrated holiday in America, generating over $8 billion in sales.
And it’s also one of the things Christians love to argue over the most. For a lot of believers, we equate “scary” with “evil.” We equate “spooky” with “sinful.” We put up signs that say “The only ghost allowed in this house is the Holy Ghost” and we stand staunchly opposed to letting our children participate in “the Devil’s Holiday.”
But is that an accurate description? Is Halloween inherently “evil” or “sinful”? Let’s take a look.
The Historical Origins of Halloween
Halloween’s historical roots can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, pronounced as “sow-en,” which signified the “end of summer.” For the Celts, who marked their new year on November 1st, this day symbolized the conclusion of the harvest and the onset of winter, the transition from light to darkness, and from life to death. The Celtic priests, known as Druids, kindled bonfires atop hills, where the community gathered to offer crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities, expressing gratitude for the year’s harvest and seeking favor for the forthcoming year.
Although some speculate that human sacrifices occurred, contemporary scholars refute these claims. Samhain was a profoundly spiritual occasion, replete with divination, particularly fortune-telling. It was widely believed that young women could discover their prospects for marriage in the coming year, even learning the identity of their future spouse.
Furthermore, it was believed that on the eve of Samhain, the boundary between the living and the deceased grew thin, allowing the spirits from the Otherworld to wander the earthly realm. This included the spirits of departed loved ones from the past year and mischievous entities like ghouls and fairies, eager to cause trouble.
The Celts, hoping to welcome their departed kin, would set a place at their tables and prepare a feast. They also left treats outside their homes to appease wandering spirits. To safeguard their households from malevolent spirits, the Celts would place carved pumpkins (or turnips) at their doorsteps. When venturing out at night, they wore costumes to camouflage themselves, ensuring protection from evil forces and misfortune.
The Evolution into All Saints’ Day
By A.D. 43, the Romans had conquered most Celtic territories. Over the next 400 years, Samhain merged with two Roman holidays: Feralia, a day of commemorating the deceased typically held at the end of October, and Pomona, a celebration of the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.
In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV established the Catholic feast of All Martyrs’ Day, dedicated to early Roman martyrs. This commemoration was later expanded by Pope Gregory III to encompass all saints and is now celebrated on November 1st as All Saints’ Day (also known as Hallowtide or All Hallows). November 2nd is observed as All Souls’ Day, primarily to honor the saints and pray for those recently departed who have not yet reached heaven.
Several Halloween traditions can be traced back to the festivities surrounding All Saints’ Day, such as the tradition of ringing bells for souls in purgatory and “souling,” where the poor, particularly children, would go from house to house receiving “soul cakes” in exchange for prayers for the departed. People also adopted costumes as a means of protection from wandering souls of the deceased. Some even dressed up to mock demon spirits to show they weren’t afraid of them, because God is all powerful.
The Impact of Reformation Day
During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, Protestant Christians reacted against Catholic holy days, including All Saints Day, due to theological disagreements, particularly concerning the concept of Purgatory. Purgatory, which denotes a place where souls are purified before entering Heaven, was a contentious issue. Protestant Christians rejected the belief that prayers and indulgences could expedite a loved one’s time in Purgatory after death.
Instead, many Protestants started celebrating Reformation Day, dressing as Bible characters or reformers and using the day as an opportunity for communal prayer and fasting. In the present day, many Lutheran churches mark Reformation Day by incorporating the color red, symbolizing the Holy Spirit and the Martyrs of the Saints. Martin Luther’s hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God,’ is traditionally sung, and schoolchildren often enact scenes from Martin Luther’s life.
Christian Perspectives on Halloween
Christians today approach Halloween in various ways:
Some Christians consider Halloween a pagan holiday associated with devil worship and evil, and thus they reject it. They avoid it and prefer alternative activities like Fall Festivals or Harvest Nights.
For some, Halloween is viewed as a harmless, fun occasion for children to enjoy dressing up and collecting candy. They partake in the festivities without religious connotations.
Certain Christians, however, seek to redeem Halloween. They see Halloween as an opportunity to engage with their communities. They believe that, as followers of Jesus, they can redeem the holiday by participating positively and fostering connections with neighbors.
Rethinking the Christian Response
The question of whether Christians should engage with Halloween is subjective, and largely based on your personal convictions. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 14:14 – “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”
If a Christian feels a conviction to not participate in Halloween, they should absolutely follow that conviction. They can choose to abstain or participate in a manner consistent with their faith. The Bible emphasizes the importance of discernment, wisdom, and acting for the benefit of one’s neighbors.
However, this cuts both ways. Those who find no harm, or even something worth redeeming about this holiday, should be allowed to participate without judgment. In that same chapter of Romans, verses 3 & 4, Paul writes, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
This was talking about Christians who felt a conviction to eat a vegetarian diet. Paul basically says that both sides of an argument not expressly commanded in Scripture can be correct for that person, given their own faith journeys, and we should stop judging each other with a wide swath based on personal convictions.
Essentially… y’know, worry about yourself.Halloween is not “Satan’s holiday” because Satan doesn’t get to have a holiday. Just like every day, Halloween is a day that the Lord has made. Rejoice. Be glad in it.
It is a bad habit of Christians to focus outwardly instead of inwardly. To condemn others we disagree with, loudly. And Halloween is an easy target. Scary movies and media can seem evil, but in reality evil always exists, everywhere, every day. And in reality, most scary movies, books, etc. – in the end – are stories of good v. evil.
As is life.
You can find the same parallels to God’s redemption in most horror movies that you can in Frank Peretti or Ted Dekker books. It’s just that not all of us have the ability to see that.
In fact, embracing supernatural horror is often an echo of a desire for a God to save us. Jaclyn S. Parrish said this in an amazing article: “The ghost stories, the haunted houses, the shuddersome costumes, all the festive horror of Halloween, is but an echo of the eternity God has placed in our hearts, clattering in reckless hope down a dark alley. It’s a cry for something worth our worship, worth our awe, and truly worth our holy fear.”
In the end, whether one chooses to celebrate Halloween or not, the central idea is to act with compassion, grace, and a sense of mission.
Ways for Christians to Engage on Halloween
Christians can engage with their communities during Halloween in several ways. Here are some examples:
Make Biblical Connections: When talking about traditions of the past that influence the holiday, you can share with your kids connections to Biblical stories. For instance, the Celts left a carved turnip on the door so spirits would pass by and leave their house alone. They also left an empty chair at the table for the souls of deceased loved ones. These two events mirror events and traditions from Passover, where lamb’s blood protected the homes from a plague killing the firstborn, and an empty chair is left at the Passover table for Elijah, who was believed to be coming before the Messiah’s appearance.
Make Your Home (or Church) the Hot Spot: Offer the best candy (full-size candy bars, anyone?) and create an inviting atmosphere, making your home a popular destination for trick-or-treaters. Provide cider or pumpkin bread for adults, and make connections. Have your church host a trunk-or-treat event, or open the doors to a rec room filled with carnival-like games for kids to win lots of candy. Dress up like Batman. Let people see that Christians can be loving and fun-loving at the same time.
Reach out: Use Halloween as an excuse to visit your neighbors’ homes, providing an opportunity to get to know them. Be prayerful and present. Seek the guidance of the Spirit and exercise wisdom in your interactions.
Bring the love of Jesus, not Tracts: For a lot of Christians, it’s tempting to give out Bible Tracts instead of candy. In the end, that’s worse than toothbrushes or pennies. Instead, show these kids love. Fawn over their costumes, overload them with candy, congratulate the parents for having such creative kids, match their excitement to foster a sense of community with the other families in your community. That will open far more doors for future conversations on faith than tossing a tract ever will.
Ultimately, the Christian response to Halloween can vary, and it is vital for individuals to discern how they can best live out their faith while engaging with the holiday. As long as Christians act with love and consideration for their neighbors, they have the freedom to choose their approach to Halloween.
In the end, Halloween belongs to Christianity just as much as it belongs to any other group.
If we, as Christians, hold the belief that Jesus came to redeem and renew all things – as stated in Revelation 21:5, where Jesus declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – then, this certainly encompasses Halloween.
If we swiftly dismiss Halloween entirely, we risk missing out. After all, Jesus instructs us to be in the world, though not of it, right? But what does this truly entail? Does it mean that evil exists “out there,” and that as long as we shut our doors, turn off the lights, and hide under the covers, we can keep evil at bay?
Halloween is not “Satan’s holiday” because Satan doesn’t get to have a holiday. Just like every day, Halloween is a day that the Lord has made. Rejoice. Be glad in it.
Perhaps, if we shift our perspective on Halloween from an “us versus them” mentality to an opportunity for community engagement and a chance to spread the love of God and the joy of the Spirit, we can approach the holiday with compassion and grace, rather than judgment. Perhaps, to truly redeem Halloween, we must simply approach it as we should approach all things: fueled by the love of God and a desire to share it with others.