A Tricky Holiday: Should Christians Ignore or Embrace Halloween?
- Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Ghosts, goblins and witches, oh, my! It’s that time of the year when the world—or at least the United States—seems to embrace the dark side of Halloween revelry. Nearly every retailer has some sort of Halloween display, many of which features skeletons, ghouls and other scary stuff—a testament to Americans’ love of all things spooky. This year, seven in 10 Americans will celebrate Halloween, spending some $6.9 billion on the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s the highest amount in a decade.
For Christians, Halloween is fraught with potential pitfalls and boogeymen, both real and imagined. Some feel strongly that Christians and Halloween should not mix at all, while others believe Christians can participate in the holiday with a clear conscience.
“Some Christians believe Halloween is firmly rooted in ‘the worthless deeds of evil and darkness’ as described in Ephesians 5:11,” says Mary Fairchild, who hosts the Christianity site at About.com. “The Bible says to ‘take no part’ in these things.”
But other Christians think Halloween can be a way to celebrate family, neighborliness and, yes, Christ. “Some believers look around and see nothing in the Americanized version of Halloween that reflects their values,” says Kim Weir, author of Redeeming Halloween. “I was one of those until I sat down and started looking into the holiday’s origins and realized that Halloween has an incredible faith heritage.”
Halloween’s Christian Roots
Today’s over-emphasis on the occult and death hide the fact that Halloween has a rich history in the church. While the holiday began as a pagan celebration to drive out evil spirits, the early church actually started what we call Halloween.
The name refers to All Hallows Eve, which is the evening before the All Saints Day of remembering early Christian martyrs. During the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day from the spring to November 1 to coincide with the pagan festival of Samhain in an effort to sanitize the revelry, which often degenerated into drunkenness and mischievousness.
We should remember that “All Hallows Eve, the feast commemorating the martyrdom of the saints, had already been celebrated by Christians for many centuries prior to this time,” says Fairchild. “A later pope, Pope Gregory IV broadened the feast to include the entire church. Inevitably, some of the pagan practices associated with the season persisted and have been mixed into modern celebrations of Halloween.”
Halloween came to America from immigrants of the British Isles during the latter part of the 19th century. While originally, the immigrants might have believed in the superstitions associated with the holiday, American youth found the playful qualities of Halloween very attractive.
“Hollywood has added to the ‘fun’ with a wide assortment of fictional characters—demons, monsters, vampire, werewolves, mummies and psychopaths,” says Travis Allen, director of Internet ministry at Grace to You and author of “Christianity and Halloween” posted on www.gty.org. “That certainly isn’t improving the American mind, but it sure is making someone a lot of money.”
For children, the allure of the holiday has been the trick or treating—the dressing up in costumes and receiving of candy. However, there are ways to help your children re-orient their thinking to be more Christ-centered in the midst of Halloween.
“Halloween is an expression of our faith life,” says Wier. “It was put on the church calendar in 610 as a celebration of all those men and women who gave their lives for their faith. We think that’s worth celebrating. We want our children to know about their Christian heritage.”
The Wier family uses Halloween as a springboard to talk about the history of the early church and its martyrs. “Let’s start by letting our kids know the stories of these great men and women,” she says.
“If I did have children, I would focus on teaching my kids ways they can take advantage of secular holidays like Halloween to be a genuine witness for Jesus Christ--a light in a dark world. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of Halloween, parents can turn the holiday into a positive, relationship-building tradition for their family using creative alternative ways of celebrating,” says Fairchild, who lists several ways to do so on the Christianity site of About.com.
Above all, Christians should follow their conscious and remember that you don’t have to embrace every aspect of the holiday. “Some aspects of Halloween—the partying, the demonization of the holiday, the darkness—are not appropriate for Christians,” Allen points out.
Christians can use Halloween in a positive way. “We should see our culture as a mission field, and we can use Halloween to talk about how the whole world is held captive to the fear of death—it’s in all the literature, movies and media, especially around Halloween. People are afraid of death, and rightly so, because at the other end of death is standing before a holy God,” says Allen. “What a great entry point all this death imagery is to talk about the Gospel.”
“I love this season,” adds Wier. “It’s the only time of year that neighbors come knocking on our door. What a wonderful opportunity to make our home a place of hospitality.”
Weir doesn’t preach at her guests, but instead uses the holiday to set the tone that “we’re a family who loves people. We might have little crosses hanging around, wrap our candy bars quotes from the Psalms, but the predominate message of the night is that we are generous givers and that we love them.”
“I do believe some Christians are missing evangelistic opportunities when they try too hard to remove themselves from the world,” says Fairchild. “They might choose to ignore Halloween or celebrate it with other believers only. But 1 Corinthians 9:22 suggests … that we’re not called to live in a safe and protected environment, guarded against the evils in the world. No, we are called to reach out into the world and be the light of Christ. Halloween brings people of the world out into the streets and to our very door steps. We should be thinking of creative ways to seize this opportunity for developing new relationships and sharing our faith.”
Halloween as Evangelism
In the end, whether or not an individual or family should celebrate Halloween in any fashion should be carefully considered in relation to their own situation and heart. “If someone comes to the Christian faith from a background in the occult, then perhaps the best practice is to refrain from celebrating Halloween. If another believer has freedom in Christ to participate, then we should not condemn them,” Fairchild recommends.
We also should keep in mind that “often our negativity toward Halloween does more damage than good, alienating the very people we seek to reach,” says Fairchild. “Our neighborhood has a very family-oriented, active night of trick-or-treating each Halloween. When we first moved in, we used the holiday as way to get to know our new neighbors, sitting outside on our front porch while handing out candy.”
Allen reminds us that in Christ, we should not be fearful of Halloween. “Jesus said that the truth should not be afraid of the world, that none of this stuff—the scary and death-oriented things of Halloween—has any effect on the truth. God’s truth stands like a pillar that cannot be crumbled by the occultic practices of Halloween,” he says.
“We don’t have to surrender our beautiful faith heritage by eschewing Halloween celebrations,” adds Wier. “This holiday gives us an opportunity to show Christ to our neighbors and friends. I’ve always found it striking that Halloween is followed by the International Day of Prayer. We can make it a season to remember the early church martyrs and to pray for those still suffering for their faith in the world today.”
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired @ Home: The Christian Mother's Guide to Working From Home. She lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children, who are looking forward to trick-or-treating this Halloween. Visit her at www.sarahhamaker.com.
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