Why Do We Celebrate Fear at Halloween?
- Candice Lucey Contributing Writer
- 2021 15 Oct
On the night of October 31, Celts 2,000 years ago “celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.” These ghosts were thought to be trouble-makers, but they also provided a connection between earth and the spirit world, supposedly enabling “the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter.”
This celebration has morphed into Halloween and what is often a celebration of fear.
Familiarity with Death
That supposed link between the living and the deceased is simultaneously thrilling and frightening. Celts believed their priests (druids) could contact the dead, who could be seeking a connection with loved ones they left behind.
This would postpone the finality of death, while they might also hear important warnings or other messages from beyond the grave. Spirits could be malicious or helpful.
Today, North Americans do not fear the dead; they glorify death by watching zombie movies and reading books about vampires. But pagans from the time of Christ faced death regularly. Life expectancy was shorter. Ancient people had reason to be both fearful of death and to celebrate the dead.
The Fear Factor
Modern people do, however, share something in common with their ancestors. Dr. Margee Kerr, a specialist on the subject of fear, explains: “One of the main hormones released during scary and thrilling activities is dopamine, and it turns out some individuals may get more of a kick from this dopamine response than others do.” If one was faced with a deadly situation 2,000 years ago, his or her brain would respond the way our brains do now: we are wired to flee for safety.
But the release of dopamine is not experienced the same way by each person. For some, the natural “high” of dopamine is more intense. Another reason many people “enjoy scary situations [is] because it leaves them with a sense of confidence after it’s over” (Ibid.).
Whether the situation involves facing spirits of the dead or watching a horror movie, fear would catalyze a release of dopamine and/or a sense of accomplishment when the event comes to a satisfying conclusion.
Celebrating Safer Fears
In a less superstitious culture, those who are concerned about or believe in sin, Satan, and hell are in the minority. The average participant in Halloween is fearful of known dangers such as gun violence, forest fires, economic disaster, and a pandemic.
Thus, the paranormal is unreal and unlikely by comparison and has inspired seemingly harmless thrills such as visiting haunted houses, using Ouija boards, and watching horror movies.
Whereas people from the past once hid from ghosts by staying indoors on Halloween night or by disguising themselves in costumes, trick-or-treating in costume is simple fun in the modern world. Most of those who think of Satan at all give no thought to his actual power to destroy them.
At Halloween, the fears, which are celebrated are not taken that seriously. Individuals who partake in scary seasonal activities perhaps believe that nothing terrible can really happen. Their fear is not deep enough to prevent them from taking part.
Halloween, Fear, and God
Some people still celebrate the fearful possibility of meeting ghosts without giving in to terror. Death is still glamorized in movies and by wearing gory costumes. But fear can be sinful.
“Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not”(Isaiah 44:2).
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do” (Luke 12:4).
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident (Psalm 27:3).
This is a sample of the many “do not fear” statements in the Bible provided over and over because fear is a real and constant threat to the Christian’s peace with him and trust in him. Fear distracts believers from focusing on God and instead draws their attention to the object of their fear.
This can be evidence that one doubts the Lord’s goodness and omnipotence. The Bible does not celebrate fear but celebrates God’s victory over everything, which causes fear among his people.
Fear and Trust
Jon Bloom teaches that “when God commands us to ‘not be afraid,’ [...] he wants us to meditate on some promise he’s made us until we experience the paralyzing effects of fear melting away and our courage rising.”
Fear is reasonable if danger is imminent. We were built with an automatic life-saving response to run away from danger or fight for our lives. Ongoing fear, however, leads to worry, then anxiety, which overwhelms other emotions, becoming one’s idol.
God demands our worship, our trust. Not only is it idolatrous to believe in pagan gods and the ways of a pagan culture, but anything we fear can become an idol, especially if we engage in superstitious protection rituals against those supposed powers.
A core element of our faith is believing that God is omnipotent and good; that his Spirit in us is the only good Spirit and we must turn to him by that Spirit when we are afraid, but not seek fear. We believe and do not doubt that we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to handle frightening situations to the glory of God.
Obviously, anxiety is a deep issue, which cannot be cured by simply saying “trust the Lord.” At the same time, he offers freedom from fear through the use of helpful medications and gospel-centered counseling.
We can trust the Lord to provide for our needs. The one thing we cannot do without will never be taken from the believer: Christ himself. Christians can face fear and suffering yet trust that God is still good in the midst of frightening situations.
Christians do not celebrate fear but celebrate the one who freed them from fear. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Even death is impotent in the face of such joyous faith.
Bloom explains how the Lord replaces fear with joy. “We are made to celebrate, and the object of our celebration is the Lord.”
Dangers of Celebrating Fear
Halloween’s promotion of occult activities can lead to dangerous and sinful activities. These include:
1. Trying to speak to the dead
2. Honoring the dead
3. Underestimating Satan
1. Scripture tells us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Many spirits have spoken through people, but they are not from the Lord even if they seem benevolent.
Certainly, there are “frauds” who claim to hear from spirits, but there are also demons using real people to tell lies. Christians do not fear, nor do they invite the attention of or communication from demons.
Our loved ones are not ghosts; they are not reaching out to speak to us; they have no power to share or prophecies to tell. Seances and Ouija boards invite Satan to speak. The Lord speaks when you pray or read Scripture without the use of devices.
2. Honoring the dead means that we raise them to a position of praise and prestige. Jesus died on the cross but, by his resurrection, demonstrated his power over death. He came back from the dead so that we could also die to our sins and be raised in Christ (Colossians 1).
If someone dies in Christ, then Jesus is to be honored for providing the assurance of eternal life in him. If someone dies without Christ, then there is nothing to esteem; no reason to hope. “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:31).
Christians worship the living Christ. He is not dead and there is nothing the spirit of a deceased loved one can offer. They cannot do anything for their loved ones still living, not even teach them to love the Lord before it is too late (Luke 16:19-31).
3. Even though Satan’s power is less than that of Christ, he can disrupt one’s peace if one does not rest in Christ. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Paul told the Ephesians to do this because evil is real. The Armor of God is for everyday living, not a Halloween costume for one night of the year.
Do Not Celebrate Fear
Christians who celebrate the fears we associate with Halloween might be doubting the power of Christ over death. He is our refuge and our strength (Psalm 46:1). One can redeem Halloween by replacing the fear factor with family-friendly activities and social engagement which does not glamorize death.
As for unbelievers who celebrate fear at Halloween, they have reason to be afraid for their hope is not in Christ. There is perhaps no time of the year where Christians are better positioned to promote the reasonableness of their faith and the benefits of the good sense they derive from their faith.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/photoguns
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.