October 31st is here again and many Christians will be considering whether or not participating in the “Trick or Treat“ tradition is an acceptable activity for our families. Can Christians engage in an activity with questionable roots?
History of Halloween
A quick view of Wikipedia shows the tradition of Halloween is a bit less cut and dry as some would think. The term we use for the festival is actually a Christian term. “All Hallows Eve” was the name given to the Christian tradition of the eve before “All Hallows Day” or “All Saints Day.” A time when Christians would share in the baking of treats and children would go door to door to receive from their neighbors.
North American Halloween as it is celebrated today didn’t arrive on the scene until the 1930’s. This was partly due to the fact the the holiday had been a Catholic tradition that was rejected by the Protestant Reformers as it had many references to doctrine of purgatory.
There was a holiday among Celtic pagans called Samhain, or “summers end” that many today feel is the origin of our current Halloween celebrations, but others suspect it comes from an earlier Roman holiday called Parentalia or “festival of the dead.”
If you asked one of your neighbors to describe what Halloween is, they would likely tell you it is a time when children dress up in costumes, go door-to-door and collect candy and other treats from their neighbors. Most would not say it was a day the dead arose, played mischief and went to heaven on November 1st. They would likely have no inclination to pray for their loved ones in purgatory, honor a pagan god or sacrifice an animal. Most consider what candy or treat the kids will appreciate and look forward to seeing little ones at the door that each year get a little taller.
Sadly, for most it will be the only time they open their door to any of their neighbors, and may be the only time all year that they share anything that isn’t designed to get them a tax deduction.
Receive, Reject or Redeem?
As Christians we face a decision when it comes to Halloween. Paul dealt with a similar cultural circumstance when it came to food sacrificed to idols. His words guide us through these tricky waters and give us three directions we could possibly go with Halloween.
We can receive it just the way it is, and fully participate as one who is thankful for the community God has given and the opportunity to share with neighbors.
- If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (31) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:30-31 (ESV)
Our second option is to reject it on the basis of conscience, though I would argue few have the grounds to do so. Paul argues that we should not partake in what we view as sinful behavior.
- However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (8) Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (9) But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (10) For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?
1 Corinthians 8:7-10 (ESV)
There were some Christians who were eating anything that was served to them because they knew ultimately there is only one God and we should see every good thing as a gift from Him. Along with these Christians there were also Christians who had been heavily involved in idol worship and could not eat food without being swept back into their idolatry. Paul told these Christians that they should abstain from eating if it caused them to fall back into past sin.
The question the Christian who rejects Halloween must ask is, “What ‘former association’ with Halloween do you have that would lead you to sin?”
It would be slim to none of us that would have an association with occult, memories of animal sacrifice on Halloween night, or nights spent with the coven. I would grant their maybe some, but the vast majority have no context for sinful idolatry on Halloween.
The third option we have is to move beyond receiving Halloween and actually redeem it for His glory. Check your history and you will find that pagan holidays that once were dedicated to idols now stand in our Christian calendars as redeemed celebrations. Anyone who has looked at a commentary on Luke 2 knows that Jesus’ birth was not in December.
We should look for every opportunity to share the light (Matthew 5:15). Paul describes his position on cultural traditions in 1 Corinthians 9.
- To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (22) To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (23) I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:21-23 (ESV)
Paul saw cultural opportunities and did his best to make the most of them. He engaged in philosophy on Mars Hill and even quoted pagan literature to draw the Athenians toward Christ. (Acts 17)
Halloween is an opportunity for us to bless our neighbors and allow them to bless us. It is a time when we can drop candy in bags along with tracts, invitations to church or pocket New Testaments. It’s a time when we can open our church doors and have fun and games for the children in our neighborhood and allow them to feel comfortable enough to come on Sunday morning.
Dressed as Pharisee’s
As I was shopping for costumes for our kids this year, I discovered over 75% of the costumes on the racks weren’t ghosts and goblins or vampires and devils. They were princesses, superheroes, doctors and firemen. They weren’t outfits you would expect on the night of evil some make Halloween out to be.
In the scriptures there was only one costume Jesus ever criticized and it was not a pagan one.
- “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,(5)They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,(6)and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues(7)and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
Matthew 23:2, 5-7
The Pharisee’s tried to differentiate themselves in self-righteous ways rather than follow Christ. Their self-righteousness was defined by what they didn’t do. This is the group Jesus called white washed tombs, which sounds like Halloween, but in truth is the one thing we should fear.
As I take my kids around for candy tonight, there will no doubt be houses that are dark. No decorations, no one answering the door to smiling children and no one sharing the blessing God has given them. I wonder what my unbelieving neighbors think of those living inside. Do they think they are anti-social? Maybe stingy and unwilling to share? Could they be self-righteous abstainers thinking ill of them and their families?
I doubt a one will look at the dark house and get any closer to believing God loves them. None will look and feel shame for what they are doing. None will visit church on Sunday because they feel convicted. They will continue to walk around in the dark on Halloween, just as they do every other night of the year. Lost.