To what degree Christians should take part in the surrounding culture can be a controversial subject. What one member of the body finds acceptable may be offensive to others and we won’t always agree. In matters of opinion, that dynamic is not only to be expected, but it may even be Biblical (See Romans 14). My purpose in writing is not to judge, condemn, or even convince. But I would have you think. My goal is that you would be fully convinced in your own mind about how you interact with the culture – and specifically in this case – Halloween.
“God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” 1 John 1:5
Years ago I was convicted about celebrating Halloween as a Christian. My conscience is no longer clear to participate in the festivities of October 31st. It has been a difficult choice. Not difficult like losing a job, dealing with a disability, or signing up for foster care, but difficult because I hate to be different than virtually every other person I know. It is hard to go against the cultural flow, even for just a couple of weeks at the end of October. It is difficult because I do not like to be viewed as a legalist or a rigid kill-joy. And it is difficult to look into the disappointed faces of my kids, some of whom would love to be dressed like batman running around my neighborhood collecting candy.
Over the past several years, I have worked through my position by writing multiple blog posts about Halloween. First, I wrote about how I admired my Pagan friend’s consistency who refused to celebrate Christmas because it did not fall on the “Wheel of the Year” of Pagan holidays, but gladly observed Samhain (aka Halloween). “If Pagans won’t celebrate Christmas, why do Christians celebrate Halloween?” I wondered. In a separate piece the Biblical command to “Fear not” was used to question the appropriateness of Christians actively celebrating a day that is based on the fear of death. If we are truly in Christ and His life is in us we can claim the victory, not just over death, but even over the fear of death! Because Halloween is based on the fear of death, it seems inconsistent for Christians to participate. And most recently I took a personal lesson from my internationally adopted boys who were unconditioned to Halloween and instinctively shuttered at the dark imagery found basically everywhere during the harvest season. An innocent who is dropped into our culture and sees the celebration of the grotesque would be shocked, and we saw that first hand in our own home.
“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.” Psalm 118:6
All holidays have meaning and I believe that even if you are unaware you take part in that meaning when you participate in the customs of the day. For example, most Americans exchange gifts on Christmas, but most do not realize those gifts symbolize not only what the three wise men brought to Jesus but also the great gift of the incarnation of God as a human baby who would one day offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. Likewise many enjoy setting off fireworks on the 4th of July, but never give one thought to the founders of our nation or the guns and cannons used in fighting the Revolutionary War. So whether you realize it or not, the customs that you keep point back to the events that inspired them. If many people celebrate days like Christmas or Independence Day unaware, what are we celebrating on Halloween unaware? Of course customs can be redeemed. The Christmas tree has Pagan origins but efforts have been made by Christians to disconnect our modern use of the evergreen from its darker past. I am unaware of such widespread efforts to redeem any Halloween tradition from its original meaning save the fact that most people have no idea what that original meaning is.
Of all major U.S. holidays, Halloween is the only one difficult to categorize. (If you don’t recognize Halloween as a major holiday consider that over $9 billion was spent last year!) Most are national like Memorial Day, or religious like Easter (or Resurrection Sunday if you prefer). Halloween has nothing to do with our nation. It is most likely categorized as a religious day but one growing from Pagan roots. Christians do not celebrate Yom Kippur or Hanukkah because we are not orthodox Jews and we do not keep Ramadan because we are not Muslims so why participate in Halloween if we are not Pagan? I’m sure that some of those other days have enjoyable features that we are missing out on so why would we skip them? We skip them because they are not for us. They have no meaning or connection to our way of life or worldview. And as Christians, they are inconsistent with what we believe and even counter to it.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Because I represent a minority position on Halloween I am open to the idea that I may be wrong at worst or just a weaker brother in my faith at best. For that reason I do not condemn those Christians who choose to participate. But if you do celebrate Halloween be intentional about it. Think it through. Check your conscience before God and listen for how He might guide you. As you walk through your community this fall observe the decorations. Look around with a fresh set of eyes and see the skulls, twisted faces, blood crusted teeth, and skeleton hands reaching upward through graves. Take in the allusion to torture, murder, demons, and the occult. Focus in on the witchcraft, ghouls, and ghosts. Hear the screams and evil laughter echoing from doorstep displays. Try to imagine a representation of death and darkness that is omitted and you will be hard-pressed to find one. Research the origins of Halloween and learn how Pagans, actual witches, and occultists still observe it today. Now ask yourself if this day is honoring to God? Does this celebration of fear and death honor the one who died to defeat death once and for all.
“. . . that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14-16
But why not just keep a superficial observance of Halloween without delving into the darkness associated with it? What if Christians celebrate Halloween the way most secular folks celebrate Christmas with no intention of affirming its underlying meaning? Why not just dress up your child like a ladybug and visit your neighbors for some candy without getting into the darkness of it all? That is where our freedom lies. My belief is that a Halloween observance that strays into the dark themes is objectively dishonoring to God even when those themes depict death in a comical or lighthearted manner. The subjectivity comes into play when planning a G-rated observance that avoids the elements of fear, darkness, and death. Could that type of celebration be like playing with fire and hoping to avoid burns? Maybe. For an impressionable child might the lure of the darker side of Halloween prevail as they grow older? Unlikely, but perhaps. That is where you must be fully convinced in your own mind with a clear conscience before your own Master.
Remember that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” That is another way of saying that God is perfectly pure. As Christians we are called to a high standard of living as we try to”walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:10). After much reflection and prayer, I am not at peace with the customs of Halloween. But that is just my personal conviction. I would encourage you to examine your own practice carefully so that you have made an intentional decision before God being fully convinced in your own mind.
“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5