Ever since I was a kid in a Christian home, I have heard the debate of whether or not Christians should celebrate Halloween. Every year around this time, I see all the posts about why you should or should not take your kid's trick or treating. I never got into the debate because I firmly believe it is a personal conviction, not a heaven or hell issue. However, it is crucial to know the facts before making important decisions for your family.
Total disclaimer: I grew up trick-or-treating; those memories are some of the best ones I take away from my childhood. I will most likely take my kids trick-or-treating, but I can completely respect others' choice not to do so. I believe that is the key when discussing topics like this: Can we understand another's point of view without tearing each other down? If so, we can continue striving for unity in the body.
Romans 14:19, says" So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up."
To start things off, we should review a brief Halloween history; sources are cited below.
About 2,000 years ago, a tradition that dates back to ancient Celtic culture was started called Samhain. People wore costumes and lit bonfires during this festival to keep ghosts away. The Celtics celebrated their New Year on Nov 1st, so Oct 31st was their New Year's Eve, and Samhain was how they celebrated. They would sacrifice animals to their Celtic gods for a fruitful next year.
In A.D. 43, the Roman Empire conquered most of the Celtic land, so two Roman festivals started intertwining with Samhain. One of those Roman Festivals was called Feralia, where, sometime in late October, the Roman people celebrated those who had died. The other was called Pomona, named after their goddess of fruit and trees. Since her symbol was an apple, this is where people believe the tradition of bobbing for apples comes from.
On May 13 A.D. 609, the Pantheon in Rome was dedicated to all Christian Martyrs, and the Catholic feast for martyrs was started by Pop Boniface IV. Then Pope Gregory III made All Saints Day to celebrate martyrs and saints and moved the day to November 1st in hopes of replacing the Celtic/roman hybrid celebration.
During the Middle Ages, people would also begin to perform in exchange for food and drink, which is thought to be where the idea of trick-or-treating originated from.
By the 9th century, Christianity had spread, and the church in A.D 1000 made November 2nd All Souls Day to honor all the dead. All Saints Day and All Souls Day were similar to Samhain in that people dressed up, made bonfires, and had parades. It is also believed that poor people would visit the houses of the rich to receive food, and then in exchange promise, they would pray for the dead relatives of the house. Then, kids took up this custom by asking for gifts at people's houses with a joke, song, or dance instead. This All Saint’s Day celebration was also called All-Hallows(mas), which comes from the Middle English word Alholowmesse, which meant All Saint’s Day. The night before was called All Hallows Eve, which eventually would turn into what most Americans say, Halloween.
Now, how did Halloween come to America? Well, the customs of the European people and the Native Americans combined into a unique Americanized version of Halloween. In the early years of America, "Halloween" included parties that recognized the harvest through scary stories, and predicting the future, all while dancing and singing.
In the first half of the 19th century, autumn festivals, as mentioned above, were common, but the celebration of Halloween was not.
In the last half of the 19th century, new immigrants started to populate America, and Halloween started to be what we know it as today. There was a cultural shift that pushed Halloween to be more about community and neighborly love other than ghosts, pranks, and fortune telling. Trick or treating became popularized, Halloween parties were now for the whole family, and the day focused on games, seasonal food, and costumes.
Trick or treating was looked at as a way for everyone to participate in the holiday and keep kids busy by getting candy instead of pulling pranks. Now, trick or treating has grown into a $3 billion industry.
The origins of the phrase “trick or treat” are unknown. However, we know that this phrase was coined in 1951 by the Peanuts comic strip.
All that to say, Halloween has a complicated and fascinating history regarding the church's involvement and what the holiday actually stands for. Are we warding off evil spirits? Are we honoring the Christian Martyrs? Are we celebrating community? I truly believe that it comes down to the individual. When you take your kids trick-or-treating, are you doing it to create memories with them? Then that is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, it is okay to take things at face value. Yes, tradition matters, but we make our own traditions, hence the church trends of, trunk or treating, or dressing up as Bible characters. Things can be made evil, or things can be made good and godly, but that is up to us.
Genesis 50:20 says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
Joseph is referring to his brothers, who sold him into slavery. He is explaining how their once evil act turned into a life of goodness for him because of the Lord. God can turn things that were once dark and wicked into something that works for his will.
If you use Halloween to worship satan and make sacrifices to false gods, you will be held accountable for how you celebrate.
If you use Halloween as a way to celebrate your community, have family fun time, or even outreach to others, then that can be a beautiful thing.
Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Just like anything, holidays can be made to honor God or be made to support worldly ambitions. Music can be an incredible way for people to worship God, or it can be made to worship darkness. Art can be a way to show God's beauty, or it can be perverted. Same with dance, movies, or books. We need to hold ourselves accountable for how we choose to go about God’s creation.
Everyone needs to establish their own limitations for themselves and their family. If you want to use trick or treating as a way to reach people, feel free to download the pdf on this blog post to hand out to kids and their families. If you choose to skip over the holiday completely or make it about celebrating the harvest and God’s faithfulness with pumpkin patches, hay rides, and apple cider, then you are doing what is best for your family, which is all any of us can do.
Note: The PDF is two-sided and may be best printed on cardstock.