Growing up, I was raised with the understanding that Halloween was a “pagan holiday” that was to not be celebrated at all. Our Halloween “tradition” was to put blankets over every window that could possibly leak light out of them on Halloween night, all cuddle around a single, solitary lamp in the back of the house, and maybe play a board game or two just to keep busy — never anything that was loud of course, and just wait out Halloween night in seclusion. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. When my father was a pastor in Needles, we had a “Reformation Day” costume party on October 31st, and even before that, I distinctly remember trick-or-treating as a little kid dressed in… I believe a homemade Cheshire Cat costume when I was 5 or so. But my Dad had read some information about Halloween’s origins, and decided that we were not going to support a pagan, anti-Christian holiday.
Now, as an adult, married, and with a family of my own, I have tackled the Halloween question anew… and as much as I respect my father, and I appreciate how blessed I was being raised in a Christian family, I will have to question his position on Halloween. Is Halloween a pagan holiday? Well, curiously enough, there was a historic pagan holiday celebrated on October 31st called Samhain. It is a harvest festival, to celebrate the start of the “darker half of the year”, another year’s harvest, and a time when spirits of the dead were supposed to be able to enter our world. Ok, by all accounts, this is a pagan holiday that has nothing to do with Christianity.
However, another Holiday, originally celebrated in April but eventually migrated to November 1st came into being — All Saints Day, which was celebrated by the Christian church only a handful of centuries after Christ’s Ascension. Eventually, there was an influence of the popular purgatory heresy that affected the night before All Saint’s Day, called All Saint’s Eve (or All Hallow’s Eve), which would be celebrated for the people supposedly in purgatory as a chance for those trapped in purgatory to be able to right whatever wrongs they did that keeps them bound in purgatory and out of heaven — essentially the spirits of the dead being able to enter our world. Ok, so this also really isn’t Christian, it is a heretical teaching that was infecting Christianity at the time (and still does in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy).
At some point, these two holidays began to influence each other (as there are obvious similarities, and it is likely that “All Hallow’s Eve” was originally influenced by Samhain in the Celtic world and eventually spread throughout all of the Christian world at the time). As time progressed, the religious influences were washed out from the combined holiday, now called Halloween, and it became more strongly influenced by the secular world than either religious origin. About a hundred to a hundred and fifty years ago, the modern rebirth of paganism (neopaganism & Wicca) began to want to take claim over the holiday as their own — with some justification, as they claim to be the continuation of the ancient pagan world that created the Samhain festival, yet the holiday really has nothing much to do with the old ways any more. It has become less involved with the seasons, and more involved with secular family fun (trick-or-treating, costume parties, decorations) and sudden shocks/startles from surprises/scares.
To make the claim that Halloween is a pagan holiday seems a bit of a stretch. It has pagan & heretical origins, that is true, but those origins really have no influence on the holiday as it is celebrated today. What does the Bible say about things like this? Well, there is a similar situation covered by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 (ESV):
Food Offered to Idols
If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 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? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.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.
I believe this has a practical application to Halloween. This particular passage dealt with a problem that Greek Christians were having to deal with — meat that was being sold in the marketplace which was being offered to pagan gods. The meat was consecrated and sacrificed to these gods, which were obviously anti-Christian, and the Greek Christians were concerned that eating this food offered to other gods would be wrong. Paul points out that these other “gods” aren’t real, and the food is still just food, regardless of whatever people may have done beforehand. Armed with the knowledge that these other “gods” aren’t real, it becomes a non-issue, and Paul states that it is perfectly fine to eat the food from the marketplaces that were sacrificed in this manner without it being a sin or wrong.
However he also says that there are some that are “weaker” — that is, it defiles their conscience to eat this meat — Christians who still feel that it is wrong to eat the meat sacrificed to other “gods”, and it would be wrong to force these Christians with a weakness in their faith (that is, they don’t fully trust that there is only one God, that the other “gods” don’t exist, or that God might get upset if they eat it) to eat the food sacrificed to false “gods”, because it can make them stumble — such a thing could shatter their weak faith and make them lose their faith all together and no longer believe in Christ and what he did for them. Making anyone lose their faith is a very bad thing.
How does this have application to Halloween? Well, the celebration of Halloween has roots in pagan and heretical beliefs and practices, but those aspects simply don’t apply in the modern, common celebration of Halloween — the holiday itself takes the place of the “meat sacrificed to idols” that Paul wrote about. The purgatory heresy and the pagan gods & beliefs are all false, and don’t do anything to a Christian — you aren’t “guilty by association” by celebrating a holiday that may have once been a pagan festival, but no longer has that pagan element in the holiday. It is sterilized (as the commercial/secular world likes to do with anything religious — purge all religious overtones completely from it, for reference, look at what has happened to Christmas) from the pagan roots, and no longer is connected to it. A Christian doesn’t need to fear Halloween.
What about this verse in the bible: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.“? Obviously this says to stay away from Halloween, because Halloween isn’t pure, lovely, commendable, etc. right? Well, this verse comes from Philippians 4:8… and it is often taken way out of context and applied to things it has no business being applied to. Let’s look at Philippians 4:2-9 (ESV):
Exhortation, Encouragement, and Prayer
Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This passage is dealing with issues directly in the congregation at Philippi. First dealing with some squabble going on between two women in that church, and then encouraging the Philippians to be peaceful and to pray about good things (to not get caught up in whatever fight was going on between the afore-mentioned ladies). Verse 8 isn’t a rule for everyone to yank out of this context and then apply to everything in life no matter what. It is a nice sentiment, but really it has to do with church practice and prayer, based on the context, not a rule to measure things against to determine if Christians should or shouldn’t be involved with it. It has no application to Halloween whatsoever.