A Christian's Halloween

"And now, my poor old woman, why are you crying so bitterly? It is autumn. The leaves are falling from the trees like burning tears- the wind howls. Why must you mimic them?"
-Mervyn Peake
The discussion of Halloween among Christians is a rather controversial one- much more so than Christmas. Halloween and Christmas are, for most people, the biggest holidays of the year. Christians are generally agreed about celebrating Christmas. (Don't worry, I'll do my best to destroy any preconceived notions you have on that topic as December draws nearer.) But Halloween is a bit trickier. Where does Halloween land? To examine this topic, we'll first look a bit at the origins, and then at what it's become.

A quick Google will reveal that Halloween comes from an ancient Celtic harvest festival called Samhain. It seems that it was once believed that on a certain day of the year (i.e., October 31st) the dead would walk among the living. This had several effects. One major effect was that it supposedly made it easier for the druids to contact the spirits. But these spirits could also be rather troublesome. To appease them and keep them from causing trouble and playing tricks, the people would leave food and other treats on their doorsteps as offerings for the spirits. If they needed to leave the house for some reason, they would dress up in ghastly costumes so as to be mistaken for other spirits.
The Catholics eventually established All Martyrs Day, to honor those who had died in the name of Christ. It was later extended to include all saints, not just martyrs, and was called All Saints Day. I should note that the dates I'm finding are a bit confusing. As there are a number of festivals going on in this time period (including a couple Roman ones that were added on), I'm finding dates that include October 31st, November 1st, and November 2nd. So the exact dates of the exact festivals are getting a bit mixed around. But what I am finding clearly is that the night before All Saints Day, also called All-Hallows, was called All-Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween.

As a Christian, I don't see any reason to celebrate Samhain. I don't think any Christians would contest my saying that such a celebration is demonic in nature. All Saints Day was moved from May 13th to November 1st, some believe, in order to try to blot out their festivals with another holiday that had to do with death. But as it turns out, the traditions remained pretty much the same. And as time has gone on, the traditions have still changed very little. The description I gave of Samhain likely seemed very familiar to you. On Halloween people still perform those actions, albeit in a different manner and for different reasons. People still dress up in costumes, bob for apples (coming from a Roman celebration honoring their goddess Pomona, whose symbol was the apple), and have a tradition that we now refer to as "trick or treat." The difference? "We don't actually believe in that stuff. It's just for fun." I'll address that in a moment, but first let me look at the Christian alternatives. The main ones I've heard of are churches hosting harvest festivals and "trunk or treat." This is basically Halloween, but with an emphasis on general cosplay rather than horror. It's a "clean" Halloween.

We agree that the origins are demonic, right? "Yes, but that's not what it means anymore. It's just for fun." I didn't ask what it means now, I just asked about the origins. If we agree that the origins are demonic, then why would you want to mimic that? This isn't something where it was mostly a good thing but there was a little piece that you needed to cut out to make it clean, this was something that was wholly centered around demonic practices. "But is it wrong to dress up in costumes and eat candy?" No, of course not. If I had unlimited materials to use for cosplay, you would probably never see me in normal clothes again (except for maybe in October). Cosplay isn't the issue. The issue is what the practice is based on.

The early church put one of their holidays on the same day as a pagan holiday and attempted to change its purpose, while changing as few traditions as possible. Why? It's been speculated, as I mentioned before, that they may have wanted to wipe out the original holiday completely. (We can see how well that worked.) It's also possible that the traditions were, simply speaking, fun. The question isn't whether celebrating Halloween ("clean" version or not) is technically "wrong." It's about the basis. The celebrations are based on a demonic holiday, and the day is still revered by Wiccans, pagans, and Satanists. We are taking something that we acknowledge as demonic and mimicking it, then saying "it's not a sin." Whether it's a sin or not is debatable, but it's not the question. The question is, is it glorifying to God to mimic a demonic holiday? A rose by any other name is just as sweet, and a corpse by any other name is just as foul.
"When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations."
-Deuteronomy 18:9 (NASB)
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"
-Isaiah 5:20 (NASB)

Here's the issue. When you despise something, you don't mimic it. You don't copy it. You don't try to do things in the same way. You get as far away from it as possible. I'm not just saying that that's what we should do, I'm saying that when we really do hate something, that's what happens naturally. We may not be successful in getting as far from it as we'd like, but we sure do try. And if we, as Christians, really hated the demonic celebrations that started Halloween, and that still continue in some places, we wouldn't be trying to get as close as possible without crossing the line, and especially not with "it's just for fun" as our excuse.

Am I saying that we ought to just hide away on Halloween and do nothing, or cease to exist on that day? No, of course not. But we shouldn't be getting as close to the world's traditions as possible; we should be set apart. We should be noticeably different from the rest of the world. If we really believe what we say we believe, we ought to act like it.
"There is a difference, I have learned, between not crossing the line and causing the other to stumble, and actively pushing that person toward Christ all the time. Whether you're talking Bible or not."
-Anonymous

3 comments:

  1. I agree with much of what you posted. However, I would disagree with your conclusion for the following reasons. Firstly I think the reason Samhain was demonic was because of human sacrifice and demonic, evil rituals such as those. However, I would argue that much of the American culture has little or no knowledge about the origins of Halloween and are participating because it is a social norm to participate, not because they agree with a demonic practice. With that said, I do not think they are imitating the Samhain because they are not murdering people and practicing demonic rituals but in most cases simply going door to door and getting candy. Finally as a Christian I think that Halloween is one of the best days of the year for witnessing and evangelizing. Tract or Treat?! Also I think that because the origins of something is evil does not mean it cannot be taken back and used for something good (Like handing out tracts and preaching the gospel while going door to door.) I think that is a better conclusion than trying to ignore the day.

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    1. I do believe that Halloween can theoretically be taken back, but I don't believe that most Christians are really trying to do this. For example, the early church changed the name and the stated purpose, but very few, if any, of the traditions involved. Similarly, most Christians today aren't seeking to take back the day, but to go along with it. They have their harvest festivals and their trunk or treats, not in an attempt to oppose Halloween and use it for the glory of God, but rather, to find a way of engaging in the same activities in a manner that's socially acceptable to Christians.
      Like I said in my final paragraph, I'm not saying we should just hide and do nothing. Be active! But even if people don't know the origins of Halloween, then celebrating Halloween is just going along with the rest of the world. Either way, it's mimicking instead of being set apart. If we're going to take back the day, the way to do it isn't to do the same thing as everyone else, but to be noticeably different.

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    2. Good points. I agree with your argumentation and think that it is true that most people just go with the flow and that includes Christians. I do think that it is one of the best days of the year to have conversations about the gospel with others. I've done tract or treating several times, basically just giving out tracts when someone gives you candy, and sharing the gospel. I think that is a really good idea because you can talk to so many people and give them a tract and have a conversation with them even if it's short. Great topic and I enjoyed reading it! :)

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