Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?
When I was a kid, my favorite Holiday wasn’t the typical ones like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It was Halloween. There was always something exciting about finding a costume, trick-or-treating with friends, and having an excuse to eating candy all night. Later when I got older, I still enjoyed Halloween where it became less about trick-or-treating and more about dressing up and watching a scary movie with friends.
However, I remember after I became a Christian in college, I heard a pastor give a sermon about Halloween and basically telling us not to celebrate it. He explained in fascinating detail about the pagan origins of Halloween and exhorted the us not to conform to the patterns of the world.
After hearing this, I suddenly felt conflicted and decided to do what the rest of the congregation probably did: I put away my costumes, closed my doors and turned off the lights on October 31, and became one of those neighbors whose house got egged for not giving away candy. “Halloween is a pagan holiday,” I thought. “Therefore, how can I possibly participate in such an event?”
That was years ago. Now I’m a pastor. The lights in my home will be lit. Candy will be given away. My kids will likely be dressed up. And hopefully my house won’t get egged again. Am I compromising my faith? Am I participating and supporting a pagan ritual?
This leads to a bigger question: is it ok for Christians to celebrate Halloween?
A Brief History of Halloween
If you aren’t familiar with the history of Halloween, let me try to briefly explain. If you research it, the origins of Halloween traces back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. This night not only marked the changing season, but was also when the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead became blurred. Think of the Pixar movie CoCo and when the characters celebrated the Day of the Dead.
During the celebration, the Celts believed spirits may be wandering the streets. To avoid being recognized, people would wear costumes so that these spirits would mistake them for fellow spirits. And to keep these spirits away from their homes, people would place bowls of food outside to appease the spirits and keep them from entering their homes. Pretty pagan stuff, right?
Later, the Roman Empire conquered the majority of Celtic territory. But when Rome adopted Christianity, the church transformed this pagan holiday to All Saints Day - hence the name “Halloween” (“hallow” = saints).
So how did Halloween come to America? Well, in the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants who brought and popularized this costume-wearing celebration. Over time, it lost most of its religious overtones and focused more on games, foods, and festive costumes. By the 1950s, Halloween became an established secular but community-centered holiday and is now the second highest-grossing commercial holiday after Christmas.
Two General Responses to Halloween
As a result of Halloween’s context, a lot of Christians don’t really know what to do with this holiday. However, one way or another, Christians have to respond to Halloween and I think Christian’s tend to respond in two general ways.
1) Receive Halloween
First, there are some Christians who receive Halloween without giving it a second thought. “What’s the big deal?” they’ll say. “We’re just dressing up and having fun.” In other words, Christians like this will mindlessly celebrate this holiday and smugly dismiss any Christians who think otherwise.
However, I don’t think this dismissive attitude is the way Christians should approach any situation. After all, we are called to do “all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31) and are to be witnesses to a watching world (Acts 1:8). Therefore, when we post insta-stories of our Halloween outfits, we’re sending a message to our co-workers and friends as representatives of Christ.
With that being said, there are probably some aspects of Halloween that we should clearly think through. For example, dressing up like the devil or Jesus might call into question just how seriously you view the Evil One or the Savior that you profess to believe. Or dressing up in a provocative costume might not be the best idea for your witness. Therefore, like anything we practice, discernment is always needed.
2) Reject Halloween
There are some Christians though who are like me when I was younger where you discover the pagan origins of Halloween, renounce it as the Devil’s holiday, and then silently judge other Christians who are seemingly compromising their faith by going trick-or-treating. However, I do have some problems with Christians who think like this.
First, should Christians avoid anything with pagan roots? As author Justin Holcomb asks, “To what extent does something’s evolution from pagan roots entail that its present practice is tainted?” Even though the origins of Halloween were filled with religious overtones, I’m pretty sure most Christians today aren’t dressing up in order to hide from wandering spirits. Today, Halloween is about candy, friends, and social media. So to what extent does the pagan origins of a holiday disqualify its present practice?
Second, if Christians insist anything with pagan origins should be dismissed, then there needs to be consistency. For example, Christmas has pagan origins connected to ancient Rome that celebrated the god Saturnalia and the Christmas tree was thought to ward off witches, spirits, and illnesses. Another example are birthdays, which have pagan roots connected to Greece/Rome where candles were blown out to send a message to the gods. However, I don’t really hear Christians wanting to get rid of Christmas or birthdays. But where’s the consistency here?
Lastly, I find it humorous when Christians who condemn Halloween will then proceed to participate in their church’s “Holy-Ween,” “Trunk-or-Treat” or some other Christian knock-off. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with participating in a Trunk-or-Treat (it’s safer), but I think it’s weird if you’re doing so in order to not feel guilty celebrating a pagan holiday. I mean, aren’t the roots still pagan? But because it’s done on church property, God is ok with it? For some reason, I have my doubts.
How Should Christians Approach Halloween?
So how should Christians approach Halloween? I’d encourage a couple of last thoughts.
1) The Category of Conscience
Unless Halloween is being practiced in a blatantly sinful way, I feel like participating in it falls under the category of 1 Cor 10:23-33 where Christians called to use their consciences to navigate such situations. If your conscience isn’t clear (like mine wasn’t in when I was younger), then you should probably abstain (1 Cor 8:7). But if Christians thought through Halloween and can say with a clear conscience that you can be doing this for the glory of God, then it seems like there is biblical freedom for Christians to choose what to do.
2) Clarify the Relationship Between the Church and Culture
Personally, I can’t help but think how Christians approach Halloween has less to do with Halloween itself and more to do with how Christians approach the culture at large. While some Christians tend to naturally receive the culture, other Christians tend to naturally reject the culture - and their Halloween practices reflect their worldview. Therefore, before asking if Christians should celebrate Halloween, we should first figure out how Christians are to relate to the surrounding culture around us.
3) Loving Our Neighbors
I tend to agree with other writers who choose to not simply receive or reject Halloween but instead try to redeem it. Redeem it not by creating your own Christian subculture version of it but rather using it to serve as a witness to your neighbors. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get to meet my neighbors very often. But this is perhaps the one time a year where we’re expected to meet and open our doors to another.
I like how author Tim Challies puts it when he writes, “I despise the pagan aspects of [Halloween]…But I am also convicted that there could be no worse witness to the neighbours than having a dark house…We know that, if we choose not to participate, the neighbors will notice and will smile knowingly, supposing that we feel too good to participate…Our door will be open and the light will be on. And we trust that the Light will shine brightly.”
4) Show Charity and Grace
For the Halloween-celebrating Christian, it’s easy to think any Halloween-abstaining Christian is prude and legalistic. But perhaps they have real conscience-wounding reasons behind their lack of participation. Plus, I respect the fact that some Christians think through this rather than mindlessly conform to the culture around them.
And for the Halloween-abstaining Christian, it’s easy to think Christians who dress up are compromising their faith and acting worldly. But to what extent do we engage the world? Throughout history, the church redeemed pagan celebrations (e.g. Christmas, Easter, etc.). Is Halloween something that can be also be used for this opportunity?