No doubt, as soon as you read this question you had an opinion or answer to it. From “I let my kids celebrate Halloween all the time, they’re just kids having fun” to absolutely not, it is a pagan holiday and I don’t want to be involved in it,” to anything in between.
When I was a child, we celebrated Halloween ever year, in fact it was (and still is) one of my favorite holidays. When I went to seminary for my pastoral studies, I remember a very strong movement on the campus of seminarian students, families and professors who were very anti-Halloween. They promoted events like Trunk-n-Treat and Harvest Festivals as more Christian like alternatives for the families that still wanted to celebrate something in October and still dress up and get candy but without calling it Halloween. This movement brought up some very lively arguments in our theology classes, which was great. Testing ideas and your own assumptions in good-hearted (usually) debate with others is healthy and a really good way to understand what and why you believe what you do.
So, I started researching Halloween and all of the differing thoughts about it. Some scholars connect the tradition of Halloween to the Gaelic Festival of Samhain, a harvest festival beginning on October 31st and ending on November 1st. Bonfires were lit, the spirits of the dead were said to revisit their earthly and ancestral homes and the pall that separates the spirit world from the rest of the living is thinner and more permeable. Mummers or roving actors would go door to door in costume acting out parts in exchange for food.
Other scholars (both secular and Christian) deny the connection of modern day Halloween to Samhain and posit strictly Christian roots to the holiday. All Hallows’ Eve, which we derive the word Halloween from, also called All Saint’s Eve is a Christian celebration beginning the triduum of Allhallowtide, a remembrance of the Hallowed Saints. The word Hallow comes from the Old English haligra, a Holy Personage or Saint. All Saint’s Day, on November 1st follows All Hallows’ Eve then the holiday ends with the Liturgical Celebration of All Soul’s Day on November 2nd.
The distinction is mainly from the Catholic tradition between All Saint’s and All Souls; All Saint’s remembers the Sainted Christians while All Souls is considered a time of prayer for the dead who are still residing in purgatory so the prayers may shorten their time of burden. In Liturgical Protestant churches the two commemorations have become combined over the years because of the Protestant confession that the idea of purgatory is not scriptural and had its basis more in the desire to sell indulgences then in the purification of souls. For Liturgical Protestant Christians, All Saint’s Day has taken precedence and is observed on the First Sunday in November.
Modern, western and commercialized Halloween celebrations tend to, not surprisingly, focus on the strength of evil, the power of horror and the madness of death with agents of darkness roaming the night. I believe this is more of a commentary on modern culture and its fascination not only with what is evil and shameful, but its hate/love relationship with death, both as an object to be put off, plastic surgeoned or dieted away and the complete abandon with which so many act as agents of death inflicting hurt and harm upon others.
Fortunately, there is also a very strong Christian emphasis and even strategic assault upon death and the power of death in Halloween that our brothers and sisters in the faith used to celebrate and is still relevant for us today. Think about what our Christian faith is all about from Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed.
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.
We believe that with Jesus’ death upon the cross, he defeated death and it no longer reigns in our lives as Christians. While we will still die in this mortal, sinful life we will not be snuffed out nor will our souls be extinguished or suffer forever as shades endlessly roaming the streets and homes of the past, we have a future and a hope in Christ. Our mortal death brings us to glory with God in heaven. But not only that, because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we too look forward to a newness of life in Resurrected bodies that will never die when one day God makes all things new.
As Pastor Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 15:56-57: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Secure in the victory that is ours in Christ Jesus, death no longer holds its sway over us and the powers of darkness though they take the body cannot take the soul of the believer and both death and evil will one day be fully destroyed by God. With that in mind, all of the costumes, jack-o-lanterns and candy are part of a celebration using one of our most powerful tools against the enemy. Humor. Halloween is the Christian’s way of sticking their tongue out at death and saying na-nana-na-nah. All of the costumes are meant to be caricatures and mockeries of the agents of evil and the powers of darkness. Christians go boldly through the night celebrating life in Christ by ridiculing and reminding the darkness that it has no power over us. This All Hallows’ Eve victory party is then followed by the more somber remembrances of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are already in glory with the Lord and now see Him face to face in the place where evil can no longer touch them. Halloween for the Christian is about laughing at sin, death and the devil.
So, should a Christian celebrate Halloween? Maybe, it depends on why you’re doing it. If for you it is a time to get lost in the darkness, wearing the depravity of the night and hiding yourself from the light, then probably not, not good for your soul. But, if you understand it to be a time of light and mirth, fun celebrations and candy corn, remembrance of those gone before us and rudely sticking your tongue out at the darkness because of Jesus Christ, then you are free to live wisely and in a Christian manner.
My family will be celebrating the light in the darkness this year while eating handfuls of candy.