By Pastor Jeremy Lim
On Halloween night, “the veil between the world of the living and the dead thins, and the paganists honour the spirit of the dead, offer human sacrifices, and make pacts and covenants with the demonic forces.” These words are from an article circulated a few years ago to warn Christians not to participate in Halloween.
But there are Christians who celebrate Halloween because for them, it is a non-religious festival altogether. Father Garbriele Amorth, one of the most respected exorcists in Rome, said that “if English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year, that is not a problem… it is just a game, there is no harm in that.”
Halloween is just a day for families and children to have lots of fun, and there is nothing pagan about it.
The question then is: How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it risky and irresponsible to let your children trick-or-treat? Or are those who vigorously denounce it simply overreacting?
Origin of Halloween
Halloween is often associated with the pagan Samhain festival, where the Celtic people of Europe and Britain celebrated the final harvest, death and the onset of winter for from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. During this transition, it is believed that the “curtain” dividing the living and the dead is lifted and “the spirits of the dead walk among the living”.
As Christianity expanded across Europe, it collided with the culture of the people. The new converts had to denounce their former pagan practices according to Deut. 18:10-13. However, these pagan festivals and holidays were deeply entrenched in their lives, and many new converts found it difficult to do away with them. They were tempted to rejoin these festivals, especially for a festival as crucial as Samhain.
Pope Gregory IV responded to this by “Christianising” Samhain into All Saints’ Day – a day to remember the saints, martyrs, and all those who have passed from this world. All Hallows Eve (the evening before All Saints Day) was later shortened to “Hallows-e’ne”, which eventually became “Halloween”.
Two common reactions to Halloween
Many Christians today still look at Halloween as “Satan’s Day”. They want nothing to do with Halloween and will do everything to shield themselves and their children from this “devilish holiday”. Some churches have replaced Halloween with safer and friendlier alternatives, such as Harvest Festival or the celebration of Reformation Day.
But other Christians accept Halloween, seeing it as a season for cute decorations, parties, pumpkin carvings, lots of laughter and going trick-or-treat with their neighbours.
So, is there a third way that Christians could potentially respond? Can Halloween be redeemed?
If we Christians believe that Jesus came to redeem all things, then we must answer with a resounding YES! Jesus says in Rev. 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Certainly, all things include Halloween. Instead of pausing to investigate and have conversations, sometimes it is easier for us to pass quick judgments on controversial issues such as this.
Below are a few insights that we should take into consideration when forming our opinions about Halloween.
Firstly, the assumption that Halloween is evil, or the thought that “evil is out there” can be problematic. Jesus did say after all that we should live in the world, and not be of it. But does that mean that evil will stay away as long we close our doors and don’t participate in Halloween?
On the contrary, as Christians, we believe that evil is within us. In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus tells us, “all these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” We are sinful, and it is only by the blood of Jesus Christ that we are made righteous in God’s sight. Thus, Halloween is not so much about “us versus them”; rather, it reminds us that we are all sinful people in need of God’s grace. Perhaps then, we can begin to look at this holiday with more compassion and grace, rather than judgment.
Secondly, there is something that we all can learn from the tradition of All Hallows Eve! For the record, All Hallows Eve is not the same as Samhain. Many Protestants mistakenly think that Catholics worship the dead on that day, but they actually don’t. Rather, it is a day to usher us into the meditation of those who have died, and to celebrate the memories of our deceased loved ones. Do you see the similarities between this and our faith in God?
The concept of “ancestors’ remembrance” is an important one in the Bible and thus, the frequent use of genealogies. When God reveals himself, He is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. It is God’s intention for us to remember our root and heritage. When the whole church comes together to celebrate the collected memory filled with the accounts of those who have lived and passed on, it is something meaningful and beautiful. Ultimately, it points us to the day when we shall join our loved ones at the eternal heavenly banquet prepared by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, we need to understand that Christianity did not grow in a vacuum. The early Church had to contextualise pagan holidays into Christian ones so that the Church can be culturally relevant. For example, when we celebrate Christmas, we do not think of honouring the Roman god Sol Invictus. Neither do we worship the goddess Eostre when we celebrate Easter. Even though we have not “Christianised” Halloween to the extent of Easter or Christmas, we do not have to abandon this holiday.
Some people fear the activity of Satanists or pagan witches on Halloween, but there are no authentic records or evidences that show Satanic-associated crimes actually take place on Halloween. Most of the Halloween traditions that we celebrate nowadays, like Christmas, are innocent fun, and not pagan.
As Christians, redeeming Halloween does not mean that we celebrate death or darkness. Far from it, we celebrate our Saviour’s victory over death and everything demonic. And we do this by taking captive of Halloween – penetrating it with the Gospel and reaching out to our neighbours with kindness. This does not mean that we hand out tracts instead of candy. Instead, we are to use this opportunity to cultivate friendship with the pre-believers, and perhaps, this may lead to open doors for us to share the Good News with them.
However, before going any further, I should say that if you feel convicted not to celebrate Halloween, you certainly don’t have to. The decision is ultimately yours. But as with all things, we practise the principles of Romans 14 and should not allow our convictions to cause a division in the body of Christ, nor should we use our freedom to stumble others.
Connecting with our neighbours
The bottom line is that if we are quick to judge Halloween as evil and shield ourselves from it, then we risk being culturally irrelevant, and might even fail to care for and love our neighbours. In our fast-paced society, we see less and less of our neighbours, and Halloween provides that unique once-a-year opportunity for us to interact with them.
How can we be the light of the world when we choose to shut our doors, turn off our porch light, and deny the opportunities to engage with the community?
In Pastor John Piper’s words, “I’m willing to run the risk of attachment to worldliness (in celebrating Halloween) in order to be biblically faithful in witness. The same thing with Christmas and birthdays and Easter and worshipping on Sunday. All of these things have pagan connections.”
Indeed, it is worth running the risk of being labelled as “worldly” or “non-biblical” by some because the Halloween harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Engage your community, and who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised at how the Resurrected Lord uses you as His light-bearer to bring people from death to life!
Jeremy Lim has a degree in Biochemistry from Ohio State University and a Master of Divinity from Seminary Theology Malaysia. He is currently serving in Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church as the pastor in charge of mission and outreach.
Asian Beacon: Oct – Dec 2018 (Vol 50 #4, p26-27)