HALLOWEEN: 3 VIEWS & 1 OPINION
OCTOBER 31ST APPROACHES (AGAIN)
Our city wants to become the “Haunt Capital of the World”. Each year local businesses award large prizes to the ‘best dressed home’ (or school) in keeping with haunted Halloween traditions. It’s impossible to not notice the darkened transformation of our town especially in the days leading up to end of the month. As ghoulishness and gore are amplified, sometimes literally, most shrug off the deathly horror scenes and say “Oh, well” yet a number respond with “Oh, hell”.
Across the street, a mother dresses her kids for Trick-or-Treat. Her daughter is dressed like a pirate. Her son looks like Dracula, complete with blood stains on the sides of his mouth. Their house is highlighted with typical Halloween decor: grave stones, skeletons emerging from the earth, jack-o-lantern on the porch, and bed-sheet ghosts hanging from the trees. This family also regularly attends church and calls Jesus Lord.
Down the road a mother hides her kids inside a lightless home for the evening. She even forbids the use of any decorations, including pumpkins, in order to not associate with Halloween. Her children neither take-in nor hand-out candy. Every year she reminds her children about the demonic elements of Halloween and warns them that there is nothing ‘happy’ about ‘Happy Halloween’. She religiously rebukes any fellow Christian who would even attend a local “harvest party” or anything that remotely resembles a festival held on October 31. Her family also faithfully goes to church and calls Jesus Lord.
I believe neither of these views is the best way for Christian families to navigate the day called Halloween. I will expand that thought later but first…
When dealing with anything in human cultures, Christians have a number of choices. Here is a helpful way to discern cultural issues: receive, reject, or redeem.
• Receive — There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people. These are things Christians can freely receive. Paul and Silas could walk the same Roman roads and sail in Roman ships alongside any pagan without any tarnish on their consciences. Today, I can appreciate the electric lights in my home just like my neighbour and not feel guilty that the power company isn’t owned by Christian people. I can buy my produce from the grocery store without the concern that the farmers are heathens.
• Reject — There are some things in culture that are inherently sinful and cannot be transformed to be used for the Lord’s purposes. Paul might have eaten pagan meat sold in the marketplace, but he would not attend a pagan temple and drink the cup of demons. This is not a perfect example but nonetheless, today, a building that once was a gambling casino can be bought and turned into a Christian bookstore, but a casino can never become a “Christian casino.” The very nature of this kind of enterprise furthers sinful activity, and this must be rejected by Christians completely.
• Redeem — There are other elements of culture that are often used for sinful purposes but Christians can mine these elements for truths that can be celebrated, reclaimed, and redeemed for God’s purposes. During his speech in Athens, one of the most polytheistic cities in the world, Paul could quote from pagan poets and prophets and even make use of a pagan altar. Paul was redeeming—taking back—from paganism truths latent in their religious celebrations and cultural customs and using them for God’s glory.
This three-fold outline can help Christians navigate cultural events like Halloween.
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF ALL HALLOWS EVE
The name “Halloween” comes from “Hallows’ Eve” or “All Saints’ Eve.”
As far as the Christian back-story of Halloween is concerned, the day has its origins in the earliest centuries of the church. As early as the mid-second century, the church celebrated and remembered its martyrs, at times dedicating special days to remember their deaths. As the number of special commemorations multiplied; the idea of having a common day for all martyrs gradually evolved.
The earliest known celebration of “the Feast of All Martyrs” was in Antioch in mid-fourth century, falling on the first Sunday after the feast of Pentecost (which is, by the way, the same day the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates All Saints’ Day). Similar festivals were celebrated in other locations on different days. Over time, this celebration started to embrace not just martyrs but all saints. It was a time when the church celebrated Jesus’ victory over death by remembering the faithful saints who had gone before them.
On May 13th, 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon, the old pagan temple, to the Virgin Mary and “all Christian martyrs.” He removed all its Roman idols and hauled 28 cartloads the bones of various martyrs and saints from the catacombs to a huge basin beneath the altar of the building. As ghastly as that seems, he dedicated that day as “All Saints’ Day.”
Over a century later, Pope Gregory III (731-741) moved All Saints’ (Hallows) Day to November 1 to honour the saints of St. Peter’s church. In 835, Pope Gregory IV officially fixed the date for worldwide observance. Some believe this move was made to coincide with Samhain, a Gaelic harvest festival celebrated at the same time, though others doubt the Pope was even aware of this celebration. This pagan festival was held during this season as it was believed that the veil between our world and the spirit world was very thin, allowing the demonic spirits to easily move back and forth. Rituals and feasts were held and the souls of departed relatives were invited to come. Regardless of the Pope’s intentions, in time Samhain and All Hallows Eve eventually co-mingled, leading away from the original intent into the variety of Halloween traditions we have today.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO ‘REDEEM’ HALLOWEEN?
For some Christians, the notion of “redeeming” Halloween will sound ridiculous. How can something so rife with demonic symbolism be redeemed? Perhaps this is just one of those things that fits into the “reject” category. Is there anything positive to redeem? Bare with me and please keep reading.
Undoubtedly, Halloween’s pagan roots, Druid led pagan sacrifices, rituals to commune with the dead, Celtic deities, and the questionable origins of trick-or-treat and jack-o-lanterns are all ungodly and dark. I’m quite aware of all these facts and I’m not asking you to embrace any of these pagan practices.
IN MY OPINION
1. Almost all modern Halloween traditions are rooted in ungodliness. However, the mere fact that our modern Halloween practices are distant echoes of pagan traditions does not, therefore, mean Halloween as a cultural holiday is unredeemable. Remember, to “redeem” something in our culture means to admit it has been used for evil but to reclaim the truth within it, utilizing it for God’s purposes. Not all Halloween activities are redeemable, but in my opinion some possibly are.
2. Modern Halloween traditions are a far cry from their ancient or medieval origins. There are a few elements of Halloween that, in my opinion, have already been ripped away from paganism and redeemed as something wholesome. Let’s face it, the connection between Druids dressing as ghouls and our children dressing up as a character from Veggie Tales is tenuous, at best.
3. It’s important to note that this issue is a matter of conscience. If you read Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, it seems clear to me that Halloween is a “disputable matter,” and it will probably continue to be so.
4. Do not become prideful about our approach on the subject. While we should feel free to discern ourselves and discuss these opinions, we should remember that looking down in a prideful way towards other Christians for differing views is just as sinful in my opinion as a child dressing up as a demonic vampire.
Many Christians reject Halloween outright for very good reasons; others attempt to redeem it, but do so in questionable ways; others have altered the holiday in ways that demonstrate the mindset of a missionary to our modern era.
Do you believe Halloween can be redeemed? Does your family do anything special on October 31st that honours the Lord and reaches out to others?