Christianity and Halloween – Should a Christian celebrate halloween?
Accidentally found yourself here? Before you go, please watch this video…
So many people are divided on the issue of Christians and Halloween. So, is it OK to ‘join in’ with trick or treat, or to claim that Christian history for Halloween makes it alright to join in? Or is there simply, ‘no harm in it, its just a bit of harmless fun’. Here’s some thoughts and options for you to consider – whether or not you are a Christian.
Is it a sin to celebrate Halloween? Depending on a Christian’s personal understanding, the answer could be a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. Ultimately, Christians live by grace, and have free will to make up their own minds. However, it isn’t quite that simple. They will be influenced by the Bible, and what they feel God and the Holy Spirit is saying to them on the subject. Someone who isn’t a Christian may not have even considered ‘Is it a sin to celebrate Halloween?’ to be a valid question. We’re going to take a deeper look at it all in this article, in the hope to help you have a more informed viewpoint.
There are different ways to recognise Halloween instead of the most well-known ones – and still have lots of fun. Read on to find out more.
None of us can easily ignore Halloween – whoever we are
Halloween is a very popular event occurring predictably on the same day (31 October) every year. It is very hard not to know that it is approaching as there are so many adverts, events, merchandise – even food – that are promoted. In the lead up to the day, you’ll often be bombarded with steriotypical images and words and Halloween related items. These days for many it remains a ‘tradition’, an integral part of the calendar, and viewed as a fun and exciting time, something to focus on.
Let’s not forget Halloween can also be very lucrative for those promoting it. For example spending in the US was projected to reach $8 billion in 2020, with 58% of people planning on celebrating. If true, that’s a lot of people (1). In the UK, it was estimated that in 2019 up to £474 million could be spent on Halloween (2). Interestingly, pumpkins are a relatively modern innovation imported from the United States, as is the “trick-or-treat” tradition (3). Halloween is a genuinely global event ‘celebrated’ around the world by millions (4).
Yes, it seems very likely it’s true, Halloween sort-of ‘bumps into’ early Christian history with All Hallows’ Eve.
The Celtic roots: ‘The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient [pre-Christian] Celtic festival of Samhain. Until 2,000 years ago, the Celts lived across the lands we now know as Britain, Ireland and northern France. Essentially a farming and agricultural people, the Pre-Christian Celtic year was determined by the growing seasons and Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter. The festival symbolised the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead.’
(Ben Johnson, Historic UK. Full article).
The arrival of Christianity: ‘…Britain was also invaded by a new religion. Christian teaching and faith was arriving, spreading inwards from those northern and western extremities from the early Celtic Church, and up from Kent with the arrival of Saint Augustine from Rome in 597. Along with the Christians arrived the Christian Festivals and amongst them “All Hallows’ Day”, also known as “All Saints Day”, a day to remember those who had died for their beliefs.
Originally celebrated on 13th May, it was Pope Gregory who had the date of the All Hallows’ feast moved to 1st November sometime in the 8th century. It is thought that in doing so, he was attempting to replace or assimilate the Celtic Samhain festival of the dead with a related but church approved celebration.
The night or evening of Samhain therefore became known as All-hallows-even then Hallow Eve, still later Hallowe’en and then of course Halloween. A special time of the year when many believe that the spirit world can make contact with the physical world, a night when magic is at its most potent.
Throughout Britain, Halloween has traditionally been celebrated by children’s games such as bobbing for apples in containers full of water…’
(Ben Johnson, Historic UK. Full article).
So, it seems like we’re all in it together…
As we’ve unpacked above, people actually view and understand Halloween in many ways. It seems many Christians see no reason to make a distinction, or question about the roots of Halloween being at odds with Christianity. The Bible says that Christians should not to ‘conform to the patterns of this world’ (a). Unusually, since Halloween is an annual event, it is more obviously a ‘pattern’ to conform to than other metaphorical ‘patterns’ of the world often quoted by Christians. As we take a deeper journey into Halloween, as Christians, we ought to keep in mind what the Bible says from the start.
Some Christians view Halloween as one of the best opportunities in the year to evangelize
In some ways this is true. Shining the light directly into the darkness is what the gospel does best. However, the argument here is the difference between getting involved in the ‘spirit’ of Halloween – joining in – verses meeting people where they are at without needing to join in. Below, we’ve dug a little deeper to find out more about the roots of Halloween. Since Christians are called to be ‘set apart’ from the world (e), there is a strong argument for alternative ideas on Halloween (see links at foot of article), or not joining in, but still finding opportunities to share the gospel. (Colossians 3:1-3)
Time to look beyond the thin veil and shine some new light
Let’s start with Pumpkins – afterall, they have a light at the centre, right? This wikipedia article unpacks where the Pumpkin tradition has come from – something called the ‘Jack-o’-lantern’. There are various suggestions in the article as to what the Jack-o’-lantern’s origin is. Some of it is rooted in folklore, but the article also says ‘By those who made them, the lanterns were said to represent either spirits or supernatural beings, or were used to ward off evil spirits’. Both of these, if you know how Christians view them, are a serious spiritual business not to be taken lightly.
Traditions and folklore – Folklore is defined by Wikipedia as ‘the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people‘. The Oxford Learner’s dictionary describes it as ‘the traditions and stories of a country or community‘. Since Christians are often called to be counter-cultural, set apart from this world and not uphold traditions for the sake of traditions or ‘fun’ (c), there are issues with arguing that there’s no harm in simply ‘joining in’ with the fun of Halloween. For Christians today, it is wise to ask ‘where is the focus on God and His authority and power at Halloween?’ After all, part of the original purpose of Halloween was to ‘ward off evil spirits’ – for Christians, this a serious area of what’s termed as ‘spiritual warefare‘ (d). It seems the real roots and original reasons for Halloween are lost deeper below the ‘thin veil’ of fun and entertainment. Talking of which…
Games and fun – Let’s take a look at the origins of a few of the well-known games connected with Halloween.
1. Trick or Treat is now a commercial money maker as is dressing up for Halloween. But the roots, which go back before Christainity to the Celts is very different. A History article (6) states ‘Halloween has its roots in the ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain (7), which was celebrated on the night of October 31. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, believed that the dead returned to earth on Samhain. On the sacred night, people gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices and pay homage to the dead.’ (History.com editors, 2015 , see (6)). But wait, the Bible is clear that all are asleep until the final day of judgement, so the dead certainly don’t return to earth for one night repeatedly every year – it’s a folklore tradition / belief of the Celts, nothing to do with Christianity. Communicating / acknowledging the dead is wrong – the Bible is clear on this. The Celts were pagans – here’s what the Bible mentions about pagan practices: No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:20-21, NIV). Infact, the Bible is very clear about people who try to connect with the dead in any way. (8)
2. Bobbing for Apples – originally people would dunk their heads in a vat of water and try to bite into floating fruit in a quest to figure out their future spouse – this could loosely be interpreted as a kind of divination. The game is also rooted in quite a lot of supersitions (9).
3. Halloween costumes – According to Wikipedia, early references to wearing costumes at Halloween comes from Scotland in 1585, but they may even pre-date this. The festival [Halloween] is believed to have pre-Christian roots. After the Christianization of Ireland in the 5th century, some of these customs may have been retained in the Christian observance of All Hallows’ Eve in that region—which continued to be called Samhain/Calan Gaeaf—blending the traditions of their ancestors with Christian ones. It was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí), and the souls of the dead, could more easily come into our world. However, most concerning is that from at least the 16th century, the festival included mumming and guising, which involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. It may have originally been a tradition whereby people impersonated the Aos Sí, or the souls of the dead, and received offerings on their behalf. This, of course, is not Biblical. There are also references to the ancient pagans doing similar for their beliefs. Nowadays the commercial costumes you can buy or make are obviously depiciting evil, dead or frightening characters in many forms. While for some dressing up often as the dead – skeletons, the reaper etc – may be funny and entertaining on the surface – its just the thin veil. Back in the 15th and 16th century dressing up had a much more serious purpose and belief-set behind it. (10)
Have you ever paused to consider what you are ‘celebrating’ or representing when you take away the thin veil of modern Halloween?
Just another day in the calendar like Christmas or New Year? An opportunity to have fun dressing up with the family and scaring a few people along the way in the name of fun? We’ve already explored that the thin veil of these things disguises a more serious, underlying world rooted in the spiritual realm and supersitions. Many people who ‘celebrate’ Halloween probably never get past the thin veil, not interested or ignoring looking deeper. Even with knowledge of the deeper history, they often dismiss it as ‘religious rubbish’. If you don’t believe in God and Christianity, then I guess why would you be interested at all? But perhaps when you consider that the original roots are deep and dark, things might look different.
If you are a Christian, well, it’s all just ancient History and can’t do any harm today. It is always wise to find out the history or roots of something, as it’s history can influence and affect you. That’s one of the reasons why Christians are instructed to continue to live in the ‘world’, but not to remain a part of it (a). Physical events that actually happened, and recorded in time – what we call ‘History’ – by nature remains to influence the present and future, but we all have a choice whether to let history influence us or not. Perhaps the well-known phrase ‘history repeats itself’ tells us a lot – even when mistakes are made and recorded, with that knowledge, we still make the same mistakes again. Of course, other times we learn from history too. Not all recorded history is going to be wholly accurate moreso prior to humankind having language to tell stories, the ability to draw pictures and ultimately the ability write words. Christians believe the Bible holds the authority in these situations. Sometimes it still remains very difficult to prove conclusively events happen exactly as recorded and always a certain level of discernment and wisdom is required. However, without any recorded history, we wouldn’t have been able show the evidence to make this post. Without the history and context recorded in and around the Bible, very few people would know about what Christianity is, who God is, and what Jesus did.
Halloween has deep spiritual roots. These have been much distorted over time to become what it represents today for most people (which is completely different to the root of it). Our conclusion is that you may want to think twice about promoting Halloween simply by joining in the fun yourself, with your family and with others. It may be fun today, but it was deadly serious originally (pardon the pun), and those original beliefs have rippled out through history and still remain today. The very earliest roots of Halloween are centred around death, which we can’t avoid, but the Bible is clear about not trying to get in touch with the dead in any way while you’re alive on this earth – be it directly ‘contacting’ or believing that the dead can be connect with just one day in the year. Of course, we purposefully haven’t yet mentioned that people who believe in magic, sorcery and the like use Halloween as a key event in their calendars too, so that’s another completely obvious general (not just Christian reason) to choose not to be getting involved in Halloween at any level.
In Christianity, warding off evil spirits is part of a serious area of Spiritual Warfare, not really something to be veiled thinly behind Halloween costumes, trick or treat or sugar-coated sweets. Such things, from history, whether you like it or not, influences you and your life around you, perhaps without you being aware – whether you are a Christian or not. Maybe it is worth thinking twice about how – or even if – you might get involved in Halloween in the future. After all, there are plenty of other ways to have fun (see below).