Reasons to Believe

The Tricky Topic of Halloween

Halloween is approaching, a time for many to stock up on candy, pick out costumes, and deck their halls with spooky decor. But is this extremely popular tradition (especially in the United States) the devil's night, a literal satanic and occult extravaganza? Or is Halloween a harmless celebration?

Many Christians raise questions and express concerns about holidays that have some historical connection, at least in terms of dates, to ancient pagan beliefs and practices. Some refuse to allow their children to participate in Halloween celebrations. Others would like to abolish the event. Addressing common questions about this scary holiday may alleviate some of the concerns surrounding this controversial cultural issue.

Isn't the origin of Halloween connected to an ancient form of paganism?

Like the dates of a number of major holidays (including Christmas), Halloween can be traced, at least in part, to an ancient pagan celebration. The winter festival "Samhain" was celebrated on or near October 31st by the ancient Celts. Samhain was a pagan tradition that commemorated the end of harvest, the beginning of winter, and the recognition of the physical cycle of death, which included crops, animals, and humans.

In conjunction with this festival, many pagans believed that the human spirits of the recent dead would not pass on to their final resting place in the next world until being placated with gifts. The restless spirits' "tricks" could be avoided only if appropriately "treated," thus originated the present-day Halloween practice of children dressing up like spirits and arriving at the front door chanting (or demanding) "Trick or Treat."

But while Halloween has distant connections to ancient pagan beliefs and practices, the holiday has also been strongly influenced by Christian belief and practices. The word "Halloween" comes from "All Hallows' Eve," a reference to the evening before the Christian celebration of All Saints' Day (November 1st). The so-called hall of fame for the faithful in the book of Hebrews (11:1-40) initiated All Saints' Day, which was (and is) devoted to remembering Christian believers who have died, sometimes suffering as martyrs.

By overlapping this practice of honoring and thanking God for the example of faithful believers with the Samhain festival, the church attempted to counteract heathen thought and influence. This was especially true in areas of Europe where Samhain was popular. Christian apologists Bob and Gretchen Passantino note the church's apologetic reasons for doing so: "The Church not only sought to give Christians an alternative, spiritually edifying holiday; but also to proclaim the supremacy of the gospel over pagan superstition."1 Historically, Halloween has been influenced by both pagan practices and Christian devotion.2 Therefore, to view Halloween as only a pagan holiday is inaccurate.

Since the origin of Halloween is tied, at least to some degree, to pagan beliefs and practices, shouldn't Christians avoid any involvement with its celebration (e.g., avoid having their children go trick-or-treating)?

Christians need to use good reasoning to support their moral and/or spiritual convictions. Drawing and applying biblical inferences to life's questions and challenges takes intellectual skill and care. To condemn the practice of trick-or-treating outright on the basis that Halloween has certain pagan origins is, in this author's mind, to come perilously close to committing the genetic fallacy.

The genetic fallacy is committed when an idea, person, practice, or institution is evaluated solely in terms of its origin, without giving appropriate consideration to how it has changed or evolved in contemporary practice.3 For example, one would be foolish to reject the scientific discipline of astronomy because its origins were connected to the ancient occult practice of astrology. Why? Because the practice of astronomy has changed significantly over time. While the Bible expressly forbids a believer's involvement in certain pagan and/or occult practices (Deut. 18:9-13), for the vast majority of American families Halloween has nothing to do with the practice of, or belief in, occultism. Rather, this celebration gives children an opportunity to dress up in funny, spooky, and/or outrageous costumes and accumulate candy by the pillowcase full (a little known metric measurement).

Aren't many of the seemingly benign practices of Halloween directly connected to paganism and occultism?

Christians have a biblical mandate to discern what is evil and resist and/or avoid its influence. However, to what extent should one go to avoid evil people and their practices? And to what extent are practices evil in themselves?

Since Adolf Hitler brushed his teeth, should one rather knock one's teeth out to avoid any association with an evil person and his practices? Could practices that were once associated with pagan superstition (such as carving pumpkins and bobbing for apples) be purely benign for people with a totally different motivation and intent? Should one avoid eating meat (especially lean and inexpensive meat) that has been offered to idols, even if one is convinced the idols don't really exist? The apostle Paul assured the first-century Christians that they could eat such meat in good conscience knowing that the idols were not real.4

Doesn't participation in Halloween open a door to the occult?

According to the Bible, the world of the occult is real and energized by demonic powers. This realm therefore must be recognized and resisted by Christians. Spiritual beliefs and practices bear consequences in this world and in the next. However, this author distinguishes a clear difference between the real occult practices of spiritism, magic, and divination and the contemporary practice of trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and bobbing for apples. The door of the occult world must be entered through human interest and initiative. General Halloween practices engaged in by most people do not draw them into occult activities.

The intent here is not to engage in hairsplitting over potentially dangerous activities but rather to make logical and moral distinctions. Of course, if any Halloween practice is perceived as violating one's conscience and commitment to biblical truth then that person should rightly abstain.

Isn't the apparently harmless practice of trick-or-treating really a subtle concession to and promotion of an occult worldview?

Again, one must follow his or her conscience on the matter, but this author finds it hard to believe that the systematic collection of candy in a given neighborhood by "Spider-Man" and his "Rugrat" friends constitutes the promotion of an occult worldview or spiritistic racketeering. Personally, it seems difficult not to heartily treat a young child dressed up as "Captain America" or "G.I. Joe." Even the recognized Christian authority on cults and the occult, Walter Martin, said: "If Big Bird comes to my door, he's definitely going to get a treat."

Doesn't the present-day practice of Halloween carry a strong association with dark occult images?

When images are offensive, one should by all means avoid them. But is the use of all dark images in every context wrong? How about the use of dark images in the realm of literature? Was it wrong of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (both Christian writers) to include dark images (witches, monsters, etc.) in their writings? At what point does a Halloween costume become a dark image that should be avoided? Again, this is largely a matter of conscience.

Suggestions for Christians when it comes to Halloween

Put the arguments and conclusions found in this article to the test of Scripture, reason, and conscience (1 Thess. 5:21) and accept or reject them accordingly.

Consider that not everything is a morally black-and-white issue for Christians. Halloween may be a gray area. Therefore, allow Christians to follow their own conscience on the issue. Avoid the temptation to judge those who hold different convictions on secondary issues.

Whatever is decided about Halloween, try to avoid using bad arguments to support moral convictions. Using sound arguments to support convictions carries great weight with others.

If trick-or-treating violates a Christian's conscience, alternative events (fall parties or celebrations of All Saints' Day) allow children to view Christianity as a religion that permits them to have fun. Sinful activities should always be avoided, but be careful that children do not develop a "party-pooper" view of God.

Use Halloween as an opportunity to discuss how Christian families should confront questionable cultural practices. Discuss the worldview differences between classical paganism and Christianity.

Different people do have different ideas about whether or not to celebrate Halloween. However, one thing is certain. October 31st not only commemorates All Hallows' Eve, but also honors Martin Luther's protesting of certain medieval Catholic beliefs and practices, which sparked the 16th century Reformation. And, the central truth of the gospel can be celebrated in a variety of ways every day of the year-even on Halloween.

References

  1. Bob and Gretchen Passantino, "What about Halloween?" available from www.answers.org/issues/halloween.html; Internet; accessed 26 March 2002.
    Answers In Action, a ministry that specializes in the study of cults and the occult, offers a thoughtful, balanced, and informative treatment of the subject of Halloween from an evangelical Christian perspective.
  2. Britannica Junior Encyclopedia, vol. 7 (Chicago: William Benton, 1967), s.v. "Halloween."
  3. See T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning, 3d ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), 36-37.
  4. 1 Cor 8:1-13.

Subjects: General Apologetics

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.