The Church and Halloween

Should Christians celebrate Halloween? The first question is what is Halloween? Halloween comes from “All Hallow’s Eve” which was the day before “All Hallow’s Day” when ancient European Christians would remember the dead. The name “All Hallow’s Eve” changed over time and became “Hallowe’en.” In the early 7th century Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome, which was a temple to all the Roman gods. Instead, they would celebrate all the saints and the chosen date was May 13th. Later Pope Gregory III changed the date to November 1st. This change was likely to counteract former pagan celebrations happening at the time. Alternative theories suggest it is based on Samhain an ancient pagan holiday that the church wanted to absorb so they could convert people more easily. There are various theories about the origin of Halloween, but what is known for sure is that the Roman Church celebrates all of Saint’s Day to honor the Dead. They later made November 2nd All Souls Day to honor all of the dead. The concept of celebrating or honoring the dead in a special way is not based on the Bible so seems more like an attempt to maintain certain cultural traditions in post-Christian Europe.

In Samhain, there was a tradition where people would leave out “treats” like fruit and nuts because they believed it would appease monsters and spirits of the dead would wander the earth that night. The trick part applies here as well because people would dress up as monsters to “trick” the monsters into believing that they were one and the same. This is where we get “trick-or-treating”, they were bribing monsters with treats and tricking them out of fear of death.

Many cultural holidays are generally centered around seasonal changes. The Autumn equinox is when plants are dying for winter so death is associated with this time. In the spring there are fertility celebrations because everything’s growing again. Also, most ancient calendar systems (including the biblical one) initiate the New Year in spring because it’s the rebirth of life. Winter and summer solstice have their own celebrations as well. Many cultures see autumn as a time to honor and even worship the dead. Traditions based on this concept exist even today, from Latin America to East Asia and in between. For example, the Aztec reverence of the dead is what influences the Mexican holiday “Día de Muertos” (The Day of the Dead). Indigenous communities in the West that have rejected Christianity, typically celebrate pagan holidays that honor their ancestors. In some places, throughout the Americas, there is a syncretism between African and Meso-American religious traditions and Catholicism. There are traditions in these communities that practice ancestral worship, so holidays like Halloween, and Día de Muertos blend Western European culture and Meso-American practices. Also, some Wiccans celebrate Halloween as one of eight sabbaths on the “Wheel of the Year”.

With all of that being said, Christians should not be engaged in ancestral worship or any kind of idolatry or occult practices (Deut 18:9-12, Gal 5:18-21, Rev 21:8 and 22:14-15). This holiday is an appropriation of a pagan holiday and really has no place in Christianity since Christians should have forsaken the idols and worship practices of their ancestors. In addition, the modern secular version of this holiday is focused on fear. Paul tells Timothy that God has not given us the spirit of fear, but rather of love, power, and a sound mind (2 Tim1:7). Fear and love cannot operate in the same space (1 John 4:18), so if we are operating in love would not be promoting fear.

On the other hand, some believers see it as a mockery of evil, because Jesus Christ defeated the evil spirits that pagans were so afraid of, so it’s a celebration of the victory of Christ over evil. One could look at this as an idol-meat issue. In Acts 15:20 and 15:29 eating meat sacrificed to idols was considered a potential violation of moral law, because it can be viewed as breaking the 2nd commandment about idolatry. In Romans 14:12-22 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, Paul expands on it not really being a specific moral law in the traditional sense because it’s not specified in the Torah. Paul says that idols aren’t real and since Gentiles are not required to follow ritually purity laws, they can eat any meat after Jesus says what we eat doesn’t defile us (Matt 15:10-20). However, Paul warns believers that must be cautious about how others will view this because for some believers idols were considered real enough to avoid eating these meats. For example, if one believer was formerly agnostic or atheist they never worshipped idols, so they never had the temptation. Therefore it is not a sin for him to meat sacrificed to idols because it is not a temptation. On the other hand, a believer who was a former idol worshipper may feel tempted. It’s like going to a bar for someone who never drinks versus someone who used to have a drinking problem, it’s only a hazard for one of them. Paul wanted to make sure believers weren’t engaged in something that could be misinterpreted and then applied inappropriately in a way that was sinful. Maybe someone who struggled with temple prostitution thinks that if eating idols’ meats is okay then fornicating with temple prostitutes is okay because they associate eating meat with having sex. This would be incorrect since fornication is a sexual sin either way, and sex with shrine prostitutes was always considered idolatry by God (Num ch. 25, 1 Cor 6:9-20).

The celebration of Halloween can be chalked up to one of those follow your conscience things based on what Paul says about vegetarianism, holidays, and idol meats in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians ch. 8-10. I personally don’t celebrate and don’t think it glorifies Christ or fulfills the great commission in any way. Plus it is based on alternative theology that promotes praying to the dead. In addition, there is the theme of promoting fear and scaring people which is not representative of Christ. Many Christian churches often offer alternatives such as some kind of “Harvest Festival” that doesn’t promote fear and points people toward Christ as an alternative. Dressing up like fictional characters just as cosplayers or actors do is not sinful by itself, but Halloween itself is unique because of the cultural promotion of darkness and fear. This may cross into dangerous territory like acts of vandalism, witchcraft, etc. In that case, a believer who does want to participate may consider celebrating in a way that doesn’t embrace the fear culture. Just like any other issue, we must follow the spirit and not the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16).

Origin of Halloween video
Article on the Origin of Halloween
AiG Article on Halloween and Christianity

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