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Around this time of year, I start to get fidgety.
Just as I’m starting to think about Christmas, Halloween goes and plonks itself right in the middle of autumn – something I’d rather ignore, but know that I can’t. My kids start getting excited, then realise I’m not, then start to ask difficult questions about why we’re not getting involved, which I struggle to find answers for.
And whilst I always feel like it’d be great to host some all-singing, all-dancing alternative, by the time I’ve done five family birthdays in as many weeks, I’m properly out of party-steam.
(An aside: did you know that Halloween was one of the first things I blogged about, when Desertmum started over seven years ago?! And I’ve not blogged about it since! Check out that post here: Why Can’t We Do Halloween Like Our American Friends?)
Should Christians celebrate Halloween?
There’s an assumption that, as Christian families, we won’t take any part in this secular festival which has its roots in paganism – but is it that easy?
Do we actually know or understand what it is we’re objecting to? Or are we guilty of going along with Christian culture without weighing our decisions by the Bible first?
The roots of Halloween appear to have both pagan and Christian elements – rather like our modern Christmas. Traditionally, when pagans started celebrating something Christians didn’t agree with, Christians would ‘reclaim’ the festivities for something which celebrated God.
Halloween can be traced back to an ancient Harvest festival, which became influenced by pagans believing that the souls of the dead might ‘visit’ houses on this night. Christians then ‘reclaimed’ the celebration by marking it as ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ – the evening before All Hallows Day. This was a day to remember the saints gone before us, and to pray for the souls of the departed.
Christmas is another example of a festival with both Christian and pagan roots. In fact, it originated as a pagan winter festival, and it was only when Christians took it over as an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ (who likely wasn’t born anywhere near December 25th), that we started to get all tetchy about how others weren’t celebrating Jesus like we were.
Modern Christians know that they can ‘redeem’ Christmas from its secular festivities, and make sure our worship of Jesus comes first (see my book for more on this!). Is it possible that we could do the same with Halloween?
A Christian perspective on Halloween
There are many boundaries to work out for our families each October: should we go to a friend’s Halloween party? Should we dress up? Should we go to the school Halloween disco? Should we carve pumpkins? Should we go trick-or-treating?
How do we navigate all these as Christians? There may not be commandments relating specifically to these, but I think our answer lies in the commandments we are given.
When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he replied, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matthew 22: 37-40)
This can be a helpful way of approaching Halloween – or, in fact, any decision we make on behalf of our family. Instead of unquestioningly going along with the flow of secular culture – or, equally damaging, the flow of Christian culture – we can ask ourselves the following questions:
- How will this help me and my family to love God more?
- If it won’t, is there something I can do to use this to help us love God more?
- How can our love for God be more visible to others through this?
- How will this be an opportunity to show love to others?
When we look at these commandments, then at how those around us are celebrating, it becomes a little easier to work out how to celebrate Halloween (or not) in a way which feels authentic and God-honouring.
For example: some people I know dress up in non-scary outfits. Some get prepared for trick-or-treaters with sweets and Christian books or gifts, thus showing generosity even if they don’t go out themselves.
Others take part in church events, showing hospitality to the trick-or-treaters.
And still others will take part in trick-or-treating around their close neighbours because it’s one night of the year when their otherwise-closed community comes together to share food, fun and conversation.
If you can see an opportunity to love God and others more through your Halloween celebrations, do it.
How can we explain Halloween to our children?
It is quite likely, however, that in drawing up Halloween boundaries for our families, we will have to say ‘no’ to something. Even if we say ‘yes’ to trick-or-treating, we may draw the line at scary costumes, or we may impose other limits, such as whose houses they can visit.
How do we explain to our children why we’ve said ‘no’?
I’ll admit I struggle here. Asked by Missy whether she can go trick-or-treating, my answer is always the same: “No, sorry… mumble, mumble… occult… mumble, mumble… paganism… mumble, mumble… dark forces…”
Yeah, I’m good at these things.
My efforts make me sound like a Hogwarts teacher who’s had too much sherry.
How long before she sees through me? I have no desire for any of my kids to grow up with a legalistic view of Christianity, yet if I don’t get my act together, they’ll soon find me out.
So what do we say?
Should we allow the celebration of Halloween to go ahead simply because we can’t find a reason not to? After all, none of this stuff is listed in the Ten Commandments. And according to ancient stories about the origin of Halloween, dressing up as evil spirits was supposed to frighten them away – so maybe we should be encouraging it!
The best answers we can give our children – on this and any topic – are ones where we can emotionally invest ourselves. If we say ‘I believe…’ or speak from a position of authority, it will come across much more authentically than simply quoting what others have said or believe.
The best answer I’ve given to any of my children has been when I’ve been totally honest with them about a lady I knew when I was a child. She’d had very dangerous experiences with the occult over a number of years, before coming to faith. I still remember my parents being asked to go round and help her burn her occult books. My answer to my children is that I think we should stay away from these things, even if it’s just for fun, in case we get mixed up in something more serious and dangerous.
I don’t mind what you tell your children – just be real and be you. Question everything you read and hear, pass it by the Bible, then report this to your family. It’s OK to change your mind, and it’s OK for your children to see that there are grey areas of faith which are tricky to work out.
But when they’re young, and see everything in black-and-white, they need to be clear on where your boundaries lie.
A Christian perspective on Halloween
I think Halloween offers us a unique opportunity to teach our children about the spiritual battle.
Let’s face it, us sanitised Western Christians often lack a clear understanding of the battle raging in our world, don’t we? Bad things which happen are ‘bad luck’, and good things are ‘blessings’. We avoid death at all cost, and when it does come, we hide the repercussions and don’t talk about it. Witchcraft exists, but not in mainstream culture, and not often overtly visible.
So is it any wonder that we all get a little confused about Halloween? That we either play down its impact, or overemphasise Satan’s power? And how can we and our children understand Halloween’s connection to demonic forces if we don’t even know that demonic forces exist?
If your children are a little older, maybe you could work out your response to Halloween together. Ask them questions. Do they like Halloween? Do they want to celebrate it? What Halloween activities have they done at school? Are their friends talking about it? And so on.
Listen intently, and bring the Bible in. What does God say? How can we love Him more and others more through what we do, or don’t do, at the end of October? Invite your child to contribute to your family’s decision-making – it’s an important part of helping them to own their own faith and learn how to make these tricky decisions when there isn’t an obvious answer.
What does Halloween teach us?
Halloween is a great opportunity for Christians to remember that, like it or not, we’re in a year-round, long-term spiritual battle, which won’t end until Jesus comes again.
This should affect how we talk and act throughout the year, not just October. It should affect what we teach our children, and the language we use to frame the different things that happen to us in life.
Halloween also teaches us, I think, that those around us are desperate for connection and community. Why limit this interaction to one day of the year? Maybe we could open our homes to our neighbours at other times. Perhaps we could organise a street party, or a church event to welcome others in.
However you celebrate – or avoid – Halloween this year, may it cause you to love God more and seek ways of loving His people better.