to halloween…or not?

There are lots of Christians who are all too ready to declare Halloween all kinds of evil and plenty has been said about why Christians should not celebrate it or participate in any way with anything to do with it. People have legitimate concerns about the abundance of spiritual and magical imagery and content that, at best is treated as insignificant by folks who don’t believe in it, and at worst is actually practiced by those who do believe, all wrapped up in a commercial sugar-fest and an excuse for children to be visiting neighbours we don’t know and the potential stranger danger factor that seems to be largely ignored. Most Christians tend not to be aware that halloween (from hallowed evening) – formerly All Hallows Eve is so named because it is the prelude to All Hallows Day (better known today as All Saints Day) – a Christian celebration (still celebrated by some of the more traditional denominations.) While it is true that there were a lot of pagan festivals and other things that people rolled into it along the way, the heart of the day we now call Halloween was originally something quite different.
All Saints Day used to be a day for Christians to spend time thinking and speaking about those who were faithful to God in life and have died – particularly saints and martyrs whose life is praiseworthy and whose example is worth emulating, and also to a lesser degree those more recent faithful departed who were close to the family who could be honoured for the good the brought to the world in life. It was a time to think about how a believer might better follow Christ by emulating the positive features of those folks who no longer had the opportunity to make any more mistakes or ruin the good they had done. Many believers would use All Hallows Eve as a time of something like spiritual spring cleaning for their own lives to help them to be in a better place to make the most of the opportunity.
It is a simplification, but I think relatively accurate to say that most modern holidays in western culture (certainly the big ones like Easter and Christmas) come from Christians doing what they thought of as “baptising” pagan culture to make something good come out of it, and then later culture overlaying a lot of the revised pagan stuff with a load of commercialism, hedonism and saccharine sentiment back over the top.
The primary difference between modern Christmas and modern Halloween is that Christians have maintained strong traditions associated with their part of Christmas (literally Christ Mass – plainly put, a church service in honour of Jesus’ birth) but have thus far failed to maintain something good out of Halloween prior to modern society commercialising it to death and ripping any spiritual significance out of it so that shops can use it to sell copious valueless merchandise.
Folks who make their living in the general entertainment and retail sectors will know all too well that any opportunity for a celebration theme that might get people in the door with wallets open is something that absolutely must be exploited to its fullest extent (the reason October is becoming Halloween month, Christmas stuff is in stores in September and Easter eggs from January.) It is in their best interest to encourage as much excitement about anything like that because that’s how they make more money than just usual business which happens anyway.
Even something like International Talk Like a Pirate Day might get a shelf in the stores if shop owners thought people would buy pirate/English dictionaries or hats with crossbones on them. We can’t really blame people for making the most of a commercial opportunity, but what comes with that trend is the tendency for any recognised holiday to accumulate a load of nonsense you *need* to buy to enjoy the day properly. You are, of course, free to ignore those things, but you may as well accept that if no one were buying them, the shops would stop wasting time and money trying to stock them.
The reason Christians originally tried to baptise all the pagan holidays was that they had the sincere belief that Christ could redeem anything evil and turn it to something good – nothing could fall so far that Christ could not make something good from it. in doing this, the significance of a lot of the pagan elements of what became largely Christian holidays were essentially lost and only few dubiously restored. Following from the belief that Christ can redeem anything, rather than be afraid of halloween perhaps a better approach is to use it for the purpose it was originally intended and redeem its heart with a focus on the meaning that is being lost.
From the Christian perspective, anything that is not actually God cannot be made the focal point of life, this is called worship, and worship of anything that isn’t God is the basis of sin. This is as true if your life is all about your work or your fandom, or your only reason to live is for a person you love, as it is if your life is devoted to the teaching of a person or to experiencing altered states of consciousness.
It can be easy for Christians to get stuck in a very binary way of thinking that can seem to be the logical flow-on from this. It tends to look something like this: focus on God is good and focus on anything else is evil. Things that draw attention to God are good (sacred) and everything else is evil (secular). What is often forgotten, though, is that this binary thinking comes from ancient Greek dualistic paganism and is not a Christian way of thinking at all. Biblically speaking, rather than simply good and evil and nothing between, the world and everything in it should be seen as good, albeit broken by the existence of sin, and redeemable into the intended perfection of Christ.
Anything can be used to honour God or not to honour him, and the Christian is charged to be different from others by honouring God in all things – not just those things that explicitly mention him, but literally everything a Christian does becomes an act of worship in that it is done to honour God. Something as mundane as sweeping the kitchen floor is a sacred task where a Christian can serve their family by selflessly accepting the responsibility of keeping the room tidy, and in that way honour God.
In fact, Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 tells us that even meat that has been taken from the sacrificial altar of a pagan god is nothing more than ordinary meat and is in no way harmful to people. He only gives one reason not to eat it, and that is for the benefit of less mature believers who might be afraid of what they think is demon-possessed meat. The sin he is encouraging people to avoid is that of going against your own conscience, or encouraging a person to go against their conscience.
In the same way, a holiday that has been given over to a focus on witches and ghosts is in no way different than any other day, but is made holy (or not) by the way an individual Christian or group of Christians use it to honour God (or don’t). Scripturally speaking the only reason not to celebrate Halloween is that folks who are less spiritually mature might still be hung up on fear of those things. You could choose not to invite them to celebrate with you, or perhaps better to gently help them see that Halloween is not inherently evil – nor is it some kind of demon possessed day – but to gently help them see that it is simply a Christian celebration that has lost its way, much like Easter and Christmas and that it can be celebrated in a way that honours God.
So what should Christians be doing about Halloween. Rather than boycott it entirely which is a good way to ensure nothing changes, perhaps we should learn from the believers of the past and get back to the heart of the original Halloween celebration and try to build some new traditions that can make the day something Christians can get behind. There are good features in Halloween worth hanging on to which may be built into something God-honouring. Christians can incorporate a good idea and make it a new tradition that overlays the old ones and over-writes the nonsense that currently exists with something more worthwhile. By doing this we may only change the way Christians celebrate the holiday, but if we create something people see as positive, then others might do the same. There’s nothing inherently wrong with dressing up in costumes. If believers want to dress up, then maybe they should take notice of the heart of the original celebration and dress up as someone (real or imagined) who they see as praiseworthy and worth emulating or learning from.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of visiting your neighbors, but rather than going door to door bothering people you don’t know to beg for cheap sugar-based junk food, we could visit a neighbor to introduce ourselves and bless them with a cake or maybe take them a meal with no obligations about staying, just to be a blessing. Perhaps like people in the past, we could take the opportunity to do a spiritual spring clean and maybe take some time to remember friends and family who have died, or learn about faithful people of the past who can teach us how to better follow Christ. It’s just possible that while everyone else is banging on about witch and ghost costumes and excessive sugar, all the Christians could be visiting their neighbors with cake and talking about people they admire for their faithfulness to God. It sounds like a good way to spend the day to me. Since the actual name Halloween literally means holy evening, let’s make it one again.