What to make of Halloween
Every year about this time, Christian parents get stuck.
They become filled with consternation about whether or not to go trick-or-treating and celebrate that most ghoulish of holidays, Halloween. Some churches (and pastors) will simply answer the question for their flock and say, “No can do. Too dark. Too devilish. Too bad.” Still others will glibly go along with whatever culture serves up and say, “All things are permissible for me”—and go put on their ‘Scream’ mask. So what’s a Christian to do?
To start, I want to situate the conversation in the realm of Christian freedom.
If St. Paul can permit the Corinthians to eat beef that’s been offered to idols—as in bona fide, temples-with-statues idols (1 Corinthians 8)—then it’s hard for me to get too worked up about Butterfingers offered to children.
In this spirit of Christian freedom, I suggest that it is permissible for Christians to participate in Halloween if they so choose—although they may try to think of an alternative for “trick or treat,” since the threat of toilet-papering your neighbor’s trees hardly seems fitting for Christians. But I digress.
For those who are still concerned about whether or not to participate in Halloween—and I count myself among them—there are typically two issues that remain outstanding: one, its pagan origins; and two, its current dark and devilish associations. Let me speak briefly to these two concerns, and then point up an alternative way to celebrate October 31st.
1) Halloween may have started out pagan—and that’s okay.
First, so far as I can tell the question of Halloween’s pagan origins are generally not disputed (though see here for a minority report). The customs go back to the ancient Druids. Though the name is now connected with All Saints Day (or “All Hallows Day,” hence All Hallows Eve or “Halloween”), the Christian commonalities apparently stop there.
Even so, this is not necessarily a deal-breaker, any more than the pagan associations of Christmas or Easter profane those holy days. On the contrary, the Christian m.o. through the ages has been to co-opt the kingdom of darkness for the kingdom of Jesus, to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10.5). Halloween need not not be excepted.
2) Halloween celebrates the dread and dark—which Jesus has defeated.
Second, some are concerned that Halloween as it’s celebrated today is simply too ghoulish and even demonic. As a parent, I fault no one for abstaining from Halloween simply on these grounds. Our “culture of death” comes out in full force at Halloween.
And yet, even here the Gospel speaks light into darkness. For at the cross, Christ disarmed the demonic rulers and authorities and put them to open shame (Colossians 2.15). Jesus has triumphed, and those who are joined to His death and resurrection in Baptism, who are marked and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, need not fear.
Not only so, but they can mock the would-be powers of darkness. Those “powers” have no hold on the baptized, and so like the child snickering at the emperor’s new clothes, God’s people can hold the Evil One in contempt by giving him all the respect such an exposed usurper deserves—perhaps by biting your thumb at him while you bite your peanut butter cups.
All this being said, however, you may still find Halloween unsatisfying.
Fair enough. In this case, I might remind you that October 31st is the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, after all. (C’mon, people!) And so, at my house we like to celebrate the day with a hymn sing, perhaps a Diet of Worms, a little “Pin the 95 theses on the door,” and—of course—candy.
Because, hey—what could be sweeter than Jesus’ victory over darkness?
For additional ideas for celebrating the Reformation on October 31st, see this post at the CPH blog.