HALLOWEEN – A THOUGHTFUL CHRISTIAN RESPONSE
Halloween is a day that has been steadily gaining traction year by year in the Netherlands. With strong associations with the occult and witchcraft, thoughtful Christians obviously want to know how to approach this day. Should we accept and adopt it, reject it completely, or something in between?
This short document aims to give us as wise and considerate Christians and parents, some handles on how to approach Halloween with faith and a clear conscience.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN
Halloween traces its roots to the ancient Northern Hemisphere Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of summer and the start of winter, a season associated with death and the supernatural. The early church used the opportunity of an existing festival to set in place a feast day that would compete with the pagan festival. ‘All Saints Day’ or ‘Old Hallows Eve’, was set up as a day to celebrate all the saints and also is the place where ‘Halloween’ borrows its name. ‘All Saints Day’ was celebrated through the centuries by various Christian denominations, but is no longer regarded as a direct counter to Halloween.
Today, the general public usually mark Halloween on the 31st of October by dressing up and “trick or treating”, often with a ‘spooky’ vibe. At a darker level, modern-day witches and wizards still attach significance to the day and hold certain Satanic rituals. So undoubtedly, Halloween has association with darkness, evil and the occult.
In the Netherlands, St Martin’s Day on the 11th of November is celebrated in a similar way and might have more traction in some areas than actual Halloween. Kids wear masks and go from door to door singing for candy, but rarely dress up. The same principles discussed below apply in helping us to wisely engaging with this day as well.
THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE OPTIONS
Like with most aspects of culture, Christians have three options: receive, reject, or redeem the practice of Halloween. We want to engage with Halloween in a way that is faith building and with a clear conscience before God. Although we suggest a particular option as more preferable, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in all wisdom as you seek how best to apply the gospel to yourself and your family. Following are the 3 options:
Option 1: Receive
Christians choosing to receive Halloween lock, stock and barrel, might be in danger of being lazy or thoughtless. Surely a festival with such overt pagan origins and connotations cannot be embraced without at least some careful thinking?
Option 2: Reject
Some Christians reject Halloween completely in view of its pagan origins, or because in their view dressing up as evil creatures (e.g. ghosts & goblins) is an unacceptable behaviour for Christians. This is a respectable position, especially if it formed out of careful and prayerful thought. Efforts will need to be made for parents to explain their reasons in a compelling way to their children, and be on the lookout not to develop a non-missional, “bomb-shelter”, us-and-them, attitude to friends and neighbours.
Option 3: Redeem
By “redeem” we mean to thoughtfully engage with something that is corrupt and use it for good. This is the option that we would advise, for the following reasons:
- Most things in this world are tainted with evil in some way, and we would have a pretty isolated existence if we avoided anything or anyone that is not 100% good and godly! The default option for us is to try to redeem and leverage most things in life for the advance of the gospel. For example, money, sex or alcohol are often leveraged for evil but our response is to redeem rather than abstain. Governments and education systems can be seriously flawed, even evil, yet we engage where we can to see godly influence.
- The best thing about this festival is that it is some kind of acknowledgement of the spiritual realm. This provides a great opportunity for conversation about spiritual things with friends and neighbours. Some might express fear, others interest, others might say it is “all nonsense” but whatever they say, you don’t have many better chances to talk about spiritual things with them! And you can so easily start a conversation around spiritual issues during Halloween. You can say something like, “So, what do you make of all this spooky stuff?”
- There are great opportunity for mission by engaging thoughtfully with Halloween. Christians in the “reject” camp might argue that the most powerful Gospel message is sent to our friends and neighbours by “having nothing to do with this pagan festival” rather than participating in it. Whilst I have some sympathy for that position, a wholesale boycott of Halloween will usually be perceived as extreme, isolationist, and implying criticism of those that do participate. Remember, 99% of your neighbours and friends are not participating with any dark motive at all – for them it is just a bit of harmless fun. So, you boycotting it completely might be perceived as weird, but then if you make a big point of explaining why you are boycotting, unless masterfully done, you will probably come across as hyper-religious. Opportunities for mission include:
- Be generous and hospitable to kids visiting your house for trick or treat.
- Join in the neighbourhood preparations where you can to get to know your neighbours better.
- In terms of your kids dressing up, you can help them to have fun, look cool and wisely dress up for the occasion, but steer clear of overtly sinister images.
- By being in the mix with your friends and neighbours, you will definitely have opportunities to start a spiritual conversation. (See Point 2 above). We have people saying to us, “But you are a pastor/pastor’s kids, why are you involved with Halloween?” What an opening to respond! We usually say something like, “Yeah, well we know better than anyone that the spiritual realm is very real, but with God on the inside, it is pretty hard to worry about demons….” And they ask what you mean, and a conversation builds.
- With your kids celebrate the triumph of Christ over Satan and his demons. They will be especially alert to the supernatural around Halloween so use their openness to talk to them about how Jesus defeated Satan at the cross, and how Satan is losing the battle, and how Christ protects us from the Devil’s schemes. Do Ephesians Chapter 6 as a family devotion. Remember, if as parents you go on a big anti-Halloween rant then be very careful that your kids don’t pick up that you are saying that the Devil is more powerful than Jesus is. Without getting into an inappropriate lack of respect for the devil, there is sometimes a place to laugh at him, certainly don’t give him more credit than he is due! Perhaps instead of thinking we win the battle in this case by going into hiding, perhaps we can affirm with Martin Luther that, “the best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”
Halloween doesn’t have to be a time of hiding away from the world; it can be the perfect opportunity to get in there and make a real difference in the lives of people around you.