Every fall, there seems to be a lot of confusion and debate among Christians around the topic of Halloween. In fact, the church I once served as a youth director actually split over the question of whether or not it is OK for Christians to celebrate Halloween.
Look, I know that we want to be faithful and honor God in all that we do, and you might have been taught by people you trusted that Halloween is evil, pagan, Satanic, or otherwise un-Christian. Unfortunately, the church has done more to spread the mythologies of Satanism and the occult than those people could ever have dreamed. In fact, in trying to warn people about the dangers of these groups, they have inadvertently validated their false claims of authenticity.
I know it’s hard to discard what you were taught, especially if it was by people you trusted and respected. But my goal is not to attack them or you – I know they meant well – my goal is to dispel fear by getting to the Truth. And I believe that the truth sets us free – no matter how difficult it is to let go of what we may believe – or want to believe – otherwise.
So I want to be clear:
- This is not my opinion; I am writing this based on actual, historical facts, and you can even check my sources.
- If you don’t want to celebrate Halloween, you of course have the right to make that personal choice – but I think we all should want to be informed and know the truth, regardless of what we decide to do with it.
- There is no biblical obligation to celebrate Halloween – or any other holiday, for that matter. However! Throughout the Bible, God establishes a multitude of feast days and celebrations because it is good for us to celebrate as His people, especially His victory over sin, death and the devil.
So read on… if you dare!
All Saints Day
There is a lot of modern mythology about Halloween, and you can find it everywhere from the History Channel to the local church down the street that claims that Halloween is a pagan holiday. But it is not a pagan holiday, and it never was. In fact, Halloween is a Christian holiday, and that’s an actual, historical fact. Here’s why:
In the first three centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, many, many Christians lost their lives because of their faith – we call them martyrs. And in their honor, the Church began setting aside special days to remember each of them. Then, when there got to be too many, they set aside one special day to remember all of the martyrs; in fact, to remember all of the believers who had died. We know that this was happening as early as the year 150, and by 373 there is record of one common All Saints’ Day celebrated throughout the Church. In the year 610, May 13th was established by Pope Boniface IV as the official All Saints’ Day, and in the early 700’s, Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1st, where it remains to this day (but no, it was not in response to any pagan festival).
All Saints Day reminds us that, because of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, we have eternal life; so death is not the end for those who die in the faith. We celebrate All Saints Day by thanking God for the examples of faith of those who came before us and by looking forward to when we are reunited with them in the Day of Christ’s return. This ‘cloud of witnesses,’ as the Bible calls them in the book of Hebrews chapter 12 verse one, serves as a reminder to us that we are not the first to struggle, and we are not alone in them – though Hebrews goes on in verse two to say specifically that they do not help us, but that it is Christ who strengthens us.
So what does this have to do with Halloween? In biblical times, each day begins at sundown the evening before. That’s why we celebrate Christmas in church on Christmas Eve, for example. Thus, All Saints Day, November 1st on the calendar, begins on October 31st, a night which was known as All Hallows Eve (‘Halloween’ is nothing more than a colloquial shortening of All Hallows Eve: “All Hallows Evening → All Hallows Even → Hallows E’en → Hallowe’en → Halloween). But why All Hallows Eve and not All Saints Eve? We often forget that English is not the language of the Bible, nor is it historically universal. The Bible was written in Greek, and the Roman Catholic Church used Latin, not English. In Latin, to ‘hallow’ is to make holy, or sanctify. All those who have died in the Christian faith have been sanctified, made holy. Thus, All Saints Day is All Hallows Day, All Saints Eve is All Hallows Eve.
But what about those who claim that Halloween is a pagan celebration based on the ancient Celtic or Druid festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in), and that the church moved All Saints Day to October 31st/November 1st to co-opt this evil day? There are many in the Neopagan and Wiccan communities who make this claim, and there are even Christians, especially in the Reformed tradition, who have believed and repeated it. While their intent may have been to warn Christians away from inadvertently promoting ungodly practices, they have instead given credence to the Neopagan lies.
You need to understand that Neopagans and Wiccans live in a fantasy world created by their own fakelore. Fakelore is an actual term coined in the 1950’s for stories that are 100% made up in order to justify a new tradition, which then become accepted as real. An example of this is the story of Pecos Bill, who never actually existed. Neopagans and Wiccans have created an entire fakelore that they say traces back to the ancient Celts, but the reality is that there is absolutely zero historical evidence to back up their claims. In fact, the only ‘evidence’ that has evolved is from supposed former members of these and other occult groups who have ‘escaped’ and sought to ‘expose’ their evil practices. Unfortunately, even if their stories are real, they can only expose what these people allegedly do based on the lies they believe; they cannot in any way validate the beliefs or the basis for them. For comparison, you may remember the novel and subsequent movie “The DaVinci Code,” by Dan Brown. It made the claim that Leonardo DaVinci hid secret codes inside his artwork which revealed the true identity of the Holy Grail. But, aside from being a good mystery book with absolutely horrendous theology, all the story could ‘show’ was what DaVinci believed about the grail – it couldn’t prove anything about the grail itself (or herself…).
We do, however, have actual historical evidence of what the Celts really believed and practiced, and it doesn’t match up to the Neopagan or Wiccan claims about them. Not even a little. And as for the myth that All Saints’ Day co-opts or ‘steals’ the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, there are three major problems:
1. If the Church had actually ‘stolen’ Samhain, All Saint’s Day should have originated in Ireland or in the Celtic lands in Northern Europe, but it did not. It originated in the area of the early church (Southern Europe and the middle East), long before the church was present in Ireland in the early 5th century (again, evidence shows the church celebrating by 150 and establishing by 373, with the first missionaries to Ireland arriving no earlier than 431).
2. If the Church had actually ‘stolen’ Samhain, there would have to be historical record that Samhain is older than All Saints’ Day, but in fact, the earliest mention of Samhain ever is in Irish folklore (mythology) from the 900’s, while we know that the Church had set November 1st as a date by the early 700’s.
3. If the Church had actually ‘stolen’ or co-opted the date of Samhain, then October 31st should have significance to the Celts and the celebration of Samhain, but it does not. In fact, Samhain was a lunar festival, meaning it moved its date according to the cycle of the moon (like Easter). The lunar calendar is very different from the solar calendar which the world uses today. In fact, Samhain can vary up to a month from any solar day, meaning that Samhain would have taken place on October 31st no more than once every 30 years – so choosing October 31st/November 1st would serve no purpose!
And in spite of of the aforementioned fakelore, Samhain was simply a harvest festival, and far from any high holy day in the Celtic religion. “Stealing” Samhain would be equivalent to “stealing” Presidents Day or Columbus Day – it wouldn’t make very much difference. And in spite of whatever you may have seen on the History Channel or read in a Chick tract, Samhain had nothing whatsoever to do with human sacrifice, communing with the dead, ancestor worship, demonic activities or witches.
As for other Halloween traditions supposedly stolen from the pagans, Haunted Houses did not originate until the early 1970’s, Jack O’Lanterns started as other hollowed out vegetables in the 1800’s, and Trick or Treating began as a means of begging in the Middle Ages, and was much more closely related to Christmas caroling until relatively recently! “We wish you a merry Christmas… Oh, bring us a figgy pudding… We won’t go until we get some…”
Evil and Fear
So, the truth is that Halloween is actually a Christian holiday celebrating Christ’s victory over death for all believers. It never even existed as a pagan holiday to be co-opted! But even if it was, why on earth would that have been a bad thing? To deprive Satan of his power by celebrating Christ’s victory over him is a righteous and marvelous thing! But it’s not “Satan’s holiday,” and it never was. It belongs to the Church.
So what about all the scary parts of Halloween? It seems like common sense that Christians would not allow their children to dress up as witches or demons, right? Well, actually, there’s even a Christian back-story to that!
When Jesus came, died and rose again, He conquered sin, death and the devil, once and for all. Although this life is filled with trouble (because sin, death and the devil are desperately fighting to turn people away from God and salvation), the Bible assures us that “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly (Romans 16:20).”
So, century by century, the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear and superstition. And although it doesn’t look much like it today, keep in mind that it is happening in a big way in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Either way, though, the Church does not ignore or run away from the harsh realities of life like pain, fear, evil and death; it confronts them, head-on.
So the idea is this: on October 31st, Christians act out a kind of play: the demonic realm tries one desperate attempt to claim victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom of God. And through celebration and yes, even by dressing up like Satan himself in order to mock him, we attack Satan’s greatest sin: pride. In fact, that is exactly where the idea of showing Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail came from! It’s mockery!
To drive the devil out, we ridicule him – by dressing up in costumes, by putting up scary decorations, and yes, by handing out candy. Dressing up like scary things and pretending to be scary takes the power and fear out of those things. It’s kind of like gargoyles – the gargoyles are not actually demonic; they’re meant to keep the demons out by mocking them: by making ugly faces and sticking their tongues out at them. That’s why you see gargoyles on cathedrals and very old, stone churches!
Now, it’s true: anything can be perverted and misused, and Halloween has also at times been associated with things like egging houses, breaking windows and starting fires. It is also true that because we have bought into the mythology of Halloween, we no longer teach or celebrate it in the Church as the positive and worshipful thing it should be. But isn’t it time we take it back?
One of Satan’s greatest triumphs is when he convinces people that he is not real. Halloween acknowledges that he is real, but that we are not afraid of him, because we place our hope and confidence in Jesus Christ!
So that’s why we can set aside fear and celebrate Christ, our Victorious Savior! And not with a fall festival or a harvest party or a Jesus-ween, but in the true spirit of the original All Hallows’ Eve – and with donuts and cider and costumes and candy and fun. Because what Jesus did for us is something to celebrate! Because Halloween is now and has always been: a Christian holiday!
“We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10b).”
Now. All that being said, if you are still uncomfortable celebrating Halloween and you choose not to, there is nothing wrong with that. You may even choose to celebrate some parts of Halloween while leaving out the scary things, and that’s fine, too. But you should know the truth, and you can still thank God that we have the freedom to choose how and when we celebrate His good and generous gifts!
So happy Halloween – to God be the glory, Amen!
*Note: The Roman Catholic practice of applying the term ‘Saint’ only to those special few whom the church granted the special ability to hear and answer prayer did not start until the 10th century. Biblically, all who believe are ‘the saints’ (see Psalm 30:4, others).
Author’s Note: Everything written above is based on the many and various readings I have done of the origins of Halloween since that church mentioned above split over this issue. I am not claiming that any of this is my original thought; I only assembled it in a manner that I hope makes sense. If you would like to check my work, or to read more about Halloween, read this, this, this or this, and don’t forget to follow the links within the post above. If I have plagiarized words instead of ideas, please forgive me – it is my intent to dispel myth and fear by sharing the excellent work of others; I have no desire to steal it or take credit for it as my own. Thank you, -RevErik