Understanding Halloween

By Lucas Stoltz

Where does Halloween come from?

Halloween is celebrated in all sorts of ways by all sorts of people around the world. Traditionally, it was known as All Hallows’ Eve, when the dead were remembered. But over time, it became cultural. And for the Western world, it has become extremely commercialized. Halloween decorations are in all the stores, and with that, the emphasis has shifted from innocent costumes to a more evil and pointed attraction to all things hideous and pagan. Satan has undoubtedly made this commercialized holiday into something that has faintly focused on the ugly and demonic.

Many believe it comes from the festival of Samhain. At Samhain, farmers brought livestock in from summer pastures and people gathered to build shelters for winter. The festival also had religious significance, and people burned fruits, vegetables, grain, and possibly animals as offerings to the gods. In ancient Celtic stories, Samhain was a magical time of transition when important battles were fought and fairies cast spells. It was a time when the barriers between the natural world and the supernatural were broken. The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living at this time. During Samhain, the living could visit with the dead, who they believed held secrets of the future. Scholars believe that Halloween’s association with ghosts, food, and fortunetelling began with these pagan customs more than 2,000 years ago.

In the 800s A.D., the church established All Saints’ Day on November 1. All Saints’ Day is a celebration in the Roman Catholic Church, where they remember all the saints. About two hundred years later, it added All Souls’ Day on November 2. All Souls’ Day is a church holiday designed to commemorate loved ones who have died and different branches of the church have different histories with All Souls’ Day. But people made many of the old pagan customs part of this Christian holy day. Some people put out food for their ancestors, or left a lantern burning in the window so that ghosts could find their way home for the night.

In Wales, for example, each person put a white stone near the Halloween fire at night and then checked in the morning to see whether the stone was still there. If it was, the person would live another year.

In the US, when early American settlers came from England, many of them brought various beliefs about ghosts and witches with them. In the 1800s, many immigrants from Ireland and Scotland arrived in the US and introduced their Halloween traditions. Other groups added their own cultural influences to Halloween customs. German immigrants brought a vivid witchcraft lore, Haitian and African peoples brought their native voodoo beliefs about black cats, fire, and witchcraft too.

In Africa, we don’t celebrate Halloween as commercialized in the States or in Europe, yet, the same or similar acts that contributed to the initiation of Halloween; are practiced daily. For example, in the African Traditional Religion & the Zion Christian Church, individuals approach witch-doctors (traditional healers), interpreters, prophets, and supposed ancestors (evil spirits). So how does one day differ from the rest? The sad reality is that Western commercialization has a great impact, not only on those who are in the world, but those in the Church.

How should we view Halloween?

Some Christians celebrate Halloween simply by dressing up in a costume and having fun, seeing it as innocent and harmless. Other Christians are equally convinced that Halloween is a satanic holiday established to worship evil spirits and promote darkness and wickedness. So is it possible for Christians to celebrate Halloween without compromising their faith?

Halloween has almost completely pagan origins. As innocent as it may seem to some, it is not something to be taken lightly. Christians tend to have various ways to celebrate or not to celebrate Halloween. With our freedom as Christians, we are at liberty to decide how to act.

Yet, Scripture does not speak about Halloween at all, but it does give us some principles on which we can make a decision. In Old Testament Israel, witchcraft was a crime punishable by death (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27). The New Testament teaching about the occult is clear. Acts 8:9-24, the story of Simon, shows that occultism and Christianity don’t mix. The account of Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13:6-11 reveals that sorcery is violently opposed to Christianity.

Paul called Elymas a child of the devil, an enemy of righteousness and a perverter of the ways of God. In Acts 16, at Philippi, a fortune-telling girl lost her demon powers when the evil spirit was cast out by Paul. The interesting matter here is that Paul refused to allow even good statements to come from a demon-influenced person. And Acts 19 shows new converts who have abruptly broken with their former occultism by confessing, showing their evil deeds, bringing their magic paraphernalia, and burning it before everyone (Acts 19:19).

Biblical conclusion

Should a Christian celebrate Halloween? Is there anything evil about a Christian dressing up as a princess or cowboy and going around the block asking for tasty treats? No, there is not. Are there things about Halloween that are anti-Christian and should be avoided? Yes, absolutely! Although we don’t do that in South Africa, many night clubs, and pubs host special events in commemoration of Halloween. So if Christians are going to take part in Halloween, their attitude, dress, and most importantly, their behaviour should still reflect a redeemed life (Philippians 1:27). My question is, why celebrate an event that was used to offer various sacrifices to false gods, or even celebrate a Roman Catholic holiday, or celebrate a harvest we know very little of?

Yet, there are many churches that hold “harvest festivals” and incorporate costumes, but in a godly environment. There are many Christians who hand out tracts that share the Gospel along with the Halloween candy. The decision is ultimately ours to make. But as with all things, we are to incorporate the principles of Romans 14. We can’t allow our own convictions about a holiday to cause division in the body of Christ, nor can we use our freedom to cause others to stumble in their faith. We are to do all things as to the Lord (Colossians 3:17).

There are so many better things to be doing on the 31st of October every year. There’s no joy in Horror films, no comfort in partying dressed up as the dead, but there is a harvest that is plentiful – with few labourers… Why not take advantage of this day, and share the Gospel of the living Christ – who through Himself, give the spiritually dead, everlasting life!