- Carolyn’s Online Magazine
SHOULD A CHRISTIAN CELEBRATE HALLOWE’EN?
Guest Contributor: the Rev. Monte W. Holland
NOTE: This post is from a local Bible study lead by my husband Monte, in which he examined Hallowe’en and its pagan and Christian roots.
There is conflict in the mind of some Christians over Hallowe’en. Monte was asked by one woman: Should I attend a Hallowe’en party or reject the invitation based on my Christian beliefs?
- 1Do as God does. After all, you are his dear children. 2 Let love be your guide. Christ loved us and offered his life for us as a sacrifice that pleases God. 3You are God’s people, so don’t let it be said that any of you are immoral or indecent or greedy. 4Don’t use dirty or foolish or filthy words. Instead, say how thankful you are. 5Being greedy, indecent, or immoral is just another way of worshiping idols. You can be sure people who behave in this way will never be part of the kingdom that belongs to Christ and to God. Ephesians 5: 1-5
Thoughts from these verses:
- Love is our principal activity
- Be thankful
- Keep a clean tongue
- Avoid greed
- Avoid immorality
In short, don’t worship idols.
These thoughts from the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus are a given, a starting point, for those of you who, even moderately, worship our Three-fold God. Being in the season let’s ask what Halloween means for us both Scripturally and historically:
- Is Halloween something to be avoided like the plague?
- Does participating in Halloween add anything to our primary activity, the life of love?
- Does our participation in Halloween harm persons around us?
When someone first proposed that it came out of the liturgy, I asked: “Are you sure?” (the writer is in the Roman Catholic Tradition)
For a long time Hallowe’en meant nothing but parties and vandalism. It’s possible that Hallowe’en was abused for such a purpose. Nevertheless, during the Christian centuries until the simplification of the Church calendar in 1956, it was a liturgical vigil in its own right and thus has a reason for being.
A celebration much like our Hallowe’en, with bonfires and feasting on apples and nuts and harvest fruits, was part of pagan worship for centuries.
The Britons celebrated in honor of their sun-god with bonfires, a tribute to the light that brought them abundant harvest. At the same time they saluted Samhain, their “lord of death,” who they believed gathered the souls of the year’s dead, souls which were consigned to the bodies of animals in punishment for their sins.
The Romans celebrated a similar festival to honor their goddess Pomona, a patroness of fruits and gardens.
Whether the Church “baptized” these customs or chose this season for her feasts of the dead independent of them, the coincidence shows how alike men are when they seek God and His ways, give praise, and use the language of symbols to express the inexpressible.
It was in Ireland and Scotland and England that All Hallows’ Eve became a combination of prayer and merriment.
In the eighth century the Church appointed a special date for the feast of All Saints, followed by the feast of All Souls, a day to honor of her soon-to-be saints. Supposedly the date of the pagan celebrations was chosen because it was the time of barrenness on the earth. The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death. Snow hadn’t yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields. With little effort man could look about and meditate on death and life hereafter.
How you spent the vigil of All Saints depended on where you lived in Christendom. In Brittany the night was solemn and without a trace of merriment. On their “night of the dead” and for forty-eight hours thereafter the Bretons believed souls were liberated from Purgatory and were free to visit their old homes. The vigil for the souls, as well as the saints, had to be kept on this night because during two consecutive days there were feasts, and a vigil is never kept on a feast.
Breton families prayed by their beloveds’ graves during the day, attended church for “black vespers” in the evening and in some parishes proceeded thence to the charnel house in the cemetery to pray by the bones of those not yet buried or for whom no room could be found in the cemetery. They sang hymns to call on all Christians to pray for the dead and, speaking for the dead, they asked prayers and more prayers.
After supper was over in the country parishes, late in the evening, a fire was banked while housewives spread a clean cloth on the table and set out pancakes, curds, and cider. Chairs were set round the table for the returning loved ones. Then the family recited Psalm 129, a song for worship, a Prayer for Protection:
- 1Since the time I was young, enemies have often attacked! Let everyone in Israel say: 2“Since the time I was young, enemies have often attacked! But they have not defeated me, 3though my back is like a field that has just been plowed.” 4The LORD always does right, and he has set me free from the ropes of those cruel people. 5I pray that all who hate the city of Zion will be made ashamed and forced to turn and run. 6May they be like grass on the flat roof of a house, grass that dries up as soon as it sprouts. 7Don’t let them be like wheat gathered in bundles. 8And don’t let anyone who passes by say to them, “The LORD bless you! I give you my blessing in the name of the LORD.”
After this the people went to bed. During the night a townsman went about the streets ringing a bell, warning people that it was unwise to roam abroad at the time of returning souls.
Learning this, one pious lady of our acquaintance was said Oh, I’m so glad to know that. I was about to write my congressman and suggest the whole thing be outlawed.
People still doubt this point even when you show them that Hallowe’en is All-Hallows’-Eve the night-before All-Saints’- Day. They say they understand that Hallowe’en pranks were a post-Reformation contribution to plague Catholics who kept the vigil of All Saints.
TRICK OR TREAT HISTORY
Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a “soul cake,” a form of shortbread and sometimes quite fancy, with currants for eyes. In return, beggars promised to pray for the household’s dead. Soul cakes eventually became more important for the beggars than prayers for the dead, it is said. Florence Berger, in her Cooking for Christ, tells a legend of a zealous cook who vowed she would invent soul cakes to beggars of eternity with every bite. She did so by cutting a hole in the middle and dropping it in hot fat—creating the doughnut. Its circle suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend, it serves a good purpose at Halloween.
SHOULD WE PARTICIPATE IN HALLOWE’EN?
Is it appropriate, then, for Christians to take part in Hallowe’en?
That is a little about the start of Hallowe’en and its connection with All Saints Day—not a biblical holiday, but a traditional day for remembering the honored dead. In many churches All Saints Day is an occasion to remember those who died in the past year, honoring them by naming them and sharing some of their faith journey.
Remember the three questions I asked:
- Is Halloween something to be avoided like the plague—as some might tell us?
- Does taking part in Halloween add anything to our primary activity, the life of love?
- Does our participation in Halloween harm persons around us?
What does the Bible say about Halloween? Nothing. But it speaks about witches, the occult, and paganism.
Below are some points to consider:
- “You shall not let a witch live.” Exodus 22:18
- “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…” Deut. 18:10-12
- The Christian is not to be involved with or support the occult, witchcraft, demonism, or any other thing that is occultic. To do so is to contradict God’s Word, dabble in the demonic, and invite judgment from God. If a Halloween celebration is centered on demons, devils, spirits, etc., I’d say don’t have anything to do with it.
- On the other hand, it isn’t wrong to dress up in a costume and go door-to-door saying, Trick or Treat, provided the costume isn’t demonic, I can’t see anything wrong with this. It’s just fun for the kids.
- Consider the Christmas tree, originally an ancient fertility symbol that became a representation of Christmas and the place where gifts are placed. Are the Christians then paying homage to an ancient pagan fertility god? Not at all. They do not consider it pagan and are simply joining in a cultural event and giving no honor to anything unscriptural.
- In 1 Cor. 10:23-33 Paul speaks about meat sacrificed to idols. This meat was often sold in the meat market; and the question arose, “Should a Christian each such meat?” Paul said in verse 25, Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake. He says it is okay to eat the meat bought in the market place even though that meat may have been sacrificed to idols.
- “But if anyone should say to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?” Paul is saying that if you find out the meat was sacrificed to idols, don’t eat it—not because of you but because of the other person. In other words, eating that meat won’t affect you. But, it may affect the attitude of another who does not understand the freedom the Christian has in Christ. 1 Cor. 10:23-33
- Halloween gathers people together in fun and merriment. What is the bottom line?—is there Christian love being shared with the merriment?
- Do people (the children) really believe in witches, black cats, etc.?
Not really—they’re having fun at the end of the growing season with winter right around the corner. If someone is confused about demons and evil by your behavior, make sure to correct them.
It might be good to get back to soul cakes instead of candy—the trade of soul cakes for prayers for deceased loved ones and their families.
TO LOVE OR BE LOVED
- God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
- 19We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
- 20-21If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4
CONCLUDING THOUGHT (CAROLYN)
In the midst of confusions and interpretations the choice about if or how you choose to celebrate Hallowe’en is up to each individual, and should be done with thought, prayer, and consideration of those who are affected by your actions. Whatever your choice, this is a season to remember and pray for the past years deceased.
All Hallow’s Eve
Where did Halloween come from? Can a Christian celebrate it?