I’ve always celebrated Halloween. As a kid, it was one of my favorite holidays. My friends and I ran around the neighborhood by ourselves and I felt, maybe more than any other time, trusted. We poured our buckets of candy on the floor and counted to see who got the most pieces. Halloween evolved over the years and in college, I'd spend days putting together clever (often pun-ny) costumes. I'd rush from one party to the next and socialize with all of my friends. It was good, pure fun. These parties weren't drunken or provocative. They were well-decorated, and there were fun snacks.
I never knew there was a debate about Christians celebrating Halloween… until I traveled. I lived in South Africa for a little under a year, arriving a few days before Halloween. I suggested to the people living there that we have costumes and a party! A few people responded ‘oh yeah’ but then tried to move on in the conversation. Later I learned that, in that community, Halloween was considered evil and it was frowned upon to celebrate it.
I returned home right before my next Halloween and I dressed as Martin Luther because it was the 500 year anniversary of Reformation Day. Even though I knew many South African Christians disapproved of Halloween, I never heard the reasons. I thought the holiday was just misunderstood, so I continued with my celebrating.
But over the last 6 years, I’ve come to hear more opinions agreeing with the South African Christians. Many Christians I know don't go out on Halloween and turn off their lights. I didn't know about any of that before, but now, I see many Christians are concerned about the day.
So, I prayed and I researched to understand more.
Halloween was said to originate from a pagan festival called Samhain. During Samhain, people participated in gatherings, feasts, sacrifices, and bonfires. They believed that on that day, ancient burial mounds were open, and were portals to the Otherworld. These pagans believed dead family members could visit their homes, so they set their tables for these dead loved ones. Because of this, other people started disguising themselves as dead people, hoping they’d get food.
Then, in 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV created All Saints Day or “All-Hallows Day," which was originally celebrated before summer. Later, Pope Gregory III changed the date of the celebration to be on the same day as Samhain.
All Saints Day honors the people who have passed. And because Catholics believed you could pray for the dead, hungry people would go to others’ houses and offer an exchange. They’d promise to pray for the homeowners’ dead loved ones in exchange for pastries, and later gifts, money, and food. It was similar to what happened in Samhain but altered.
Then, the tradition changed again. Instead of promising to pray for dead loved ones, people would recite poems or sing a song or do a “trick” to get treats.
The holiday changed and changed, incorporating new traditions as time passed. Today, Halloween is a mix of dark and light. I’ve heard that performers of witchcraft love the holiday and still do sacrifices. On the other hand, it can be a time of family, pure-hearted fun in neighborhoods and church parking lots.
In researching the history, one thing is clear to me: this holiday means very different things to different people. So, should we celebrate it as Christians? We obviously wouldn’t celebrate burning of sacrifices to other gods. But does trick-or-treating do this?
I went through my own journey with this and went back and forth. But ultimately, I landed on one point: God can redeem.
I thought of Christmas. Christmas was originally a pagan holiday as well. But then, the church decided to celebrate Christ’s coming at the same time. When the Pope changed All Saints’ Day to coincide with Samhain, the same was attempted. Can a pagan holiday be reclaimed for Christ? I believe- yes.
It’s up to you on whether you want to practice the specific traditions that were stemmed from paganism. It’s up to you whether you want to hang stockings by the fireplace and kiss under the mistletoe (which were pagan practices). You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. And I will never judge someone for not celebrating a holiday if they don't feel good about it. But I believe practices can originate in one place and transform to mean something different.
I guess I believe in the power of intentions. I love that Christmas has become a time to celebrate Jesus, and I believe Halloween can be a time to celebrate Him as well- either by celebrating All Saints’ Day, (as the Pope intended when he changed the date of it) or by simply showing Jesus’ love to all.
Basically, the argument for me comes down to- am I willing to let traditions and their meanings be transformed? Look at bonfires for example- this tradition of having a bonfire started as a “bone fire” that the Celts would have to ward off evil spirits.
And yet, I like bonfires even though I'm not aligning with the origin. To me, the origin does not dictate the meaning. Just because someone in the past had one intention does not mean that my intention needs to be the same.
Similarly, with Halloween, I believe it can be redeemed to be a holy time. It can be redeemed to signify family, celebration of saints, and gift giving and fun.
But it can also be celebrated in dark ways with a focus on haunting, witchcraft, and evil.
The interesting thing about Halloween is it hasn’t been completely transformed (yet). There is still a darkness about it in many ways. A slew of horror movies come out right before Halloween and crimes increase. I’ve felt the darkness myself in that I can feel more temptations around me. But I don’t believe the time can’t be transformed. And I don’t believe you have to ignore all traditions to do be a part of that transformation. Traditions in themselves can be changed and turned. The act of going to houses and asking for candy isn’t evil in itself. If you went to houses on May 8th and asked for candy, you wouldn't fear.
That doesn't mean all traditions are harmless.
Obviously, if an act hurts others or curses God, we shouldn't do it.
Or if the act tempts us to embrace evil, we also shouldn't do it.
But if the act itself isn't evil, do we believe God can redeem the origin?
It’s easy to see Halloween as evil in nature. But I believe it CAN transform into a time of light, just as I saw it as a child- with fun costumes and gift giving and candy. These are the things I loved. I loved time with friends and the briskness in the air. Halloween can be a time of light, but we have the choice.
As of now, Halloween is a clash in the spiritual realm, with dark and light fighting to be most renown. But because of my belief in redemption, I believe this day can be as light as Christmas. And I look to how Jesus wants to redeem the rituals to be ones of love and not fear.