Christian liberty can be a tricky thing. What one person considers a liberty, another person considers out of bounds for Christians, and vice versa. Participating in Halloween celebrations falls under that rubric. As a Christian parent who takes his children trick-or-treating every year, I feel that tension.
The most common reason given for why Christians shouldn’t be involved in Halloween festivities, including trick-or-treating, is that Halloween celebrates death and the holiday is connected to the occult. While sensitive to the concerns about Halloween expressed by my brothers and sisters in Christ, I find their arguments uncompelling and dependent on narrow historical and cultural interpretations.
At the onset, before defending my position, I want to make it clear that I appreciate the desire to obey God and pursue holiness that is often the underlying motive of Christians who do not celebrate Halloween. While disagreeing with them, I praise God for their desire to obey Him in all things, and I pray for the grace to respond with charity. Whether or not to celebrate Halloween is not an issue that Christians should separate over. In fact, if I believed that my position was hindering my ability to serve my church family, I’d surrender my “right” to celebrate Halloween for the sake of the gospel.
In a nutshell, there are essentially three reasons why my wife and I take our kids trick-or-treating:
- Our kids enjoy it
- Free candy. Furthermore, our kids are picky; my wife and I end up with all of the best candy bars at the end of the evening.
- Most importantly, it allows our family to participate in a neighborhood event (trick-or-treating is a big deal in Arlington, Va., neighborhoods). In turn, participating in neighborhood events helps us get to know our neighbors better while providing my wife and me with opportunities to share the gospel with them and invite them to church.
However, those three reasons do not interact with the arguments for why Christians should abstain from Halloween celebrations.
By no means should Christians celebrate death. Death is the enemy — the conquered enemy, but the enemy, nonetheless. This is why we stress to our children that we are not celebrating death and will not celebrate death while trick-or-treating.
Carved pumpkins, colored leaves, and pine cones decorate our house for Halloween. No witches, zombies, or skeletons are part of our Halloween décor. Same thing for costumes. Our children are not allowed to wear a costume that could be associated with the celebration of death. To that end, my wife and I do not answer for our neighbors’ decorations and costumes. And our neighbors’ views of Halloween have no bearing on our family’s reasons for celebrating the holiday.
As far as the origins of the holiday itself, well, no one knows for sure how and why it started. Some people swear that Halloween originated in Druid rituals. Finding its roots in the pagan holiday of Samhain, it’s supposedly one of the times of year that spirits can most easily gain entrance into this world.
If someone believes that’s the origin of Halloween, I wouldn’t argue with them (unless you count writing an article about it as arguing) but I may point out that it’s not that simple. The history of Halloween isn’t settled.
Just as strong of an argument can be made that Halloween started as a Christian holiday that didn’t have anything to do with Samhain. According to this argument, Halloween arose out of the celebration of Allhallowtide, a three-day span in which Christians honored martyrs and other faithful believers.
In fact, and this is why I tend to believe the Christian origin of Halloween story, the holiday’s connection to Allhallowtide provides a better explanation for trick-or-treating than does the pagan version.
While celebrating Allhallowtide, medieval Christians would go from house to house sharing soul cakes. Over time, people began combining the ancient practice of mumming (dressing up in costumes and going house to house to sing and tell stories) with asking for soul cakes from their neighbors.
Like the different aspects of Christmas — think decorating fir trees — many people combine the two versions of Halloween’s origin and claim that the Church developed Allhallowtide as a means to offer a religious option in order to attract adherents.
Even if it could be proven that the origin and reasons for Halloween arose out of Samhain, my family’s position would remain unchanged.
Whatever they are, the origins of Halloween do not determine the reasons for how or why my family celebrates the holiday. Likewise, even if people could prove that the decorating of fir trees has its roots in paganism, that fact would have nothing to do with why my family decorates a fir tree every year for Christmas.
If you are a Christian who believes that Christians should not celebrate Halloween, then, by all means, you and your family should abstain. If, on the other hand, as a Christian seeking to honor and obey God, you believe that Halloween can be enjoyed by Christians, then enjoy Halloween in full faith before God. However, both sides should remember that that gospel of Jesus Christ, which unites us, is far more important than our disagreement over a holiday.