What Are Christian Parents Supposed to Do With Halloween?
By Tim Philibosian
It’s October, and, once again, many parents will question how to treat Halloween. Do we allow our children to dress in costumes and “Trick or Treat?” Do we decorate our homes with witches and ghosts? Carve scary pumpkins? Allow our children to attend Halloween parties or participate in popular activities? Some put the issue this way: As our society has become more and more secular, whose special day are we acknowledging – the children’s or Satan’s?
Halloween has become one of America’s most widely celebrated days. Stores set up displays shortly after Labor Day. Elaborate costumes – both traditional and trendy – are widely available. Candy is placed in prominent locations in every grocery and warehouse store. Events are scheduled throughout the community. Many elementary schools decorate classrooms and hold parades. Specials are shown on TV and theme-related movies are released. Billions of dollars related to this theme are spent annually, including $350 million on costumes for cats and dogs (2014).
While there is no escaping it, we do have the opportunity – even the obligation – to discuss the meaning of the day and its various symbols. While all cannot be known with certainty, many believe Halloween started among the Celts of Europe more than 2,000 years ago. The holiday commemorated the new year as Baal, the Celtic god of spring and summer, ended his reign and yielded to Samhain, the god of the dead, who began his reign. Here are a few popular suggestions concerning the origin of some of the more well-known symbols (but note that there are numerous thoughts concerning these symbols):
- Orange and black colors – represent the two seasons, fall and winter.
- Ghosts and goblins – It was believed that during the period between fall and winter, a crack in the barrier separating the natural world from the supernatural appeared which allowed spirits to interact briefly with the living. Souls of the dead could return to their homes to visit.
- “Trick or Treat” – Recognizing the departed may appear, relatives left food for their departed relatives. Some also believed that the spirits would play malevolent tricks on the living and demand appeasement, which came in the form of food and other offerings.
- Costumes – often worn supposedly to greet relatives who may have been transformed into animals after death, to frighten evil spirits who might threaten a house, or to disguise individuals who did not wish to be recognized by a visiting spirit.
- Witches – began to be associated with this time, although they are not thought to be part of the original celebrations. Witchcraft was forbidden by the church, as was the worship of dead spirits and other practices that began to be associated with Halloween.
- Broomsticks – Various explanations: Without going into detail, an ancient symbol of female sexuality; part of a pagan fertility ritual wherein people would carry a broom through a field, jumping as high as possible, encouraging crops to grow; used to mix and apply hallucinogenic plants (a “witches’ brew” in a black cauldron); used by witches to clean the surrounding area before mixing a potion, medicinal cure, or spell. Pagans, mind-altering drugs, jumping, getting high – Witches fly!
- Black cats – Because they roam at night, thought to be a reincarnated witch or the demon spirit used to assist a witch
- Carved pumpkins – Various: Representative of visiting dead spirits; carved into ghastly shapes and placed in windowsills to ward off evil spirits. Jack-O’-Lantern: An Irish villain, Jack, was believed to be so treacherous that neither heaven nor hell wanted him, so he was doomed to wander aimlessly, searching for a place to rest with only a candle carried in a large potato to provide him with both warmth and light.
- Costumed parades – At the end of the next day, parades were held hoping to lure the spirits away from the town for another year.
Many of these events were introduced to the United States during the mid-1800’s by Irish immigrants who relocated to the United States to escape the devastating effects of the potato famine.
What is a caring parent to do: ignore the day entirely, or allow his child to participate, at least in some way? In a provocative article titled, “6 Reasons I Celebrate Halloween with My Kids (Even Though I’m a Christian,” Rob Stennett explains why he’s decided to trick-or-treat with his kids (read the entire article online).
- Halloween’s origins are blurry.
- We connect with our neighbors. What other time of year do we walk our neighborhood streets, open our homes to all, and speak with the children and hand them treats?
- You have to earn your treats. Unlike Christmas, birthdays, or other holidays, if a child wants a treat, it’s up to that child to get it. He has to “earn” it on his own.
- The centerpiece is a vegetable. “It’s near impossible to get my kids excited about any vegetable.”
- My kids can be anything they want. Within reason, of course. It’s good training for them to realize they can think, plan, create, and become something they desire.
- We control the way we celebrate. At Christmas we can decide how extravagantly we want to light the yard, and we don’t have to ignite illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July. In the same way, we don’t have to decorate with witches and goblins and the kids don’t have to dress like zombies. As parents, we are responsible for appropriate activities.
Importantly, Stennett concludes with, “I use Halloween as a teaching example with my kids.” Take some time this year to discuss with your children – in an age-appropriate manner- the meaning of Halloween.
This provides the opportunity to teach another relevant and important history lesson:
The Reformation and All Saints Day
Last year, October 31, 2017, marked the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act became one of the most important in history, for it changed the course of the church. A monk who had become disillusioned by many of the practices of the Catholic church, Luther desired to dialogue these issues so that the church might comply more properly with what he believed to be biblical teaching. The pope, however, would not agree with Luther’s requests. This disagreement led to Luther’s excommunication from the Catholic church.
Not dissuaded, for he was convinced of his reading and understanding of the Bible, Luther became one of the leaders of what has become to be known as the Reformation, from which blossomed the Protestant church. Five Solas (sola, Latin for “alone”) marked this reformation in church theology and practice: Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone. These solas were supported by biblical texts, preached by the Reformers, stood in opposition to the established church, and led to the widespread growth of Protestantism.
October 31 is a day that should be acknowledged and celebrated by Protestants everywhere. Is it ironic that it should be the same day as Halloween? No, not at all.
It is claimed that Luther posted his 95 theses on October 31 because this is the day before All Saints’ Day, which was celebrated by the church on November 1. This was an appropriate time, for since the 8th century (most likely) the church set aside this date to remember the dead who were recognized for their martyrdom or for having lived particularly holy lives. By the 11th century, various congregations were honoring November 2, later known as All Souls’ Day, a day to pray for the souls of the dead, believing that the “saints” entered heaven immediately while others entered purgatory. Corruption in the sale of indulgences by which departed (and even living) souls could be freed from purgatory was the preeminent issue guiding Luther to post his Theses.
All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, falls on November 1. The day prior, October 31, came to be known as All Hallows’ Eve. This time became a focus on the dead, the state of their souls, and the relation between present human actions and their impact on the soul after death. Couple this with early Druid celebrations referred to above which occurred at the end of October, and it is clear how All Hallows’ Eve came to be known as Halloween.
Teachable moment. Use this time to teach your children, grandchildren, parents, family, friends, or others, about these historical events and the significance of these dates. This is also an ideal time to reflect upon, talk about, and share the memories you have of deceased family members and friends who have impacted your life, and help your family understand who and what has contributed to who and where they are, and what they have.
Speaking of Witches. A spotlight has been placed on witchcraft recently. Outraged by the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U. S. Supreme Court, a gathering of witches was convened on October 20 to cast hexes upon Justice Kavanaugh. Proceeds from the $10 per person ticket to the event were split between the bookstore that hosted the hex and various groups, including Planned Parenthood. As of this date, no adverse impacts have been reported by Justice Kavanaugh.
This is not an isolated incident.
- National focus on the tight race for the U.S. Senate in Arizona motivated the Washington Examiner to locate emails demonstrating candidate Kyrsten Sinema invited a coven of witches to attend a gathering to protest the war in Iraq during its height in 2003. She encouraged the witches to “stay in touch with your inner creativity and with the earth.” Her campaign has not responded to inquiries on why she invited the witches.
- On January 21, 2017, a gathering of witches met at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington before joining the women’s march held that day to protest the administration of the newly installed President Donald Trump.
- On October 24, 2017, NBC news in Washington, DC, published an article entitled, “Out of the Broom Closet: DC Witches in Their Own Words,” an expose of the activities of witches in Washington, DC.
What does the Bible have to say about the practice of the occult and witchcraft? There is no double-mindedness or uncertainty about these subjects. Here is a sampling of verses.
“[D]o not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft” – Deuteronomy 18:10 (NLT)
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; [plus 10 more illustrations] . . . I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” –Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)
“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” –Revelation 21:8 (NLT)
On a FAR more positive note, consider these verses.
“[Flee] from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” –1 Timothy 6:11 (NIV)
“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” –James 3:17 (NLT)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” –Matthew 5:8 (NIV)
As Paul begins to conclude his letter to the church in Philippi, he exhorts them to follow all that he has taught them and to put into practice the heart and methods used by Jesus. Paul’s love for these people is obvious, and he desires they grow in their faith and prosper in their lives. Therefore, he encourages them to face challenges with the proper attitude, perspective, and goals:
“[Dear] brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” –Phil. 4:8 (NLT)
I end this letter with the same spirit. My delight for you is that your focus be on living for Jesus, on representing him consistently, gracefully, peacefully, and compassionately. May others see Jesus in you, in the way you act, think, and speak.
That’s my prayer not only for you, but for myself as well.