Every year, we get some questions related to Halloween, and if Christian’s should celebrate the holiday.
Is it permissible?
Is it forbidden?
Is it permissible, but wise to avoid?
What is a biblical perspective, and how should Christian’s think about this?
Well, depending on what you mean by “celebrate Halloween,” the answer is rather simple. Before we give the answer, let us give a little bit of history because we think it will help clarify the answer.
So where did Halloween come from, and why is it a Holiday?
The sources vary. So depending who you talk to, they may disagree. Let us give you the general (or popular) consensus.
Recent Western History
First of all, Halloween is a contracted word. It’s a contraction from the phrase, “Hollow’s Eve.” Hollows Eve is called Hollow’s Eve, because it comes right before something known as All Saint’s Day.
So when you hallow something, it is to make/or regard something as holy. All Saint’s Day is a day in which saints or holy people are remembered and celebrated for their faithfulness. Often, this includes great people of faith in Church history, especially martyrs. So, Halloween (or Hallows Eve) is simply the day before this religious observance of remembering faithful saints.
Furthermore, Halloween actually kicks off a 3-day celebration (Oct. 31st-Nov. 2nd)-- something known as “Allhallowtide.” This includes: Hallows Eve, All Saint’s Day, and then, the third-- All Soul’s Day.
All Soul’s Day is a Catholic day in which the faithful departed are commemorated.
It’s a day to remember the “faithful baptized” --- that is, those who are currently in purgatory, and working off the debt of their “lesser guilt.”
So that’s essentially the more recent Western History. It does have its roots in Christianity, specifically, Roman Catholicism. So it does have overt religious associations.
Now, just based on that alone, that’s enough for us to say that Halloween (and the entire 3-day festival) is not only mystical, but wicked.
In fact, what the RCC means by “remembering the holy,” is to pray for people in purgatory. Catholic doctrine states, that ““the prayers of the faithful on earth will help cleanse these souls in order to fit them for the vision of God in heaven, and the day is dedicated to prayer and remembrance.” (Britannica).
So we would reject this because it is unbiblical, and overtly wicked.
Purgatory is heretical. The idea of praying for a dead person to become purified is heretical All of it diminished the atoning work of Jesus Christ; and specifically, because it’s a system based on merits that were earned by “Saints” within the Catholic tradition and system.
All of this is wicked and sinful.
In other cultures, Halloween is associated with something called “The Day of the Dead.”
This is something most prominent in Mexico, specifically in the central and southern regions of Mexico—and it is now regarded as a public holiday.
It is a major celebration in which family and friends gather to pray for those who have died. This prayer helps these dead loved ones on their spiritual journey.
In Mexican culture, death is simply viewed as a natural part of the human cycle, and so praying for the dead is helping them in this next part of their cycle.
The day is not viewed as a time of sadness or mourning, but as a day of celebration in which these dead loved ones actually awaken from the dead, and celebrate with them.
This was a practice that, historically, took place at the beginning of the summer.
But when the Spanish colonized in the 16th century, the celebration gradually became associated with Oct. 31-Nov.2 to coincide with Allhallowtide (those 3 days we just discussed from the Rom Cath. Tradition).
So, obviously it is a very wicked practice as well. It dabbles in the occult, and is very mystical. It is evil, and no true Christian can partake in such activity. Again, this is very popular in Mexico, and in many ways has become interwoven with Roman Catholic practice in Mexico.
Now, when you trace the holiday back even further, it seems to have its ultimate roots in something known as the festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which was something among the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland.
This took place on Nov. 1st, which also started their new year and winter.
During the Samhain festival, it was believed that the souls of those who had died, returned to visit their homes.
As a result, “People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favourable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death.” (Britannica).
So, obviously, this is where the tradition of masks and costumes came from.
They weren't so much meant to scare, as much as, they were meant to hide and disguise themselves from being harassed by those who had died.
What’s also interesting, is “At [this festival of] Samhain, the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to humankind, and the gods played many tricks on their mortal worshippers; it was a time fraught with danger, charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices and propitiations of every kind were thought to be vital, for without them the Celts believed they could not prevail over the perils of the season or counteract the activities of the deities.” (Brittanica).
So, likely, this is where the whole tradition of playing tricks/pranks on people during Halloween came from. They were simply mimicking what the gods did to mortal men, or so they thought.
So that’s just a very basic history. Some may quibble on details, but this is the general consensus. Obviously, none of these practices are things that true Christians should be involved with, spend time celebrating, or even remembering. It deals with issues of the occult, divination, and mysticism.
It contains terrible theology of the soul, the afterlife, the dead, prayer, the extent of the atonement, the Gospel, and so on. It has more recent developments in Roman Catholicism, which are very false. So, we would say that if this is what a Chriistan is trying to engage in, it is very wrong.
If this is what a person means by “celebrating halloween,” then the answer is unbelievably simple. The answer is no. We do not approve, nor condone. It is overtly anti-biblical, and such practices are forbidden over and over again in the Scriptures.
So what about trick-or-treating, Halloween parties, carving pumpkins, and innocent tricks, as we have come to know them in our culture? (Are these things permissible, or wise?)
Well the question, here, is whether or not it is possible to engage in these activities and completely disconnect them from their historical origins. Depending on your answer to that question, that will determine if you can/should engage in them. It is our opinion, that yes, you can.
So, Christians are accused all the time of “baptizing pagan ideals.” That is, they want to engage in something, so they just “Christianize” it. On that principle, some will abstain because they think it’s just a loophole. However, if that is the case, then you ought not engage in just about any holiday.
In fact, both Christmas and Easter have either origins in very pagan traditions.
Just trace back the history of the Christmas tree (which has its roots in the pagan tree worshipers of Europe: or the history of Easter (which goes back to Ishtar, the goddess of fertility-- which is why we hide Easter eggs).
If your reasons for abstaining from trick-or-treating is based upon an argument of origins (or because of something’s history) that’s fine, but then you’ll have to abandon Christmas and Easter as well-- if you’re going to be consistent.
Because both of those holidays have essentially been “baptized” by Christians.
We now associate Christmas with Jesus’ birthday; and Easter with Jesus’ death and resurrection. If you are going to be consistent, you should never exchange a Christmas present again. You should never bite into a chocolate Easter bunny again.
So can we dissociate present practice from historical origins? Well, again, we think so.
In fact, the principal, here, is that something's origins cannot determine its present morality.
Jesus does this with the practice of baptism. It was a religious practice of John the Baptist that had its roots in the pagan system of Jewish religion that is nowhere to be found in the OT. Yet, Jesus, essentially, baptizes the idea of baptism.
In our day, we do this all time and we don’t even know it. Bonfires have their origins in bone fires. This is the pagan ritual of burning bones, used for the purpose of divination.
Shamans would write questions on bones and throw them into a small circle fire pit, and once the fire got hot enough, cracks would appear on the bones. The Shamans would then “read” these cracks to try and divine hidden knowledge.
So, should we stop doing small circle bonfires in our backyards anymore? Well no.
We’re not burning bones, nor are we trying to be diviners.
Again, the past ethical practices of bone fires does not determine its present meaning and morality for us.
Bobbing for apples was another practice that has pagan origins.
We know it as a fun (albeit disgusting) Fall tradition for kids, but it has its roots in the Celts. It was a form of divination, stemming from the pagan goddess, Pomona (“the goddess of plenty:).
During one of the annual festivals, young, unmarried people would go bobbing for apples. The first one to bite into an apple, it was thought, would be the first to marry. So again, this is divination, plain and simple.
Well no Christian going to a Fall festival today thinks that they are trying to divine who will be the first to marry. They understand their child is simply trying to get an apple.
So again, something's ethical history does not determine its current day morality, and this would be true for what we understand Halloween to be today in our culture.
No doubt there are many who still try to practice Halloween in its pagan sense, but if we’re talking about dressing up a kid as strawberry, trick-or-treating, or carving a pumpkin, we don’t find that to be problematic at all.
We’re not defending against harassing evil spirits.
We are not trying to mimic impish, tyrannical Gods.
We are not trying to ward off revenging ghosts from our house when we stick Jack-O-lanterns on our front porch.
Rather, it is simply a public (and generally, neutral) holiday. What it means to biblical Christians, is not what it meant to the Celts or Catholics.
Now, most importantly, what does the bible say about this holiday of Halloween?
Frankly, nothing-- And, perhaps, that’s what makes it a challenge for many.
So when the Bible doesn't speak directly to something, you have to be controlled by biblical principles. And what is the principle, here?
Well if there is nothing overtly sinful about it, which we would say there is not-- (because, again, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, etc. can be divorced from their overtly pagan practices), then it comes down to an issue of the conscience. In fact, that is what almost all gray areas in the Christian faith come down to.
So here are a couple of passages:
Romans 14 - “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's....
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.”
Here, Paul is dealing with the issue of food, vegetables, days, and wine.
His point is that some cannot partake due to conscience. And yet, others have no issue with these things at all. They understand their freedom in Christ.
Yet, the underlying principle is that all things must be done in faith.
So, if Halloween is not something you can partake in with a clean conscience, then for you it is sin. For someone else, who understands there is nothing inherently evil in dressing up as a ladybug and collecting candy, they are free to partake.
There is nothing in Scripture that forbids such a practice; and especially, if it can be done with thanksgiving.
Col. 1:13-16, 20-23 “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. 16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day...
" 20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence..."
Now, in the context, Paul is dealing with issues of Jewish religion, but the underlying principle is the same for us-- external practices have little to do with true issues of the heart-- which is where sin truly resides.
In fact, in v.23, that is what he means by “fleshly indulgent -- He is speaking of the issues of the flesh-- or that sin nature. His point is that doing something (or not doing something) is not how you battle with sin. Rather, it’s been dealt with in Christ.
As a result, you are now free to engage in certain practices because they are simply neutral things. They are not what make you holy (or unholy), provided they are not something overtly sinful.
Again, dressing your child up as a character, collecting candy, and carving pumpkins are neutral practices in and of themselves, abstaining from them will not make you holy. Engaging in them will not make you unholy. What makes you unholy is your own flesh.
Gal. 5:13-14 "13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'"
Here, Paul is explicitly dealing with issues of Christian freedom. Whenever, it comes to this topic, there are a few things worth mentioning.
In this passage, Paul is addressing circumcision. Some thought it was still required for Christians to be circumcised. Paul’s point is that Christians have been set free from the Law. Now, we can use those freedoms to indulge the flesh, but his point, here, is that a mature Christian will understand that the entire reason they’ve been granted freedom, is so that they might use their freedom as a tool to serve others and bring them the Gospel.
That’s what actually underlines the principle of Christian freedom.
So God has set us free to love. and yet, if we use that freedom as an excuse to fill our passions, that is sin. If we use that freedom to bring the Gospel, it is an honor to God.
In fact, if we can grasp this, we will begin to understand how free we truly are.
This is why Paul can say to the Jew he became a Jew, to the Gentile a Gentile (1Cor. 9:20). He has been set free, but so that he might enter into any situation for the purpose of bringing the Gospel.
So, when it comes to Halloween, one of the applications of this principle is that since Halloween is no longer a day in which the overt practices of divination, mysticism, or the occult, are happening, we are free to pursue Halloween, and especially if it’s for the purpose of bringing the Gospel.
In fact, if your conscience allows, it would be a wonderful opportunity to think on how you might redeem the day, using it as a missional/evangelistic opportunity.
Go to parties, trick-or-treating, etc. and meet neighbors, invite co-workers, etc.
People love to dress up their kids. So if you have children, ask an unbelieving family to go with you.
I know of one person who set up a hot apple cider station in his front yard during trick-or-treating. His entire goal was to meet neighbors, and offer them a warm drink on a cold day.