The Great Autumn Debate

It is that time of year again. In east Tennessee we are experiencing cool morning and evenings with mild temperatures during the day. Fall is in the air. I am fortunate to live in the Appalachian region of our country, and autumn is a beautiful time of year here. The trees shed their chlorophyll and beautiful orange, red, and brown fills the landscape. The Smoky Mountains are a great place to visit during fall.

Autumn also brings about the beginnings of the holiday seasons . November is busy with the preparations of Thanksgiving and the now commercial holiday of Black Friday. In December we all await the 25th when we celebrate Christmas. And of course we end the year with a celebration of New Year’s Eve. This exciting time of year begins with October. As fall becomes obvious, Christians begin the annual discussion of, “Do we celebrate Halloween or not?”

English: Friendly pumpkin Svenska: Vänlig pumpa

Halloween, is it a Pagan or Christian Holiday?

The answer to whether a Christian should participate in Halloween is different depending on your background. Dependent on how much emphasis your family put into celebrating the day. Many have decided to shy away from the holiday, stay at home, turn out all of the lights, and go to bed early. They argue that the holiday is of pagan origin, and many believe it to be a devilish scheme. Some have tried to “Christianize” the holiday with events such as Trunk or Treat or Harvest Festivals. They contend that the holiday is innocent fun and as long as you do not dress like a witch or devil you should be able to Trick-or-Treat enough candy to warrant a few fillings at your next dental appointment.

To better understand the celebration and how a Christian should respond to Halloween, we will take a moment to learn more about the celebrations that helped form our contemporary holiday. The beginnings of Halloween can be found in the Celtic observance of the Festival of Samhain (summer’s end) at the beginning of the Celtic year. The festivals included preparations for the winter as well as religious ceremonies where they offered sacrifices (harvest, animals, and maybe human…) to their gods. Ancient stories describe Samhain as a magical time of the year where spirits wage battle, fairies cast spells, and the barriers that separate the natural and supernatural world were broken or relaxed. Another tradition says that it was believed the dead walked among the living during Samhain.

Although, Halloween may owe its earliest forms to pagan rituals and festivals many aspects of the contemporary holiday actually came from the Church’s observance. The Celtics were later Christianized, but many of their pagan traditions survived. Around 800 A.D. the church established All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and later added All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. All Souls’ Day was a day to pray for and remember those who had died during the year. Observance of All Souls’ Day included ringing bells and prayers for those in purgatory.

It became a traditional belief that souls wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day. In the tradition All Hollows’ Eve provided the spirits last chance to gain vengeance on their enemies. Christians would wear masks and costumes to disguise themselves from the spirits that might torment them. Sound familiar? Even the contemporary game of Trick-or-Treat may have derived from the Christian observance of Hallowmas where the poor would go door to door praying for the dead in exchange for food.

The Reformation leaders took contention against the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve and the Church’s rituals. When the Puritans came to New England they stood against the celebrations. Halloween did not come to America until the Scott Irish migration. In fact the almanacs of the late 18th and 19th centuries do not mention Halloween in any form.

Contemporary Halloween

Maybe you are like me and have fond memories of Halloween nights in your neighborhood. I remember walking our subdivision and having fun with the kids that I grew up with. Halloween was about one thing, candy. Sure there were witches, ghosts, demons, and dead people all around. But I ventured out into the darkness to earn my bag of cavity inducing sugar. For many of you reading this, you probably have the same memories. As a child you did not relate the evening to satanic worship or anything of the sort. I didn’t realize witches were real until the last few years! Contemporary Halloween is not a spiritual observance for the majority of those who choose to celebrate the end of summer by dressing in costumes, attending parties, or taking your child Trick-or-Treating.

Candy corn and candy pumpkins—one of my f...

However, like so many other holidays that are observed by Americans; Halloween has the potential to become something that Christian’s should avoid. As my wife and searched for Halloween costumes for our daughters (they are both going to be Minnie Mouse this year) I was surprised as the amount of provocative costumes. I wouldn’t want my daughters looking through the costume catalogue. This reminds me that many parties may provide for unhealthy situations for Christians. We must not forget that we have been called to live differently from the rest of the world, and we should never take part in things that would lead us to forget our behaviors should reflect the redeemed life. Halloween has a reputation of being a night of mischief. It is important to remember that our faith is not something that we can walk away from one night of the year without repercussions.

Our Response

“Should you or shouldn’t you?” that is the question. The truth is I believe this is one of those areas where you should use your own judgment. If you feel a conviction for celebrating Halloween, than don’t do it. If you see nothing wrong with it, I do not see any reason why you can’t dress up and have fun with your friends. Does Halloween originate from pagan rituals? Yeah, but so does many other holidays and traditions that we celebrate. And many of Halloween’s traditions also come from church history.

Let me say this, my opinion, as long as you are not entertaining the occult or doing anything that goes against the lifestyle of a believer; I do not believe Halloween is of any danger to you as a follower of Christ. It is abundantly clear from the book of Acts that all things cultic are off-limits for the believer (Acts 8, 13, and 19). But if your Halloween is about dressing up as your favorite cartoon character or superhero, going door to door soliciting cavities, enjoying a bon-fire or any other harmless activity associated with this time of year; by all means have a ball.

But remember, in areas where the Bible does not speak directly we must give our brothers and sisters grace when we disagree. No need in arguing over the little things. Remember Paul’s teaching from Romans 14.

Related Reading: Why All the Arguing?

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About Mitchell Norton
My life was changed when God saw fit to forgive me of my rebellion against him. I am not worthy of a righteous God, and I am thankful that he reached out to me. My walk with the Lord has lead me to understand that loving others is just as important as loving God. I am a husband to a beautiful wife, father to an adorable daughter (and one on the way!), and servent of the Gospel. I am not perfect, but one day I will be. "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his hope and confidence." - Jeremiah 17:7

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