As new believers in Christ and young parents, my wife and I really struggled with Halloween and whether we would allow our kids to participate in it or not. While growing up, Halloween was such an intriguing time of the year, with ghosts, witches, goblins, ghouls and all sorts of eerie stuff. How fun, since I was taught all these things weren’t real. As I got older and a little too old to travel the town looking for treats and tricks, I would help my parents by answering the door to the many “Trick or Treat” calls that came to our house. It was fun putting candy into their bags and looking at all the clever and creative costumes. Sometimes we even recognized neighborhood kids that were way too old to be out Trick or Treating!
I also have memories of another side of the innocent collecting of candy. Once, my friend and I were invited in by a man with the promise of candy. He kept stalling us and discouraged us from leaving. We were too young to suspect sinister motives, but were both feeling uncomfortable and wanting to leave, but he was persuasive in detaining us-just then my friend’s mother, who had been looking for us for some time, came to the door and rescued us. Did she ever chew that man out!
In my early teen years I ran with the other boys and Halloween became a great excuse for doing mischief. We went about soaping people’s windows and doing other sorts of tricks. We had “graduated” from the “treats” and moved on to the “tricks” side of Halloween. I couldn’t have explained it then, but there is a macabre fascination that all of us seem to have that is expressed in Halloween.
It was all in fun then, like The Adams Family or The Munster’s, but now we were learning that there was a real dark side and it wasn’t as benign as we naively thought when we were children. Looking at the origin or the foundation of any belief or long standing tradition is always a wise thing to do when searching for the truth of a matter.
So let’s take a look at history- and look for clues to see where Halloween did originate? Well, there are a number of claims. The commonly held belief is that it originated with the Celtic Druids about 2000 years ago. It was a pagan festival called “Samhain” (sow-in) which more or less honored the dead and involved large sacrifices of crops and animals. Interestingly there were and are many cultures that have festivals for the dead. Urquhart reports these traditions in the months of October-November were always connected with the memory of the dead or as a feast of the ancestors.
This recognition of the dead is found in a great number of nations and ethnic groups. The Australian Aborigines, Fiji Islanders, Peru, Brazil, Hindus, Druids, Mexicans, Egyptians, the French are a few of the many others that do. The Chinese celebrate the Ghost Festival, the Japanese celebrate something similar called O-bon and the Vietnamese has a variant of the Ghost Festival called TetTrung Nguyen. (The Tet Offensive during the Viet Nam War was during this festival.) In Korea there is Chauseoke. Philippines and Nepal all have similar type ceremonies with the dead being the focus. Some dressed as the dead, others burned bonfires (bonefires), carried torches, carved gourds into hideous images to scare evil spirits away, cleaned tombs and some conducted a ceremony believing they are bringing the spirits of the dead to the judgment seat of the god of the dead.
Because so many culturesin the world have a day on which they focus on the dead and since it is all at the same time of year, there is a belief that there must be a common origin; a time in history where a catastrophe occurred that gave cause for men to remember and honor the dead. Such an event would likely be the destruction of most of the human race caused by Noah's Flood. (The population of the world at that time has been estimated to be as high as billions of people.) Certainly the earliest remembrances were not likely to have been in a ghoulish manner, but in time, man has made death the focus.
Today Halloween is considered a “high holiday” or "holy day" for those involved in the occult and other esoteric activities. “Holiday” is truly a misnomer since there is nothing holy about Halloween.
The current name of “Halloween” originated from the day before All Saint’s Day which was called “All Hallow Evening” and shortened in time to Hallowe’en. Hallow means holy and the day was named for the Eve of All Saints Day which Pope Boniface IV created in 600 AD in an attempt to Christianize a pagan festival day.
So, with all that being said, you might ask “How does that help me in making a decision about whether to allow my child’s participation in Halloween or not?” With all the pressure from the school, schoolmates, friends and even grandparents who didn’t understand the deathly origins of Halloween it puts can put parents in a tight spot! If we don’t allow our kids to be fully involved in Halloween you can bet that you will be looked at as though you are a bit nuts! And even worse, that you are depriving your children of a normal childhood!
That brings me back to the challenge we had as young parents. I think there are two challenges to navigate through. One, if you do not allow your children to join in with the seemingly benign fun of those around them, there is a very good chance that as they grow older they will shed the values of religion and despise Christianity as a real kill joy. “But wait”, you say, “Aren’t Christians supposed to be separated from the world?” You are exactly right. But what we are dealing with, are children who cannot understand why they can’t have some candy and dress up like a cowboy or princess. And in reality what is wrong with allowing them to do those things?
On the other hand there is a fine line in allowing them to participate fully in Halloween. Christian parents can use this opportunity to teach their children that even though Halloween may just seem like a really fun and exciting time, that we must do all we can to live lifes pleasing to Christ the Author of Life, and that focusing or dressing up like witches or dead people does not give glory to God. In fact, Halloween gives an opportunity to teach our children about how Jesus has overcome all the scary things represented in Halloween and that He has come to give us life and deliver us from fear and fearful things. This is a good time to teach them that the devil is the one who comes to bring fear, and death and is behind the all the scary, earie things that Halloween represents.
What we decided for our children was to allow them to dress up like harmless characters. I remember princess costumes, Indian maidens, cowboys, etc. But, we never allowed the other dark things of the day, and our girls seemed fine with that. (If you are uncertain if a make-believe character is harmless then take a minute to research it on line.) As for taking them Trick or Treating, we would take them to a few friends or relatives homes or to a Harvest Day celebration at a church. Kids of elementary school age are just happy to be out with other kids having a fun social time.
I recently asked one of my grown daughters if she felt deprived because we didn’t go along with everyone else’s idea of Halloween. She said that she didn’t have any
regrets or resentments, nor did she feel “scarred”. She felt that though we didn’t celebrate Halloween like some other families, we explained in simple terms why we didn’t and that helped her understand our position. She also remembered that we always tried to make the season special in wholesome ways. The one area that she remembered as weak was that she wasn’t more prepared to explain to her friends why we did things differently. This would be an important things for parents to keep in mind.
So, the question remains, should we or shouldn’t we, allow our children to dress up and go “Trick or Treating”? That is a question all responsible parents deal with and the fact that you are questioning is a good thing in itself. Though Halloween is rooted in morbid spiritism, and its modern occult practitioners are consistent with its past, we cannot say that satan owns the day. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. (Psalm 24:1)
My personal suggestion is to allow your children to have fun with the day, but do all you can to educate them about the bad side of Halloween, according to their age and maturity level. Use the opportunity to explain how Jesus wants us to think about good things and not the bad or scary things that others are focusing on. Encourage them to dress up like Bible personalities or other types of costumes besides witches, goblins and spooky type things. Find or start a Harvest Day party at church, or a safe neighborhood type of function such as a “Trunk and Treat”. I would not recommend taking children around the neighborhoods the old fashioned way, but to limit candy gathering to the homes of friends and relatives.
To ignore the day may lead only to children feeling over protected and deprived while the school and their friends are having what appears to be a perfectly harmless time of fun. That is not to say that we should give in to all our children’s desires to “do what everyone else is doing”. Halloween gives parents and churches the opportunity to start our own wholesome traditions. At the same time, teaching our children that we belong to Jesus Christ and because of that we have different standards and values from many of our friends and that it is OK to be different.
What would I do different if I were still raising my children at home? I would try to do a better job of explaining the Christian life and teach them how to explain to their friends why we are different from the world. I would still allow them to dress-up, since kids love to pretend and I would still take them to a “harvest” party or to the grandparents for fun but I would always keep the emphasis on Christian living!
Pastor Gary A. Smith
New Life Christian Fellowship