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 roam about town looking for treats and tricks, I would help my parents hand out treats for the Trick or Treaters that came to our house. It was fun putting candy into their bags, looking at all the clever and creative costumes, and trying to guess who was behind the masks. Sometimes we would even recognize neighborhood kids who were way too old to be out Trick or Treating!
I also have a memory of another side of our innocent candy collecting adventures. It was when my friend Jack 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 wanted to leave, but he was persuasive in detaining us. Thankfully, 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 fascination with things of a macabre nature that are widely expressed in Halloween. But, since our parents and school teachers said it was all pretend, it just seemed like harmless like The Adams Family or The Munster’s.
Now, after coming to Christ, we were now learning that there was a real dark side to Halloween and that it wasn’t as benign as we naively thought as children. We were attending a Bible study where others told us that there really were witches and evil spirits, and they were all agents of satan!
Could this be true?
Let’s take a look at Halloween’s history to see how it originated. There are a number of claims but the most 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 honored the dead and involved the making of sacrifices of large quantities of crops and animals.
Interestingly there were, and are, many cultures that have festivals for the dead. It is reported that these traditions in the months of October-November were always connected with memorializing the dead or as a feast honoring the ancestors. This recognition of the dead is practiced in a great number of nations and ethnic groups including Australian Aborigines, Fiji Islanders, the Hindus, and Druids, as well as in Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, France and many other places in the world.
For example, the Chinese celebrate the Ghost Festival, the Japanese celebrate something similar called O-bon, and in Korea there is Chauseoke. The Vietnamese also have a variant of the Ghost Festival called TetTrung Nguyen. (The Tet Offensive fought during the Viet Nam War took place during this festival.) The Philippines and Nepal all have similar type ceremonies with the dead being the focus. Some dress as the dead, others burn bonfires (bonefires), carry torches, and carved gourds into hideous images in an attempt to scare evil spirits away. Some clean tombs and some conduct a ceremony, believing they are bringing the spirits of the dead to the judgment seat of the god of the dead.
Since so many cultures of the world have a day on which they focus on the dead and because it is all occurs at the same time of year, it is believed 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 Noah’s Flood since it destroyed most of the human race. Noah’s family would have sad memories of family and friends that were all destroyed in the Flood and it is very possible that they may have set aside a day or season for remembrance and grieving. (The population of the world at that time has been estimated to have been in the billions, even larger than today!) Certainly the earliest remembrances would not have been celebrated in a ghoulish manner, but it is likely that it transformed over time.
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. Today, however, Halloween is considered a “high holiday” or "holy day" for those involved in witchcraft and other occultist and esoteric activities. “Holiday” is truly a misnomer since there is nothing holy about Halloween.
This brings me back to the challenge we had as young parents. Having learned that the very dark side was real and that Halloween is taken very seriously by those who serve evil spirits, we had a very hard time allowing our kids to go out about town to “trick or treat”. We also were convicted that we should not allow them to dress up like witches, spooks, ghosts or monsters. On the other hand we wrestled with whether we were being too strict, since their school encouraged them to dress up like all the kids. We certainly didn’t want them to stand out as being “odd balls” - something we adults can handle, but is difficult for children to understand. We were also concerned that if they perceived us as being excessively strict, they would be more likely to reject their parent’s faith as they got older, something that is all too common. So we felt a lot of pressure to make the right choice and guide our children in the right way.
“But wait”, you say, “Aren’t Christians supposed to be separated from the world?” You are exactly right. But we are dealing with children and it is difficult for them to 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? Our greatest desire, like those of you reading this was to help our children have a living relationship with Jesus Christ and to live a life that is pleasing to Him. We began to see Halloween as an opportunity to teach them, so we explained to them why we were not going to participate in the dark side of Halloween. In fact, Halloween gave us an opportunity to teach our children about how Jesus has overcome all the scary things represented in Halloween and that He came to give us life and to deliver us from fear and fearful things. It was also is a great time to teach them that the devil is the one who comes to bring fear and is behind the scary, earie things that Halloween represents.
We decided we would allow them to dress up as harmless characters. I remember princess costumes, Indian maidens, cowgirls, and such, and our girls seemed fine with that. (If you are not certain that 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, our simple explanations 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 is 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 it is a good thing in itself. Even 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 and at the same time do all you can to educate them about the dark 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 harmless costumes but not 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 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 it provides an opportunity to teach them that we belong to Jesus Christ and because of that, we have different standards and values that we live by and that it is okay to be different.
What would I do differently if I
were still raising my children? I would
try to do a better job of explaining the Christian life, and better equip them
to explain what they believe to their friends and 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, while always keeping the emphasis on Jesus!
Pastor Gary A Smith
New Life Christian Fellowship