One of the fondest memories I had as a child was Halloween. Dressing up in costumes, playing around as a pirate with my plastic sword, fake beard, eye patch and bandana going door to door collecting candy. But that wasn’t the best part. Throughout the year parents are usually too busy to be kids again. But Halloween was the one time of the year my parents would dress up too. It was awesome. And it meant so much to me. And we’d meet our cousins and aunts and uncles and together we’d go out trick or treating. Afterward we’d all go back to one of our homes and dump out our piles of candy taking inventory as our parents scoured through them making sure everything was safe.
When we became Christians all of that stopped. We were told about how Halloween is the devil’s holiday. We were told that real life witches, warlocks, and devil worshippers were out performing incantations that night. We were warned to leave our black cat in the house lest a witch discover him and we find him gutted in the backyard the next morning. We were told about the heightened promiscuity that went on at costume parties on Halloween and we were told about all of the symbols – ghosts, demons, witches and more – pointing to satan.
In my later teen years I became active in a Halloween safety patrol with my church. We’d patrol the streets around our community wearing special vests so people knew who we were. It provided comfort to the parents in the community until things got out of hand and some of our fellow patrollers began acting like Dog the Bounty Hunter.
In my early twenties I began to collect books against Halloween. They explained the pagan background and the contemporary cultic practices. They cited Bible verses and encouraged holiness. It all made sense to me. I wanted to be holy. I didn’t want to partake in the Devil’s activities. I wanted to be faithful to God and his Word.
But over the past few years my views have changed. I’ve matured spiritually in many ways, but just as important, I’ve grown in my understanding of God’s Word. I’ve learned to think critically about what I believe – a habit all who seek truth should develop. And this has led me to a more nuanced appreciation of God’s Message and its application for today. What seemed to make sense to me in the past I now see as imprisoning. But I was divided. My conservative Church culture said “no” to Halloween, and I hadn’t the courage yet to say “yes” due to the pressure of many Christians. “I began to see that my refusal to [partake] in Halloween was evidence of a divided heart — but Jesus wants my whole heart.”
Having a child of my own I began to ask myself if robbing her of the memories and family joy that I had as a child is worth the fear I had of Christians who misappropriate God’s word to keep us from such things (you’ll see how legalists misappropriate God’s Word below). As I sought the Lord on this matter I did not feel the resistance of the Holy Spirit to the idea of going out trick or treating with my daughter, as some Christians claimed. So I threw down the gauntlet this year and made my views known. Immediately I felt resistance from two branches – a Catholic who insisted that Halloween did not have pagan origins, and a fundamentalist who made a not-so-subtle attempt to set me on the “straight and narrow” with a link to an article by Michele Blake titled “10 Reasons I Kissed Halloween Goodbye.” But one place I did not sense resistance from was the Lord. What I felt instead was peace and joy and freedom.
Michele’s article represents standard objections to Christians celebrating Halloween. So I’ll be using that as a template and offer a reasoned response. I hope that someone will read this and find freedom from the bondage of legalism.
1. It glorifies evil, not God…
Blake quotes 1 Thes. 5:21-22 (“… abstain from all appearances of evil.”) and 2 Tim. 1:7 (“God has not given us a spirit of fear…”) as her first reasons to refuse to partake in Halloween – being the ghostly, bloody, deathly festival that it is. The problem is that those verses have been used for decades now in support of all kinds of personal crusades of legalism. Everything from going to the movie theatre to playing solitaire with a deck of cards to listening to rock and roll. One might think, based on those standards, that the Old Testament itself is too gruesome, or contains too much blood and death and witches and cults and evil spirits, for Christians to read. Facing the reality of death is not something that should cause Christians (of all people!) to be fearful because we have the ultimate hope that death has been defeated (1 Cor. 15:5).
But you know what does glorify God? Families! Halloween was one of those crazy, all-in, fun family festivals for us. Sure we don’t need Halloween to draw closer as a family and to have fun together (just like we don’t need to go to Canada’s Wonderland theme park). But Halloween is a festival that enhances our family time. At least it was for me growing up and it will be for my own family now. Us in the Holiness tradition are so concerned with personal piety that the idea of family and community has too often been left to the wayside.
2. If the seed is bad the fruit will be bad…
Blake begins with the assertion that “Halloween has never been a Christian holiday.” She is factually mistaken. The word Halloween came from the words “All Hallow Eve” because it was the eve of “All Saints Day” which was followed by “All Souls Day.” The three days together are called Hallowmas (think: Christmas), and they were established on Oct 31-Nov 2 by the Pope in the eighth century. (For more on this, watch my video.) It is erroneous assertions like that which gives Catholic apologists ammunition. But she is correct that the day for Halloween was originally celebrated as a pagan festival in which some elements involved superstitions of the dead and that the Church sought to baptize or redeem the pagan actives.
Then, in a way that borderlines national idolatry Blake quotes a passage from Deuteronomy 18:9-11 (and 12:1-4) suggesting that America was the new promised land and that they should not practice the cultic actives brought by the settlers. She goes on to say “Putting a Christian label over the top of a pagan practice does not make it pleasing to God.” But look in the mirror. God put a label over you. It’s called “Christian.” You were once dead in you trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2). In other words, the seed was bad. But not beyond redemption! I can only hope that Blake is inconsistent in her thinking, otherwise she’d have a terrible atonement theology. The Church has always sought to redeem elements of this world and turn them to something positive. Wedding rings originated with paganism. Sunday – the day set aside to worship God – is named after the sun god. If we follow Blakes reasoning, we’d have to do away with Christmas too (and some have!).
3. Don’t dine with demons…
She calls up the fact that during the Samhain festival people believed that their dead relatives in spirit form would come up and dine with them for dinner. She comments about how dining was a very important and intimate thing in the Bible and then she quotes 1 Cor. 10:21: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons…” But she doesn’t go far enough into the context. For not much further Paul writes, “Eat anything sold in the meat market [in Corinth all meat sold in the marketplace was first sacrificed to pagan idols, and everyone in Corinth knew it] without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (vs. 25-26). Some people felt that eating meat sacrificed to pagans made it inherently evil. For that reason Paul tells the Christians not to eat the meat with them. But not for their own sake (because, hey, sacrificed to idol or not, it’s just meat: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”), but for the conscious sake of the other person.
On a side note I’d also point out that I don’t know anybody today who sets a plate for the spirits of their dead relatives at the table on Halloween. That practice died out when Christians began to celebrate Hallowmas. So her point #3 is moot anyways.
4. Halloween is an excuse to flaunt sexuality…
Blake opens with this line: “It’s true. Halloween is becoming more risqué every year. In fact, sometimes I think its real name is “Dress Like a Porn Star” Day.”
Of course there are people who flaunt sexuality on Halloween. Just like there are people who are gambling addicts when they play cards and just like there are people who alcoholics when the touch a beer and just like there are people who still make out at the back of a movie theatre and just like…
Point being that Blake wants to make Halloween out to be some type of sexual orgy. The evangelical obsession with sexuality is no secret (except perhaps to evangelicals). And this point #4 may say more about Blake than it says about Halloween. Sure there are abuses. But when I walked up and down the streets doing safety patrol, I didn’t see that many girls dressed like prostitutes (I don’t recall any actually!). I’m not going to stop celebrating Halloween just because there are people out there who are making it more “risqué” any more than I’m going to stop watching television just because the networks are trying to push the envelope. No, a hermits life is not what we’re called to.
By the way, Christmas is getting more “risqué” too. But I’m not ready to give that up either.
5. We play how we practice…
Blake propogates the myth that if children dress up and are exposed to blood and dead bodies once a year, they are more likely to become violent murderers or something. This has been disproved through studies involving things like video games and movies. Furthermore, if she were consistent she’d have to remove all violence from the Bible – or have her children not read it; not to mention cartoons like Transformers, G.I.Joe, He-man; or movies; video games; play wrestling; snowball fights – and the list goes on. Who draws the line? Legalists will say “I do!” and they’ll spell out their own little crusade and be inconsistent in other areas of life.
6. Are we causing others to stumble?…
Here Blake points out that Jesus says that we should not cause the children to stumble. She, again, paints Halloween is a druid, cultic and satanic thing… which it’s not. Test this. Go around asking random people where Halloween came from and what it means (see “bonus” at the end for more on this). I don’t think they’ll give that answer. They’ll say things like, “I don’t know and don’t care.” “It’s just a fun time to get dressed up” or whatever. It used to be cultic and there are a sliver of the population who step up their incantations that night. But Halloween no longer carries those ancient meaning. Of course if you are with someone who thinks that Halloween is evil, then do not go trick or treating with them, for their sake (as Paul says in 1 Cor. 10).
7. Be faithful in the small things…
Here she points out that Halloween is not just a small thing, even though it’s one day of the year. It’s still evil. She quotes Luke 16:10 about being faithful in the small things; She reminds us that God appeared to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); and that the religion that God wants is to keep us “unspotted with the world” (James 1:27). She remarks “God has told us to focus on what is pure, noble, right, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). Is Halloween any of these things? No, and therefore it is unworthy of any of our time or thoughts.”
First of all, a “small thing” that fundamentalists are not very good at being faithful in is family. As I said above, we usually have our heads too stuck up our holy-rear-end to spend any quality time with the family doing crazy-fun things unless it’s like Dutch Blitz or something. Secondly, God did destroy the works of the devil… on the cross. I hardly doubt carving a pumpkin with my wife and daughter – and then, gasp! eating the baked seeds – qualifies as undoing the atonement of Christ. Third, who defines “unspotted”? Someone will tell me getting a tattoo violates that verse. Others will say drinking a can of Coke violates that verse. Maybe going on scary roller coasters violates that verse. Definitely watching movies (no question about that!). This is the problem with the way legalists use holiness verses. Each other, at their own whim, sets their own standards and then expects others to obey them. And of course, they call it God’s standards.
And what is pure, noble and lovely. When we spend the evening carving a pumpkin, eating the seeds and playing around – my wife, baby and I – I think that qualifies. I don’t have to follow Blakes definition.
8. God wants to bless us… but not the way the world wants to bless us…
Quoting Jeremiah 10:2 she writes: “We often say we don’t want to deprive our children of candy, of dressing up, of the “fun” they have by participating in this holiday. But God has already told us the customs of the world are futile!” Okay, so let’s think about that for a moment. Here’s some “customs of the world”. Wedding rings were a custom of the world long before Christians turned them into great symbols. Christmas and birthdays are customs of the world. Apple picking is a custom of the world (et cetera). But for some reason Michele wants to focus on Halloween. It’s that legalistic tendency to apply verses like this to our own crusades.
Side note: she completely misunderstands the biblical concept of “blessing.” If you are “in Christ,” you are no longer under the curse of the Fall, but you are now in the blessing which is another way of saying “in the Kingdom of God,” in an “already-but-not yet” sort of way. But that theology is heavy lifting… it’s not “pop Christian” perversions of blessing we see so many talk about today. We don’t “get” or “not get” God’s blessing by going out trick or treating.
9. There is sin in the camp…
Growing up in the holiness tradition (I’m still there!), Achan is a favourite of many (see book of Joshua). It’s a man who had taken when he wasn’t supposed to and hid his stuff in his tent and, as a result, the rest of the army could not win any battles. “There’s sin in the camp!” we routinely cry out. It’s a great metaphor and one Blake points to here. She then twists that passage and applies it to Halloween: “We have made ourselves the judges of what is good and evil instead of following God’s command to avoid even the spoils of the enemy.” The consistent theme with her approach to the Bible throughout her post is that she violates scriptural hermeneutics (how to properly understand a passages message, and then (only then and even “IF”) do we see if it applies today.).
She says “Even if we think our costumes are not sinful (as if it’s the costume that’s the problem and not the fact that we are still giving reverence to the holiday itself), what about others who have decided that there is nothing wrong with their costumes either? After all, they aren’t really practicing witchcraft, just dressing up as witches. So do we excuse the dressing up but draw the line at Ouija boards? What about pretending to cast spells?” But here’s the thing. What about movies? Porn exists as a whole industry. Is there “sin in my camp” because I go see Star Wars in the theatre which is a movie just like a porno is a movie. Sure, my movie is not sinful, but what about others who have decided that there is nothing wrong with their movies (porno’s)? You see my point. Legalism picks and chooses how they want to apply any random verse in the Bible to support their own personal crusades (yes, there are some out there who would insist that watching Star Wars is evil).
10. Come out from them and be separated…
She says, “Perhaps the reason I finally let go of Halloween was precisely because I didn’t want to.”
When I first read that line I thought she said “… precisely because I wanted to.” My reaction was: Finally, a reasonable argument. If we were both in the city of Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing, I’d be enjoying a good steak while Michele Blake would be a vegan. If she invited me over for dinner, I’d eat leaves. If I invited her over for dinner, I’d still be eating leaves. Paul teaches that we are to sacrifice for the sake of the person with the weaker conscience sake, not for my own sake. But after she’d leave, I’d roast me up another good steak, whether or not it came from a pagan temple (1 Cor. 10).
But she didn’t say “because I wanted to” she said, “because I didn’t want to. Sadly, she implies its wrong on the simple grounds that she enjoyed it. We are called, no question, to take up our crosses and follow Christ. Does that mean I need to give up an enjoyable, comfortable bed for a piece of slate metal? Do I need to give up my warm winter jack for a torn t-shirt? And for what? To prove something to Jesus? Where do we draw the line. Anything we want, we have to give up. Surely if God calls us to, say, the mission field or whatever. But Michele doesn’t add a qualifier. She gives it up just because she didn’t want to. Does Michele Blake want to be a writer? Then what’s she doing writing an article for an online website. By her argument, if she wants it, it is that thing she should not be doing.
Then she quotes 2 Corinthians 2:17 and she applies it to her personal crusade. Again, who’s to say what “come out from among them” looks like, exactly? Don’t watch their movies. Don’t eat their food? Don’t get tattoos (she’d probably agree with that one)? Don’t go to their theme parks? One “do” might make the list: become a hermit.
If Michele wants to apply 2 Corinthians 2:17 to herself regarding Halloween, great. Sad. But great. Sad because she’s become convinced that Halloween is evil and as a result she is robbing herself, her husband and her children of a great family experience (which is really what Halloween is about). But ‘great’ in that, if that is her conviction, she should stick to it unless she changes her mind. Sadly, her opening paragraph manipulates people into thinking that her conviction is not her conviction, but it’s from “the Holy Spirit.” But I too felt peace from the Holy Spirit. Peace to enjoy this day we call Halloween and to partake in its activities because, for us, it has no pagan connection at all.
Bonus: The meaning of it all
Let me ask you this: if something Christian needs knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the experience in order for it to have real meaning, then why do we assume that the opposite is untrue. It someone says “the Sinner’s Prayer” but doesn’t know what they’re saying, doesn’t have an understanding or an appreciation of the experience, they all they did was utter words which accomplished nothing. If someone undergoes believers baptism in Church without knowing what they are doing, understanding and having an appreciation of the experience, they’re just taking a public bath. There’s no meaning in it.
But why is it that knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the experience is not necessary for the opposite to be true. Why do we assign Halloween evil meaning when people don’t know its origins, don’t care about its origins and don’t appreciate it’s origins or the customs as the ancient cult practitioners did?
I think we are inconsistent by saying that someone needs to know and willing submit to the cross (faith) for salvation to take effect, but they do not need to know and willing submit to Samhain for the ancient druid practices to be automatically applied thus making the day evil inherently.
Just a thought…