We are in a series at Riv where we are encouraging everyone to “Live Questionably.” In other words, we want to live the kind of life that generates questions like “what are you doing?” so we can tell people about Jesus. Of course, living this kind of life also generates the same question from religious people that are “concerned” for you.
There is almost no better example than celebrating Halloween.
Each year, my kids get dressed up in costumes and wander around our neighborhood in a sugar and consumer-driven haze. They load up their bags with candy, come home, dump out the motherlode, and begin the obligatory bartering and trading for their favorite little morsels. One year when they were little, Halloween was on a Sunday and they wanted to wear their costumes to church, so we let them. There’s nothing like seeing Batman learn about Jesus.
Why do I let my kids trick or treat? Isn’t that anti-Christian? Isn’t Halloween Satan’s holiday?
I don’t think so.
Halloween is basically a cultural holiday in our society, as is Christmas. Both have pagan roots (as does Easter…but I’ll save that post) and have been adapted to have a different meaning in our culture. Let’s start with the latter:
Ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, as well as a lot of other cultures had mid-winter celebrations. By the 300s, that season had a ton of different cultures celebrating in their own ways. Common expressions were flowers, gifts, feasts, etc. In fact one pagan god had his birthday celebrated on December 25.
When Constantine became Emperor and then began to follow Christ, he did one of the stupidest things ever done in the history of the church (although it has been tried again…ahem). He tried to create a “Christian Country.” He made Christianity the state religion. That began the stamping out of other religions and their traditions and festivals. One of the ways that was done was moving the celebration of Jesus’ birth from mid-January to December 25. That way, they could infuse these cultural celebrations with the message of Jesus.
The Christians began to incorporate local traditions into their celebration of Jesus’ birth and that has been ongoing since then. This is an OK thing. Each culture has their own celebrations, and can have unique expressions of the Christian faith by using them.
The Irish celebrated in the winter with mistletoe and holly (these were symbols of fertility). They hung evergreen in their homes in the winter to ward off demons.
Pagans in the Middle Ages celebrated the winter by burning the “Yule Log.” It symbolized the magical powers of vegetation.
Pine trees have been brought indoors in many cultures (for a variety of reasons…almost all mystical) and in the 16th Century, this tradition was added to Christmas.
Bottom line: the Bible never tells us to celebrate Christmas (or Easter for that matter), but we do. And in order to do so, we have taken on a lot of pagan and cultic baggage. And that is totally fine. Why? Because we are celebrating a cultural holiday. Yes, it has been given a Christian message, but it is ultimately a cultural holiday.
A lot of pagan cultures celebrated fall festivals, the same as they did winter festivals. And just like there was an attempt to “Christianize” the winter celebrations, the church attempted to do the same with the fall ones. In the 7th century or so, the Catholic Church established “All-Saints Day” on November 1. Martin Luther chose the same day to post his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
The costumes are a throw back to the early pagan days, but the pumpkins, masks, parties, black cats, etc. were all Irish-American adaptations of this old holiday in the late 1800s.
Now, Halloween is an entirely cultural holiday. Surely, there are those who worship Satan on this day, but they most likely worship him on all the other days too. Your neighbor’s five year old is probably not looking to worship the Devil when he knocks on your front door, dressed up like Yo Gabba Gabba. But you know what he is doing?
He is knocking on your door.
Halloween is a unique holiday. In fact, it may give you a better Gospel opportunity than Christmas! On Christmas, everyone gathers in their homes with their families. On Halloween, everyone in the neighborhood hangs out with each other. You get to meet new neighbors and reflect the generosity of Jesus by giving away gobs of candy (no toothbrushes or tracts). You get to be normal person like everyone else. We like to use Halloween as a time to invite extra people (our kids’ friends and our’s) into our home. We make sure to load the kids up on pizza before they go out so at least there is a bit of protein in their diet that day.
With all of this said, we need to read (and heed) Paul’s warning to the church in Corinth:
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
(1 Corinthians 8:4–13)
There are those that can celebrate Halloween with a clear conscience, because they know that “there is only one God and no other.”
“However, not all possess this knowledge…”
There are also those who can not celebrate Halloween with a clear conscience–you may be one of them. These people should by no means celebrate it against their conscience, or they would be in sin. We don’t miss out on anything if we don’t celebrate Halloween (or Christmas) and we don’t gain anything if we do.
Except maybe candy corn.
Image Credit: Justin