Why Your Church Should be Involved in Halloween
Question has been posed: Should Christians be involved in Halloween?
While a few folks practice evil on Halloween, many are practicing what I would consider harmless fun – but they are still lost. Most of Halloween today is just a big candy collection and hayride. I can remember as a pastor’s kid, my parents asking us kids to go to bed because they needed to clean what some people wrote on the windows of our home while we were at our church’s harvest party. (swear words, drawings of sexual images, and things that can’t go on cable)
I look back on now that not as the “work of the devil” but as a desperate cry for help. We weren’t home during a rare moment in our society when people still think its ok to say hi to their neighbors. I wish with all my might we had been there to talk with those people, probably teens. I think the church as a whole needs to embrace at least that aspect of Halloween as a holiday.
With that in mind, some preliminary thoughts on Halloween,
While HW celebrations were associated with the pagan roots of the Celtic festival, Samhain. (This is a Wiccan festival associated with speaking to the dead, holding a seance, etc) Truly the harvest festival started with the Druids, they started their year on Oct. 31st, with the lighting of bonfires and offering of sacrifices. During the 8th century Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day to Nov. 1 officially making Oct. 31st All Hallows Eve. Some say as a way of claiming the holiday for Christians. Although many Christian churches were already celebrating and commemorating the martyrdom of the saints prior to this. The pope broadened the feast to include the church but some of the pagan practices persisted.
Now let me say that I have a view of the “Christ and Culture problem” with the solution that “Christ is the transformer of culture.” With that in mind I think the church can be part of transformation every holiday into something that has redemptive purposes. Lets take a quick rabbit trail to illustrate my point…
Let’s compare our practice of Christmas because I think its applicable and then some thoughts I would suggest. Most likely Jesus Christ was born in the spring, not winter. Frankly, the early Christians didn’t care much about the birth of Jesus as much as they did his resurrection.
Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a weeklong period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman. The ancient Greek writer poet and historian Lucian (in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia) describes the festival’s observance in his time. In addition to human sacrifice, he mentions these customs: widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; and other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits (still produced in some English and most German bakeries during the Christmas season). (The Ginger Bread Man.)
When Constantine the Roman emperor was saved from paganism in the 4th century he wanted nothing to do with Saturnalia. But for that superstitious group of people it was an important holiday so he super imposed the celebration of Christ on the holiday, hoping to take the pagan masses in with it. It should also be noted that Christmas as a holiday was further perpetuated by the coronation of Charlemagne on December 25th 800 AD. He as king declared it a national holiday.
Other origins of practices associated with Christmas:
Just as early Christians recruited Roman pagans by associating Christmas with the Saturnalia, so too worshippers of the Asheira cult and its offshoots were recruited by the Church sanctioning “Christmas Trees”. The Pagans had long worshipped trees in the forest, or brought them into their homes and decorated them, and this observance was adopted and redeemed by the Church.
Mistletoe. Norse mythology recounts how the god Balder was killed using a mistletoe arrow by his rival god Hoder while fighting for the female Nanna. Druid rituals use mistletoe to poison their human sacrificial victim, we attempted to redeem this practice by greeting brothers and sisters with a holy kiss but unfortunately its been sexualized by our culture.
As you probably can guess, at our home and in the Evangelical church movement we celebrate Christmas and go all out because we are celebrating the fact that God gave us Jesus. Jesus gave himself. His birth is essential for our life for the life to come.
I do this despite many associations that I have surrounding the origin of holiday that was originally Saturnalia and that frankly had some incredibly despicable practices. I could take or leave Christmas. The most important holiday to me is the Resurrection of Jesus but I also know how much Christmas can mean to people in our churches and in my family who don’t know ancient history or church history like I do.
Moreover I have seen lots of people introduced to a relationship with Jesus as a result of highlighting the holiday of Christmas. So I celebrate wholeheartedly.
…Back to Halloween
What does the Scriptures say?
Don’t participate in the things these people do. For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.(NLT)
For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling or sorcery, or allow them to interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is an object of horror and disgust to the Lord. (NLT)
Well, these verses are pretty clear on what a Christian should not do. But how many Christians are sacrificing their sons and daughters as a burnt offering on Halloween? How many are calling forth the spirits of the dead? The verse does not say that “trick or treating” from house to house disgusts the Lord. 🙂 I think for most Halloween is now a children’s holiday.
What is scary to me is that when people go trick or treating is that all of the houses that Christians live at are the dark houses. Think about that. All those houses that have the light are the houses without the lights on. They are all at the harvest party. Why, when you’re going to have 80 kids walk to your door, would we all decide to go away?
So I think the Christian home needs to be present for part of Halloween, at least giving candy. I think celebrating appropriately and breathing Jesus into the holiday is the right response. I think letting the community know that a church is a safe place to send their kids to collect lots of candy is an incredible way to get more kids into your church in one night.
It could also be a great time to talk about the saints who are models to follow: Paul, Peter, your church’s people that did great things for God.
Let’s take the opportunity to build relationships not hide from people.