Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

There are a few things I’m sure about when it comes to the controversial subject of Halloween.

One: Seriously, whose idea was have kids go from door to door in the dark demanding excessive amounts of sugar from total strangers? That doesn’t even make sense.

Two: I live in Minnesota, and therefore most weather-appropriate costumes should come with parkas, even if that ruins the effect a bit.

Three: Candy corn is disgusting.

Also, I love this cartoon's strategy.

Also, I love this cartoon’s strategy.

There are other things I’m less sure of, but that I’ve been thinking through recently. Please take this post in that spirit (no pun intended).

Full disclosure: I’m not a mom. I don’t know what it’s like to tell your little princess she’ll have to save the sparkly fairy dress for the dress-up chest (or a church Fall Fest). Or, alternately, trying to explain to your little pirate that, while you’re touring the neighborhood to solicit candy, you don’t actually support the undead, sorcery, or guys with chainsaws being “cool.” But hopefully I can throw some interesting thoughts into the discussion anyway.

If you’re a Christian, I think deciding whether or not to celebrate Halloween sticks you with two tricky theological questions:

Do we give Satan too much credit and imply that he’s stronger than the defeated enemy he is by sweeping over the entire celebration and calling it “evil”?

Or do we trivialize real evil, dismissing deeper spiritual realities by looking at only the cute, culturally acceptable parts of the celebration and calling it “harmless”?*

Halloween2

This was my favorite Jesus pumpkin I found online. (Yes, there were several.)

Let’s skip the whole can-o’-worms issue of the origin of the holiday and go straight to how it’s celebrated today. If we’re going big-picture here, then deciding whether a holiday lines up with the Christian faith, the first thing we should probably ask is “What is our faith about?”

It’s about grace. It’s about the unexpected entrance of hope into a very grim, very dark story. It’s about a love that isn’t earned or deserved, about imperfect people living in community, about truth that sets us free. It’s about hope and courage and self-sacrifice and joy that goes beyond our circumstances.

There’s a lot there worth celebrating.

Then, we can move on to “What is Halloween about?”

On a generous day, we can say it’s about collecting insane amount of packaged candies, putting up spooky decorations, dressing like a cartoon character or future occupation or whatever Mom could piece together from the attic.

Less generously, we could include things like haunted houses (where for some inexplicable reason you pay people to terrify you), slasher films (because someone has to keep the fake blood industry going), monsters in various stages of non-existence (dead, undead, mostly dead…), spells and graves and demons and ghosts, all mixed together like the delightful cocktail of animal appendages in Macbeth.

Which seems less worthy of celebrating, even if we go with the generous option.

You can make the argument that Halloween doesn’t celebrate fear and darkness, but rather fun and imagination. I can buy that to a point, and there may be a way to celebrate where that is the focus, but come on, guys. I’ve walked through the Halloween section of Walmart. I’ve seen those cackling Bloody Undead Ghost Clowns. There’s a lot of PR for fear and darkness going on.

I look at Christians celebrating Halloween much like I do people who insist that Valentine’s Day really is Singles Awareness Day…you can do that, I guess, but you have to change the entire cultural message of the holiday, and most people won’t realize what you’re really celebrating and…really, what’s the point, anyway?

I’m not saying that every kid wearing a sparkly witch tutu has sold her soul to the devil. I’m not saying that Satan is behind every tissue paper ghost hanging from the trees or that you should hold a book burning party for Harry Potter instead of trick-or-treating.

All I’m saying is that what we celebrate is important. What we treat as unimportant or harmless makes a statement. And what kids see us approving or disapproving matters.

That said, there could be 100% acceptable, family-friendly, non-occult ways to celebrate Halloween in your community, and you may choose to participate with your kids. Just make sure you know why you’re making your choice. And consider talking about it with your kids. If we miss that step, no matter what we decide, I think we’re missing a huge opportunity.

If parents who don’t want their kid to participate in Halloween don’t explain why, the kid might think, “I bet my parents just want me to look like a loser to all my friends and don’t want me to become Batman when I grow up and Jesus must hate fun and happiness and candy corn.” (The kid would be right about the candy corn, but that’s it.)

If parents who do let their kid participate in Halloween don’t explain why, the kid might think, “I bet my parents just caved to this because everyone else is doing it and ghosts and zombies and voodoo aren’t really a big deal and playing around with things like that is okay as long as you don’t go too far and also my dad is probably secretly Batman in disguise.”

Are these exaggerated? Maybe a little. But you get the point. If you talk about the “whys” behind your choice for Halloween, you teach your kids that choices matter, that what you believe about God influences what you do and why you do it.

No guys. Just...no. Unless the lollipop is super high quality candy that would reflect well on God. And even then....

No, guys. Just…no. Unless the lollipop is a delicious, super high quality candy that would reflect well on God. And even then, I’m not convinced.

If you think I’m ridiculous for making Halloween a theological issue…well, wait for things to get even crazier. Because I think everything is a theological issue.

Theology doesn’t just teach us how to pray, guys. Theology teaches us how to respond to airline attendants after a flight delay, how to file our taxes, how to drive in a school zone, how to work out at the gym. If it doesn’t affect how we walk, talk, dress, give, create, and yes, celebrate holidays, then we’re not doing it right. It’s not about rules, about following a firm “always do this” or “never do that” for every possible scenario. It’s about loving God so much that we try to walk out our faith as best we can with the help of the Holy Spirit, even in the most mundane choices.

I would’ve said “Holy Ghost” instead of Holy Spirit, but I don’t want both sides of this debate to come down on me after this post. Or worse, to torture me by mailing me large packages of candy corn.

Okay, let’s talk. Did you celebrate Halloween as a kid, and why or why not? If you have kids, what do you do now, and why?

*Stuffy Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: Although I should also note that I think there’s a time and place for taking the spiritual realm lightly. Lewis started out The Screwtape Letters with this quotation from Luther: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” (Almost as if he knew that Christians get a little touchy when it comes to talking about Satan. Or humor in general.) Lewis and Luther have a good point. We don’t need to show respect and reverence for the devil the same way we would toward God. We can have fun at his expense…but for what purpose? What Lewis did with The Screwtape Letters helped Christians to think properly about the powerlessness of the devil in light of God’s love, and gave them insight into resisting temptation. Trick-or-treating probably doesn’t accomplish anything that profound. Possibly anything at all except kids in a sugar coma.

15 comments

  1. I was really happy to see that you brought up Halloween. It’s a tough subject that can only be handled with prayer.

    A couple years ago, my family and I had a light bulb moment. It went something like, “God calls us to go out into the world and be missionaries. He also brings the world right to our door on the one of the most evil nights of the year…hmmm.” We, along with several family friends, decided to bless and be present in our community by not only giving out candy, but hot chocolate and cider to both children and their parents.

    It’s escalated in the last four years to full size candy bars and carnival games too. We served about 1500 people.

    What I love most about what we do is we acknowledge the darkness and we are empowered by the Spirit to stand in it’s face with the Light. We don’t pretend it’s not there or that it isn’t that big of a deal but we don’t hide from it either. We face it head on, and as we pour or 400th cup of cocoa we pour love into the people around us. Jesus gave us so much, we can’t not share His love with others. This alternative approach to Halloween has given people hope and connection. It’s also made Halloween one of my favorite holidays.

    Ellie D. age 15

    P.S. I always look forward to your posts and I’ve benefited from them a lot. Thank you!

    1. Ellie, this is so cool! What I like most about what your family does is that you’re not retreating or reacting with a cheesy Christian version of the holiday (i.e. the Harvest Lollipops) but taking an opportunity to love others.

      I think a lot of Christians who don’t approve of Halloween then decide that it’s okay to just slam doors in the faces of the people they should be caring about. What a fun idea that your family has to connect with others. Thanks for sharing it!

      And I’m glad you enjoy the blog too! 🙂

  2. I love celebrating Halloween and always have! I’ve never understood the “lock the doors and hide” Christians that shun Halloween. Because what they’re really doing is shunning people.
    Halloween is the one American holiday where your neighbors are actually coming to your door and knocking! Ready to receive! And I know from experience that the vast majority of people will accept a little slip with church info or a bible verse on it. A lot of people stop and chat! And even though candy is not REMOTELY a necessity, you are still sacrificing some time and money to give people a gift that they will enjoy (hopefully in moderation but probs not).
    I think a lot of people just focus on the wrong things. At least for me and I think most children growing up, you need to have some basic conversations about what is appropriate and what isn’t and why we don’t participate in some elements of a holiday. It’s also pretty simple to emphasize varying degrees of significance in holidays. I’m not a parent so maybe it is really difficult to have those conversations with your kids, but it seemed to work ok for my parents.
    Also… Dressing up is so fun!

    1. Thanks, Kellie, for sharing your thoughts and especially for bringing up the issue of whether families should welcome other trick-or-treaters. I personally don’t see Jesus putting up a “Go Away – Halloween Is Evil” sign on his door. (There actually are templates for signs like that, explaining the pagan origin of Halloween. I’m not joking. This does not seem okay.)

  3. Since you asked, when I was little we stayed inside with the lights off, ate pizza, and watched a movie. When my siblings and I got older, our grandparents started sending us Whole Foods gift cards, so we’d go and buy yummy snacks there. The last few years before coming to college my youngest sibling and I did dress up (I was Bilbo last year, complete with cardboard Sting, and a Gandalf nodded gravely at me xD).

      1. That costume, though! Ha! When I was in college, we dressed up and a bunch of kids from the community came to the dorms for candy. (Pretty ingenious idea…they got a ton of candy in one location.)

  4. I think I remember my family giving out candy once or twice on Halloween when I was little, but for most of my childhood we didn’t. We would either go to a fall festival at one of the Christian schools or hang out at home, not answer the door and just have family time. (When we went to the Fall festivals, I tended to spend most of my time trying to obtain a goldfish in one of the games)

    This didn’t mean we were rejecting others or that we didn’t have fun this day. In some ways I actually kind of hated Halloween when I was little because I didn’t enjoy scary things, would often have an unpleasant dream on Halloween night, and thus it was probably best I didn’t participate anyway.

    I think one thing to remember is that Halloween is a little unsafe, anyway. If I were a parent I don’t think I’d want my kids going around the neighborhood in the dark for candy, and then there’s the pranks that people pull. One time, my family was staying inside and pretending we weren’t home, same as usual for Halloween night, and we heard a noise outside. Turns out a trick or treater turned on the water hose outside and ran off. I guess with some people causing unpredictable trouble I wouldn’t want my kids out and in the middle of the festivities.

    Thinking about it, there’s some things parents could probably do to educate their kids and let them have fun without participating in the parts of Halloween that might not be good. Firstly, have fun learning about the history of Halloween, because there’s some very fascinating things about it and kids should learn what they can about history. And people will also have less grounds for accusing them of being naive Christians that hide in a bubble. Secondly, use this holiday to acknowledge that evil exists and should not be celebrated. Maybe have a bit of story time, a story that may even be a little spooky to fit the holiday, but one that shows God’s grace and love by having the characters being rescued at the end. If I were a parent, I may actually write a story specifically for this, since I love to write. For younger kids, I bet any of those ‘Where’s God when I’m afraid’ stories would work well. Bryan Davis has one out, I think, though I’ve never read it. All this would probably keep the kids from feeling as left out or kept from something fun.

    One thing I heard Phil Vischer point out in one of his podcasts is that maybe Halloween is an opportunity to sort of make fun of evil and not let it control us with fear.

    1. Autumn, great points. The idea of story is particularly interesting to me. Because you’re right, I think stories do a much more compelling job of treating evil as real, but not in a celebratory way. I’ll have to think more about that.

      And I think I listened to the same podcast. I think I’d be more open to that idea if I didn’t know that some really bad stuff actually happens on Halloween. To be honest, it would be nice if Halloween was actually just celebrated like, “Hey, kids, want to go out and sacrifice a goat to the devil?” And Christians could be like, “Um…no.” Because that would clearly be not okay. Instead, we have a bunch of fun traditions in a holiday that was not intended to be family-friendly, and for that reason, I’m not 100% sure what to do about it.

      1. Yeah, I think if I had kids I wouldn’t let them go trick or treating because of all the things that could happen, even if they were with me.

        I am somewhat a fan of people making holidays their own in some ways. An example of someone doing this was this person I saw online that said they had drifted away from God, so she sort of started using Halloween as her family’s Christmas and gave her kids presents at that time. I of course am not a fan of the drifting away from God part, but I like the idea of people making their own traditions up, because who says we have to celebrate Halloween the way the rest of pop culture does?

        Some might say we need to worry about Christmas like we do Halloween, though. Or maybe even worse, since some people would say the bad things are disguised as family friendly activities. I think one time when my step grandma came over she mentioned to my mom some things she thought were wrong about Christmas trees and elves and many things we have around Christmas. In some ways it’s understandable, especially after listening to a lot of documentaries about ancient Europe and how many people still believed in fairies and elves even after they accepted Christ. Though I suppose my response would be that these things do not hold the same meanings to us, that Christmas elves are probably way different than the ones people believed in back then and all that. People would probably say similar things about Halloween, though.

        1. I never thought about the comparison to Christmas, even though I think I vaguely knew about that some of the traditions had pagan roots. Super interesting, Autumn!

  5. I didn’t go trick-or-treating when I was little, mainly because when I was really little, I was scared of just about anything that moved in the dark, Halloween or not. And it just wasn’t the same as an only child either. So I didn’t really participate at all through high school. Honestly, I still don’t have an opinion about going door to door around the neighborhood (especially when your neighbor puts up crazy decorations for a month and blares music on trick or treat night). But I enjoy the fellowship of a Halloween party (for Taylor friends, Foundation was the place to go) and the fun of dressing up and making a costume. Last year I went to a church’s trunk or treat event, which I appreciated for the safe environment and the chance to share God’s love specifically during Halloween, without losing the fun. The part that glorifies evil and fear…not so much.

    Honestly, a lot of Christmas elements, or other holidays, can be twisted so they’re not very “Christian.” How many times do we say, “Redeem the season,” “Keep Christ in Christmas” or something, but do we avoid Halloween? That doesn’t seem right.

    1. Hi Alex! A Christian college where I grew up did a similar Fall-Fest-type event with carnival games and excessive candy and such, but used it as a ministry opportunity, which is what I always did on Halloween growing up.

      One thing to your point about Christmas…I thought about that for a while when I was writing the post, and the difference to me is that what even the secular Christmas traditions (baking cookies, giving gifts, etc.) are celebrating are good things: family, togetherness, generosity, peace on earth. Yes, the holiday has been hijacked by commercialism, but it is intended to celebrate Jesus, so you’re really returning it to its original intent by redeeming the season. I don’t know if you can do the same for Halloween, since its original intent *and* the way it’s often celebrated is not good.

  6. As a child, I’d wonder through the night, dressed in the unfashionable designs of my childhood fantasy, with my mom and dad close by to make sure I didn’t wonder off by a butterfly. But truth be told I never did it for the candy, I still hate chocolate and sweets and everything that makes normal people squeal with joy.
    To boil down that long winded commentary about my life as a small aquatic sea mammal (don’t ask) I have to say that I never felt strongly one way or another about it. Coming from a line of the less imaginative sorts I never really got into the idea of dressing up as my soul, as I’m finding the more I get older, craved to do.
    But If I did say one thing that always irked me around Halloween is that one house “without” all the decorations and party favors for little children to chew on. I always felt that houses who didn’t celebrate Halloween for religious reasons were filled with people who were so cocky and full of themselves.
    I wanted to throw my candy at their doors in anger, but never did because that wouldn’t help the matter. They’d still continue their non-candy giving ways and I’d have one less Hershey kiss in my bag (though I’m still not really fond of chocolate but be darned if I was going to give my enemies that pleasure.)
    I guess what I wanted to say is by giving this microblog post of a rant is that I really enjoyed what you had the say. I love it when people give rational argumentation to things I believe in because it forces me to more thought into what it is I believe. It makes me have to consider what it is Halloween represents and is.
    Because for some people, it isn’t about the occult. It’s about a time when they can dress up in fancy costumes and play a fantasy role for a bit. It draws out creativity and fun. But there is a dark history to it and, like you said, claiming to take only part of that out is like saying Valentine’s day is like single’s awareness day (though personally, I am fine ascribing it as such since it’s never made me particularly lovey dovey).
    Over all, I’d like to say I enjoyed the argument and encourage you to keep challenging my theistic beliefs further. After all, how are we ever going to become the right form of believer if we become fat and complacent in what we believe?

    1. Thanks, Brian! I’m a big fan of the way you articulated your response. And I’m glad the post got you thinking…I hope everyone took it that way and not as me judging whatever their family does with Halloween. It’s something I’m still thinking through myself.

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