Halloween, as many of us have probably noticed, seems to have taken a darker turn in recent years. It’s a stark contrast to our childhood memories, characterized by innocence, candy, and dressing up as our favorite characters. Now, we may find ourselves averting our eyes from the macabre displays at Home Depot and Lowe’s or steering clear of eerie decorations put up by neighbors to shield our children from nightmares. It’s a shift that prompts us to question how Christians should navigate this holiday.
I. Halloween Originated in Paganism
To truly understand Halloween, it’s important to trace its roots back to its early pagan origins. While today it stands as the second-largest holiday in terms of spending in America, second only to Christmas, it had small beginnings. Halloween is rooted in the practices of the European Celtic people and the festival of Samhain. Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest season, looking forward to the dark days of winter. During this time, some believed that the boundary between the spiritual and physical worlds grew thin, allowing the dead to commune with the living. It was a celebration deeply steeped in theological assumptions, operating within the latent space of realities. The Celts, in their efforts to ward off spirits and prevent fairies from settling in their houses, even carved turnips (from which we get pumpkin carving). However, it’s crucial to note that Samhain was associated with rather dark practices, including animal and human sacrifices and transgressive sexual acts. These elements rendered Samhain an unmistakably pagan celebration.
Christianity later made its way to Ireland, bringing with it the introduction of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. All Hallows Eve began on October 31, which is where our word Halloween originates. These Christian holidays found themselves coexisting with the pagan traditions of Halloween and assimilating many of the elements of the once overtly pagan festival. During the 19th century, a great famine pushed many Irish immigrants to the United States, where they brought their now Christianized version of Halloween with them.
As time went on, the rise of secularism began to push Christianity to the periphery of daily life, making space for occult practices and increasing sexual deviancy. This shift was marked by the rise of spirituality over organized religion, with a significant portion of the population today identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” The 1970s saw a significant turning point in Halloween’s trajectory, with the gay community introducing costumes and practices that pushed the boundaries of appropriateness. Simultaneously, the rise of slasher movies and similar forms of entertainment played a role in shaping Halloween into the holiday we know today. The celebration of the occult and the theme of sexual deviancy became increasingly prevalent.
Further, the revival of witchcraft and pagan practices in America contributed to the development of a more and more pagan holiday. Practices that were once hidden began to emerge into the open. There have been, in recent history, events where major conservative figures were hexed by witches, shedding light on a growing number of people openly practicing occultism. However, it’s essential to recognize that modern witchcraft has evolved. Today, it is characterized by a demographic that values financial independence, being single, herbal knowledge, and an affinity for dreams as glimpses into the unconscious. These modern witches may participate in new moon gatherings, maintain altars in their homes, cast spells using crystals or herbs, and believe in polyamory – being open to multiple and varied sexual relationships.
The connection between paganism and sexuality isn’t new, as ancient paganism frequently intertwined sexual dimensions with religious practices. Today, modern paganism follows suit, often featuring explicit and common polyamory. Witchcraft today reflects changing societal norms and values. The “skimpification” of American culture has left the door wide open to darker practices of occultism.
II. The World is Not Just Stuff
Central to understanding the complexities of Halloween and its implications is the recognition that our world is not just physical; it’s a spiritual battlefield as well. Psalm 148:2, 5 speaks to the presence of angels in the spiritual realm and their obligation to praise the Lord. Romans 8:38–39 assures us that neither angels nor demons nor any other created entity can separate us from the love of God. Angels and demons are an assumed reality in the Bible.
The spiritual conflict that underlies our existence is vividly depicted in the book of Daniel, where the angel sent to Daniel was hindered for twenty-one days by the prince of the kingdom of Persia, requiring the assistance of Michael, one of the chief princes. Similarly, Jude 9 speaks of the archangel Michael contending with the Devil over the body of Moses. The spiritual realm is a battleground, as Revelation 12 illustrates, depicting a war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels.
We are more deeply connected to this spiritual warfare than we often realize. Ephesians 6:12 makes it clear that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Throughout the Bible, we are warned against paganism and the practice of the occult, not because they are merely make-believe, but because they are real and can lead us astray.
Deuteronomy 18 cautions against the abominable practices of the nations as the Israelites enter the promised land. It explicitly forbids practices such as divination, fortune-telling, interpreting omens, sorcery, charming, mediums, necromancers, and consulting the dead, emphasizing that these actions are abominable in the sight of the Lord. Clearly, these are not neutral activities but are considered abhorrent by God. This connection between the spiritual and the physical world is underscored in 1 Samuel 28, where King Saul seeks the counsel of a medium to bring up the deceased Samuel. Which she does! To quote a famous movie line, “You better start believing in Ghost stories. You’re in one.”
III. The Devil is Actively Deceiving the World
The Devil is a master of deception. In Revelation 12:9, he is referred to as “the deceiver of the whole world,” and his tactics have not changed since his first deception in the Garden of Eden, where he questioned God’s commands. Remember what Satan asked Eve in the Garden? He said, “Did God actually say?” That’s the whole ball game right there. That’s his playbook. He is running around this world today asking people, “Did God really say?” Peter tells us that the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour anyone he can (1 Peter 5:8).
In an age where more people are accepting spiritual darkness and celebrating death, the Devil is happy to confirm these beliefs. Our culture increasingly embraces death and celebrates it in various forms. But they do this because they have been deceived. They have chosen to believe a lie. They have put their hope in a false gospel. The apostle Paul warns us in Galatians 1:8 not to be deceived by false gospels, emphasizing the dangers of accepting deceptive teachings. Religions like Islam and Mormonism, with their alternative gospels, exist because Muhammed and Joseph Smith were deceived by angels disguised as angels of light preaching a false gospel.
We must view unbelievers in our lives with compassion, recognizing that they have been sold a bill of goods by the Devil and his demons. Understand that deception can start subtly and gradually lead individuals into deeper forms of spiritual darkness. This deception often results from a process of affirmation, where what is initially tolerated eventually becomes celebrated. The rise of occult practices, feminism, sexual promiscuity, the sexual revolution, pornography, and drug experimentation are all interconnected elements of a larger, darker cultural shift that is ultimately fueled by the deceiver of the whole world. In our country, at least, these debased practices peak every year on October 31st.
IV. Ultimately, Christ will Triumph!
Amidst this spiritual battle, we can find solace in the assurance that Christ will ultimately triumph. Our journey in this world is a constant struggle, but it is also a reminder of the ultimate victory promised to us in Christ. As the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” proclaims, “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.” What is this little word that will bring the Devil to his knees? It’s LIAR! It is the truth – the truth that exposes the Devil as a liar.
We, as believers, are engaged in a spiritual war, with Christ as our victorious leader. The Devil will be thrown down, and his deceptive schemes will ultimately fail. We must cling to this truth and press on as good soldiers in this spiritual battle.
V. So, How Should We Respond to Halloween?
As we grapple with the complex history and spiritual implications of Halloween, we are left with the question of how Christians should respond to this holiday. Here are some suggestions:
A. Participate in Cultural Festivities with Discernment:
Participating in cultural festivals can be a way to engage with our communities and build relationships with our neighbors. The fall season brings along harvest parties, candy, and dressing up for children. These aspects need not be inherently wicked or demonic. As citizens of this world, participating in cultural festivities can be a way to connect with those around us. Whether it’s trick-or-treating, dressing up in non-offensive costumes, or joining in fun outdoor gatherings, these can be opportunities to engage with our neighbors and share the love of Christ.
Each family will have to decide how it will participate, if at all. We certainly should not look down on those who participate differently. Much of your decision will come down to the type of neighborhood you live in and what activities are present. You could decide to just hand out candy and not venture out. I heard of one family that puts a sign in their yard every year that reads, “At his house we give away full-size candy bars, because our God is more generous than your god.” You may decide to stay in, turn off all the lights, and spend time with your family. These are perfectly legitimate options. As Christians, we can also celebrate Reformation Day! You may choose to play games like “Pin the 95-Thesis to the Door.” All of these options, if done in good conscience, can be done to the glory of God and for the sake of sharing the gospel with our communities.
B. Don’t Sin and Don’t Be Deceived:
While participating in cultural festivities can be a positive way to engage with your community, it’s crucial to maintain discernment. It’s important not to engage in any occult practices or debauchery that may be associated with Halloween. Certainly, as far as Halloween is a celebration of death, we cannot participate. This means refraining from trying to communicate with the dead, practicing witchcraft, or indulging in other sinful behaviors. Additionally, in our costume choices, we should be modest and never celebrate sexual sin. We can also not celebrate or affirm these practices indirectly.
When decorating our homes, it’s wise to exercise caution in the themes we choose. Remember that what you tolerate today may become something you celebrate tomorrow. In our entertainment choices, we must ensure that we are not glorifying what God has deemed wicked. I will add here that there is a distinction between entertainment or stories that may include some elements of evil and those that glorify and celebrate those elements. Mentioning witchcraft is not wrong. If it were, we would have to ban the Bible. Fictional stories that have fantastical elements are not inherently evil. I don’t think we have to worry about fairy tales teaching our children that dragons exist. They already know they exist. Good stories teach children that dragons can be slain. There is a difference between stories where good triumphs over evil and those where evil is the focus of entertainment.
In all that we do, we must remember our mission – to make much of Christ. Our actions and choices should reflect our commitment to Christ and our dedication to living according to His principles.
Halloween, with its complex history and modern manifestations, raises important questions for Christians. It’s a reminder that our world is not limited to the physical realm but is also a spiritual battleground. The Devil is actively at work, seeking to deceive and lead people away from the truth. As believers, we must stand firm in our faith, rooted in the knowledge that Christ will ultimately triumph over the Devil and death itself.
This has been attributed to G. K. Chesterton, but there are several versions of the quote. I was unable to find a source to cite here, so I gave the essence of the line but want to give attribution as I am not the originator.