What Christians Should Know About Halloween

Halloween has become the second highest-grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. But this festive day also carries a lot of baggage. Scholars Ralph and Adelin Linton write:

Among all the festivals which we celebrate today, few have histories stranger than that of Halloween. It is the eve of All Hallows—or Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day—and as such it is one of the most solemn festivals of the church. At the same time, it commemorates beings and rites with which the church has always been at war. It is the night when ghosts walk and fairies and goblins are abroad. . . . We cannot understand this curious mixture unless we go back into history and unravel the threads from which the present holiday pattern has been woven.

The brief account seeks to vindicate Halloween from its “Satanic” and barbaric origins. While the dark side of Halloween may have been overemphasized, Christians must still acknowledge that the holiday originated (at least) in pagan and mythical practices. The extent to which such practices can be categories as “Satanic” is a debate of semantics. Is Roman mythology “Satanic”? Perhaps, or perhaps not.

Regardless, the origin of Halloween is certainly in the realm of non-Christian spiritualism. As such, Christians should be careful in their approach to Halloween.

Halloween for Christians

Christians haven’t always been sure what to do with this holiday of apparently pagan origins. Is it unredeemable, such that any Christian participating in the holiday will necessarily compromise their faith? Is it something Christians can participate in as a cultural celebration with no religious ramifications? Or is there the opportunity for Christians to emphasize certain aspects of our own faith within the holiday?

1. Should Christians renounce Halloween as “the Devil’s day”?

One of the most famous recent examples of Christian interaction with Halloween comes from Pat Robertson, who called Halloween the “festival of the Devil.” As such, he claimed that participating in Halloween is wrong for Christians.

In renouncing this holiday outright, Robertson fails to ask the following question: To what extent does something’s evolution from pagan roots entail that its present practice is tainted? As Albert Mohler notes, there’s been a shift from pagan ritual to merely commercial fascination with the dark side. Robertson misses that for most people in America, Halloween is about candy. A quarter of all candy sold annually in the United States is for Halloween night! Granted, dressing up as witches and goblins can be a tricky issue, but to think that putting on a scary mask or makeup opens you up to the dark side is a bit naïve.

In addition, there are two built-in problems with a blanket-rejection position. First, those who insist on rejecting certain holidays aren’t being consistent. Should we reject other holidays because there’s a propensity toward excess? In other words, if people are inclined toward gluttony on Thanksgiving or Christmas, shouldn’t those holidays be renounced as well? After all, gluttony is a sin. Second, many times the reject position assumes the evil of the extrinsic world will taint the faith of a Christian. But Jesus says the exact opposite (Mark 7:21-23). The fruit of our lives (whether in holiness or sin) is always inextricably tied to the root of our hearts. If our hearts are prone toward sin in certain ways, we will find a way to sin. Sin indeed corrupts, but the sin is not so much “out there in the world” as is in the heart of every person. The reject position falsely assumes sin is mostly what we do rather than who we are.

2. Can Christians participate in Halloween wisely?

An informed understanding of the history of Halloween and the biblical freedom Christians have to engage cultural practices (1 Cor. 10:23-33) leads to the conclusion that we can follow our conscience in choosing how to approach this holiday.

Even so, how Christians ought to go about relating to or participating in Halloween is still a tricky subject. In order to navigate the waters successfully, one must always distinguish between the merely cultural aspects of Halloween and the religious aspects of the holiday. In the past the church has tried with varied results to subsume the religious aspects of Halloween by adding a church holiday. If we engage, care must be taken. There’s a big difference between kids dressing up in cute costumes for candy and Mardi Gras-like Halloween parties, offensive costumes, and uninhibited excess. It’s too simple, then, to make a blanket judgment to reject or accept Halloween as a whole. There certainly should be no pressure to participate.

For those still bothered by Halloween’s historical association with evil spirits, Martin Luther has some advice on how to respond to the Devil: “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.” Perhaps instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.

Editors’ note: For a more detailed retelling of Halloween’s history, see the longer version of this article that appeared on Justin Holcomb’s website.

  • a.

    For those still bothered by Halloween’s historical association with evil spirits, Martin Luther has some advice on how to respond to the Devil: “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.”

    need to be careful that saints understand what you mean here above

    But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude 9

    • Karen Butler

      “Perhaps instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.”

      Sharing the Gospel in a winsome way is also an opportunity to mock the enemy on Halloween. I do a variation of “Trunk or Treat”, decorating my car’s outside with all manner of ghastly things — spiders, snakes, dragons,skeletons, witches, ghosts — with a glow-in-the-dark sign saying “The darkness can be scary, but…”

      The kids have to navigate past all kinds of warning signs, some have to be cajoled to pop the trunk open, but in a classic bait and switch, they are surprised to see a beautiful glowing, smiling sun shining radiant sunbeams in a rainbow of colors, (Eric Carle style, of layered tissue paper on mylar, so I can backlight it)
      And another sign painted in rainbow colors says:

      “But Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World!”

      Those brave children who have navigated past the terrors on the outside can reach into the trunk to get yummy candy. I try to share my joy, and tell them as much as I can of the good news of Jesus’ power over death in his resurrection.

      I used to hide my kids from Halloween at Reformation Day celebrations — God forgive me! I love this holiday now.

      • http://thenface2face.wordpress.com Karen Butler

        “I used to hide my kids from Halloween at Reformation Day celebrations — God forgive me!”

        Whoops! Forgive me for that comment, Reformation Day Celebrators! I’m still learning how to properly communicate without unnecessarily offending whole swaths of the population, as the editors here know full well. *sigh*

        I love Reformation Day celebrations too! I just am more excited now about engaging with my neighbors, and very interested in creative ways to do that.

        • http://thenface2face.wordpress.com Karen Butler

          “I try to share my joy, and tell them as much as I can of the good news of Jesus’ power over death in his resurrection.”

          One Halloween, the children and I made an art project of this, creating pop-up cards, with gorgeous blazing suns inside, and the full text of John 8:12 emblazoned all around it in the best italic they could manage. It was very fun to pass those out to trick or treaters.

          I would like to get this tract done professionally,with a full Gospel message included on the back, to pass out in bulk. Any graphic artists are welcome to steal this idea — and I would love to see your productions. Post a link to my blog.

      • Kristen K.

        I think that’s wonderful! So encouraging to hear how you are using Halloween to share the love of Christ!

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  • http://Identityfulfilled.com Identityfulfilled

    Just as the above article points out. The best way a Christian can make a determination about this so called holiday is to know the facts and make your decision accordingly with the help of the Holy Spirit.

  • JR

    Halloween celebrates evil, scary things. What is holy about scary things? How does Halloween honor God? What is wrong with Halloween, and every other holiday, is that on that day God is not celebrated but is forgotten. Our purpose as Christians is to worship and glorify God. When we don’t fulfill our created purpose it is dishonorable to God. This is what Halloween is… dishonorable to God.

    • Beth N.

      Agreed. I’m more concerned about what Halloween is now than where it came from. To say it’s just about candy is to completely disregard all symbols of death and darkness that characterize a huge percentage of the costumes and virtually ALL of the decorating: skeletons, zombies, gravestones, witches and on and on. To me it all says, “Look! Darkness, death and evil are FUN!” I’m not militant about it, and we do pass out candy to the local trick-or-treaters because I don’t think coming across as gloomy and stingy is any great testimony to the neighbors, but mostly I hate the whole idea of it.

    • GK

      I don’t know that Halloween “celebrates evil, scary things.” It certainly may have been the case historically, but as the author briefly touched on the “religious” past of it has given way to the cultural manifestation we have currently. Of course this is not black and white, and it may be hard to separate the two, but kids running around in Buzz Lightyear costumes wanting some treats are hardly celebrating evil, scary things.

      And what is holy about scary things? How about God? He is one to be feared! If “scary” disqualifies something from being holy, then what do we do with our fear of God?

      Like the author says, it’s hard to make a blanket statement regarding this, or any other tradition, because people practice is so differently. To say that “What is wrong with Halloween, and every other holiday, is that on that day God is not celebrated but is forgotten,” is wildly presumptuous. A devout Christian celebrating Christmas is certainly focusing on Christ–how is God forgotten in this holiday? On the other end, a non-Christian may celebrate just the gift giving and receiving–perhaps God is forgotten here. Point being, you can’t make blanket statements like “all holidays dishonor God.” In a similar vein, what if Christian household gives out candies and maybe mini Bibles as their treat? Is that not honoring to God? So I agree with the author in that blanket statements cannot be made, because different people will approach the same things with different hearts and intentions, which can be either honoring or dishonoring to Him.

      • JR

        Thank you for your thoughts. Like me, you have tried to think through a controversial subject within the church. I agree that God’s wrath is scary. To be on the opposite side of God is the scariest thing imaginable. But to fear God is not the same as the scary, evil costumes and figures on Halloween. God’s awesome power is scary because He is so holy and glorious. To fear God draws unholy people closer to Him. The evil of Halloween celebrates ungodly creatures, and scares hopeless people. It magnifies their hopelessness. There is nothing holy about Halloween. The symbols of Halloween do not celebrate God. For this reason Christians should not celebrate it.

    • KatyB

      I agree JR. What Halloween has turned into for many (not all) is the glorification of evil/demons/the occult etc. This is prevalent throughout our society now, as evidenced by all the movies and TV shows focused on death, witchcraft, demons, zombies, vampires etc. ALL these things are the MAIN source of entertainment for many in our culture, especially young people . Anyone who does not think that this will have an impact on society, as well as the Church is being very naïve. Satan does not make his presence known and he doesn’t announce himself when he is looking for those to devour. He is sneaky and devious and I believe is using the present culture to advance his cause of enticing Man to embrace what God hates.

      I did observe Halloween as a child and later with my kids, but the culture was different back then. Evil was bad, not entertaining. We did not glorify wizards, witches and vampires. I tried to focus on fun and silliness. My kids could not wear costumes that had any association with the occult. I was not always comfortable, so perhaps the Holy Spirit was trying to get my attention and I ignored Him.

      I shudder to think what future generations will be like as adults, now that they have brought up thinking that evil and the occult are “no big deal”. We have a lot of “yeast” in the Church and I’m concerned how it will affect future Christians. Perhaps this is all part of what the Bible predicts is to come.

      I do agree that Halloween can be “observed” by Christians, but it should be done with caution. Having a positive counter-message, telling kids about Jesus, etc. is a good thing. But we also must remember that the unsaved are watching us to see what we will do, what we will accept. That should be taken into consideration as well. We are to be the Light and we are the ONLY Light there is in our world.

      I also ask myself what would Jesus do? And how do our celebrations represent Him? Would He glorify and embrace the occult? Would He be entertained by wizardry and witchcraft, blood and gore. What would He think of a night in which many “celebrate” all that is evil and demonic? He always brought Light (Himself) into the Darkness, so if we can do that with our celebrations, then I think there would be some benefit.

      Ultimately, I use Philippians 4:8 to try to determine what my boundaries should be. If our Halloween “celebration” does not it into this description, perhaps we need to make adjustments. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

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  • Leanne R.

    I would rather be more cautious and walk on the extreme side maintaining purity without question, then to walk with the world not knowing for sure if it displeases the Lord. This is just one area where I feel being a “radical Christian” is better than the Christian who stands on the fence.

    • http://katiewaddell.blogspot.com/ Katie Waddell

      Amen Leanne R.!!!

  • http://somethinglasting.wordpress.com Michael C.

    So is Halloween associated with All Saints Day-Eve (Hallowmas) or not?

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=23974 here at least they argue that it predated Samhaim by a long time.

    It seems the easiest solution is to a) not get so rapped around the axle every year about it (it’s going to come around again) and b) maybe emphasis All Saints Day tomorrow.

  • Amy

    There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a wizard or a necromancer(one who communicates w/the dead), for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. Deut. 18:10-12
    We are celebrating something God calls an abomination – 1. to hate; loathe 2. to dislike very much.

    • Basher

      What Halloween parties have you been frequenting?

    • Scott

      I know right! All those kids dressed in super hero and princess costumes that came to my door last night were nothing more than abominations to the Lord! I guess I should repent for engaging them and their families with a smile and some candy? Should I repent for trying to show kindness to my neighbors (who are all very aware of my families faith) as well?!

  • Diane Van Over

    “…to think that putting on a scary mask or makeup opens you up to the dark side is a bit naïve.”

    That statement is a “bit naive.” I served overseas for 14 years in a coutry where witch doctors and sorcerers abound, are very real, and draw their power from the Evil One. I think that I can say with a fair amount of certainty that our brothers and sisters who have come to Christ out of that kind of background would soundly disagree with you.

    I think american christians are naive about the power of the Evil One.

    • GK

      Of course they will disagree with us, because it’s based off regional culture. You cannot base your traditions here off cultural values elsewhere. High fives are a celebratory expression here, but in other parts of the world it is rude and offensive–should we stop high-fiving because people from other cultures would “soundly disagree with it”? Certainly not! Again, to make blanket statements or value judgments is rarely the right course.

      • Brian

        And this comment is based off regional culture. There’s a difference between a “high five” and something that could have evil connotations. You shouldn’t think that because our culture takes evil powers lightly means that other cultures are overreacting when they seem sensitive to these things. Maybe our western culture should be more sensitive to the possibility that our seemingly harmless cultural practices are actually opening us up to evil influence. Just because it’s cultural doesn’t mean it’s holy.

    • KatyB

      I agree. This issue disturbs me greatly. And we are allowing our children, our precious innocents to be influenced by his (Satan’s) power. The movies, TV shows, books, etc. that our children are watching/reading and being influenced by are full of glorified evil and we are allowing them to be entertained by it. Even in Christian families. My heart breaks when I see what is happening to our children.

  • Bill Janzen

    From a “Christianity Today” article on Halloween:

    “I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Impostor and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his…

    In any event. I doubt the anti-Halloween party will prevail. This tactic was tried before—with Christmas. In the 17th century, because of its pagan ancestry and because it was a Roman Catholic holiday (Christ-mass!), many Protestants decided that true believers should not recognize Christmas. In 1620 our pilgrim forefathers purposely started unloading the Mayflower on Christmas Day to make the point to the crew that they were not going to observe such an evil day.

    I’m glad those believers—however well-intended—failed. How bleak and desolate would a winter’s December be without Christmas! We could have lost our chance to celebrate Christ’s first coming and a chance to witness to the world, as I fear those pilgrims lost a chance to witness to those sailors.

    If we give up All Hallows Eve, we lose the delight of God’s gift of imagination and we condemn the rest of society to a darker Halloween…”

    • oopsies

      But Christmas is not the same as Halloween… Christmas, even for non-believers, does not have the elements of death that Halloween does.

  • Bill Janzen

    Here’s an article I wrote for the website of the church I pastor. The reality though is that just like Christians in every generation we are extremely quick to add all our own laws, just like the Pharisees. Look through the comments above to see that the law “thou shalt not celebrate Halloween” is firmly in place to many people. Since Paul said that eating meat sacrificed to demons is not actually a sin (1 Corinthians 8:4-13), I think it’s a safe bet that he’d say the same thing about Halloween. Let’s remember the words that Jesus had for the legalistic Pharisees and hopefully learn something.


    • Simon

      Bill, by insisting that people who don’t celebrate Halloween and argue that people should avoid participating in it are legalists, you are saying that they are claiming a righteousness before God apart from faith, which is a massive condemnation. Jesus basically says the Pharisees, bar repentance, are heading for the lake of fire because their faith is in their works, and not even God commanded works, so that is the level of your condemnation against us!

      Every time these debates come up, there is always the accusation of legalism – it seems to be easily thrown around. Are you seriously saying that proponents of our side of this argument are like the Pharisees, who firstly twisted the Torah into their own and teaching human made commands as thoug they were God’s (and often invalidated Torah in doing so – as in Matthew 15:3-9), and secondly claimed to be righteous before God because they kept those human made commands? Where has anyone in these comments claimed that their salvation is based upon their works of “not celebrating Halloween”? Or even claimed some greater righteousness because they abstain? I see none.

      Paul also said not to harm the faith of weaker brothers by eating said meat. Why don’t you mention that part of Paul’s teaching? The implication is that partaking in Halloween actually sends the message to Christians and non-believers that occultic themed celebrations are fine and acceptable to God. Given the massively renewed interest in Wicca and various occultic practises even in our naturalist, humanist culture, we should as representatives of Jesus think long, hard, and carefully about what we are going to promote as acceptable to God. Paul also says this:

      Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Romans 14:20, 21 ESV)

      So frankly I disagree with you, as do many others here, that promoting a holiday that glorifies and celebrates the occult, arguably made all the more dangerous by being shrouded in consumerism, hedonism, and modern pop culture, is going to be of benefit to anyone, Christian or unbeliever. Christians can go out and meet and greet people in the street and get to know them without participating in Halloween. Or do we need a culturally acceptable and relevant excuse to preach truth these days?

      It is certainly good to remember Jesus’ condemnation of the legalism of the Pharisees and to remember it correctly and apply it in the same way, to people who clearly twist God’s commands and insist that salvation comes by certain “works” rather than by trust in the good news.

      Your quick condemnation of us as legalistic Pharisees is, as I said, a pretty severe judgment and is badly misapplied brother.

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  • Eric

    I wonder if Halloween aids unbelievers in their thinking that spirits, angels, the devil, and God are all just make believe? So many brothers and sisters in Christ say that it’s well within our Christian “rights” to celebrate and laugh about ghosts and goblins. Some brothers and sisters in Christ even say that the Lord, Paul, and the rest of the Apostles wouldn’t have had a problem with it. Judging from how zealous our Lord and the Apostles were about preaching the gospel; I think that they would have treated Halloween like a Mars Hill moment in looking at a lot of spiritually confused parents taking their children around the neighborhood in costumes showing off their confused state of mind to get some candy.

    • Scott

      They don’t need “aid” for unbelief, that is the natural state of man!

  • Meredith

    My husband and I moved to our neighborhood four months ago. We decided to seize upon this Halloween as an opportunity to get to know our neighbors better– honestly, what other time of year are people actually going to come to our house? We put our fire-pit in the driveway and had all the necessary ingredients to make s’mores (as well as lots of candy, of course!) Parents came with their kids and we had a great time chatting with them, as well as helping the little fairies, ladybugs, superheroes, and ninjas toast their marshmallows. There was not a single dark costume in the lot of them- not a zombie mask or a witch’s hat to be found. The kids were so excited to toast their marshmallows over the fire pit, and all the parents remarked on what a good idea it was. Now I feel excited about trying to pursue some relationships with our neighbors, and I feel like tonight really opened up a door for us. Halloween, just like any other holiday, is what you make of it.

    • EricP

      Excellent idea. I was going to make the same point. Halloween is the one night all the parents and kids are out of their houses interacting with each other. Previously, I’d taken my kids to “Harvest festivals” at church, but that’s just hiding from the world. How can we save the lost if we avoid them?

      • Kristen K.

        Love your comment EricP

    • Scott

      Thank you, Meredith!

  • http://parableman.net/ Jeremy Pierce

    I have to think Jude would have some harsh words for Luther’s insistence on speaking contemptuously of the devil.

  • Peter

    I am a youth pastor in a West Australian church, and while many Australians are wary of Halloween (within and outside the church) there is no doubt that it is growing rapidly. Therefore we challenge our congregation to think objectively about Halloween: As Christians we have unsaved kids literally knocking on our door. If that’s not an opportunity, I don’t know what is. So we send out a group email with youth ministry programs attached so that people can print them off at home, stick a lollipop to the back and hand them out on Halloween night. If everyone in our church hands out 10 programs each, then boom, that’s 1000 youth programs in the hands of kids and parents who need em’ most.

  • Douglas

    Great article! a special thanks from South Africa

  • John S

    I think Halloween’s rise in popularity has to do with Darwinism (godlessness) and worldliness rather than genuine interest in the occult, zombies and such. Mostly it’s an excuse to dress up and party – eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. A love of the world and the things in it.

    In my view the greatest danger from Satan is his masquerading as an angel of light, a wolf in sheeps clothing.

    Romans 14 applies here I believe, in particular ‘Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.’

  • Johnny

    “Christians haven’t always been sure what to do with this holiday of apparently pagan origins.”

    -Just a quick point I wanted to make about this particular line. Yes, people dress up for Halloween as all sorts of things, maybe goulish, maybe as fairy princesses. Yet, the reasoning that we don’t know what to do with this particular pagan holiday is odd. As Christians, we certainly know what to do with Christmas…Which is a holiday that derives from the Roman Festival of Saturnailia. Obviously we celebrate the birth of Christ during Xmas, and that is great, because I enjoy what the season brings about. In reality though, Christ was likely not born on Dec 25, but rather in the spring time, when shepherds are out in the fields tending their flocks into the night time. In the region of Bethlehem, it would be far to cold for shepherds to be in the fields at that time in the night.

  • John

    One question: What are you celebrating?

    Christmas may be associated with pagan origins, but at least we know what we are celebrating – the incarnation of Christ. We can strive to celebrate that momentous occasion without being drawn into the commercialization and worldliness of the “holiday season”.

    Halloween? Not so much, I’m afraid. There is nothing BUT the worldliness and commercialization, with absolutely no redeemable Christian core.

    If you are celebrating Reformation Day, more power to you. But if you’re dressing up your kid as Martin Luther so he can go door to door collecting candy for himself, I’m not so sure that makes the point.

    • Meredith

      Are you saying that the Holy Spirit working through God’s people can’t bring redemption to Halloween?

  • Lola

    The way I see it personally…is that every day people without Christ live in darkness and need His salvation. Halloween is no different except that they come to your own door. Why not (all the more) share the love of Jesus in a creative way and a smile. My children are young and I dress them up, we learn about God’s handiwork in nature/creation (i.e. spiders, the human skeleton, etc.)…and every year we go to a Harvest Festival. I share with them that although we don’t ‘celebrate’ darkness…we ‘celebrate’ Jesus and how He is the Light in our heart and has made us children of light. 1Thess5:5. Even the Jack-o-latern is served as a tool to express what Jesus has done in our hearts and lives through His light and love.

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  • James Horgan

    Children coming to my door get a sweet and a good Christian book. I get about 40 children each year and I’ve only ever had two books returned (and that was by parents!). An opportunity too good to miss for giving out the good news.

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