For many Christians, October 31 can be a day filled with questions and confusion. The day has many identities ranging from candy and costumes, infatuation with fear and death, to the historical reflections of All Saints Day and Reformation Day. As we try to discern the best Christian approach to this confusing day, it is helpful to take a glance at its origins.
Since before the time of Christ, the Celtic calendar noted the night of October 31st as the beginning of the new year and the festival of Samhain (summer’s end). This was celebrated as the festival of the dead, and it was believed that on this night the souls of the dead revisited the physical world. While many of the current Halloween traditions – trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples – may have roots in the customs of Samhain, reports about their original meanings differ.
During the 7th century, Christians set aside a day in May to commemorate those who had been martyred for their faith. In the following century, the Roman Catholic Church established November 1st as All Saints Day in an attempt to overpower the pagan festival. Obviously, the church’s attempt to Christianize the pagan day was not completely successful and many of the pagan rituals remained. As the church called attention to this day, it unintentionally brought legitimacy and popularity to the lingering pagan traditions.
To add to the mix, October 31 was also the day on which Martin Luther presented his 95 theses against indulgences to the Roman Catholic Church. This event is usually seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and the day is still commemorated in many Protestant churches as Reformation Day.
As Christians in the 21st century, we are now left to sift through a pile of jumbled history. There remains a contingent of people who still celebrate Halloween as an opportunity for pagan worship, contact with spirits, and other rituals opposed to Christ. Others simply use the dark connotations of the day as an opportunity for fear, mischief, and vandalism. However, a far greater portion of our culture is likely unaware of the dark origins of the day, and they see Halloween as a piece of traditional Americana. For them, October 31 is a time for children to enjoy costumes, candy, and the thrill of being scared. In the midst of these factors, seeking to honor Christ on this day seems more complicated. How should Christians feel and what should we do on October 31?
Many Christians feel that the pagan origins of the day are so far removed from current activities, that a new American tradition has been born. For these believers, children costumed as cowboys and princesses in pursuit of tooth-decaying candy is completely divorced from the Celtic festival of the dead. For them, Halloween has simply become a day for children and parents to be together in the community – a night set aside for creative and harmless fun.
Other Christians are concerned about the darkness that still lingers on this day in overt and subtle ways. These believers are aware of the increase in pagan influences and the infatuation with death which the night may bring. Far from being objects of fun, ghosts and goblins, vampires and werewolves, monsters and witches are seen as doorways to the influence of our enemy the devil. Indeed, at this time of year our culture seems to be consumed with fear. It has become an industry. Many Christians recognize that God has no room for fear – even if it wears the disguise of entertainment. Many with this perspective on Halloween have a burden to be active in prayer and oppose any advance the enemy might attempt.
Still other Christians see Halloween as a tremendous opportunity for evangelism in America. Televisions are getting bigger, fences are getting taller, laws are getting tighter, tolerance is getting broader, and lives are getting faster. Yet, October 31 remains one of the few days of the year when people are outside of their homes interacting with their neighbors. For some, this opportunity is too good to pass up. Many across the country are manning the front door ready to share Gospel tracts with their candy, while others are joining more large-scale evangelism efforts with their church.
So, which one of these approaches is the best way for the body of Christ to bring glory to God on this night? Well, convictions differ, and there may be no one-size-fits all approach. Each family needs to make an informed decision and follow the convictions God has laid on their heart. On October 31, as with any day of the year, actions motivated by wisdom not ignorance, faith not apathy, and humility not judgment will please our Father.
For years at Living Hope Church, we have sponsored an event that attempts to put together the strengths of each possible approach. On October 31 many from the church will gather at a local family’s house for an outreach event we call Light the Night. We’ll be right in the midst of the community, sharing games, candy, and refreshments with our neighbors and friends. We’ll be standing prayerfully in the name of Christ against the dark influences of the world. And, we’ll be presenting the good news of Jesus through Gospel tracts and conversations.
So, what will you do this October 31? Pray? Connect with neighbors? Join your church outreach? Whatever you do, make sure you follow the Spirit’s leading and walk in faith.