Halloween has gone from being a relatively minor children’s holiday of the late 20th century to now, a major commercial event for adults as well as children. While most Americans view it as a day of family fun and dressing up, some pagan groups use it to celebrate idolatry and even devil worship. Since the origins of Halloween are rooted in Celtic or Druid pagan practices, it leaves many Christian parents asking the question, should we celebrate Halloween?
For the ancient Celts, the calendar year ended in fall with the close of the harvest. The festival of Samhain marked the beginning of winter and was associated with death. It was during this time that adherents believed that heaven and earth were very close and the souls of the dead along with other bad spirits came back to earth.[i] Families welcomed the presence of their ancestors but attempted to ward off evil spirits by dressing in costumes and offering sacrifices to their gods with huge bonfires.[ii]
The Church has never shied away from dealing with the influence of paganism. When the Celtic lands finally embraced the Gospel in the 9th century, the church in her wisdom turned Samhain into a feast to celebrate those who had lived and died in the hope of Christ. By placing the feast of All Saints the day after Halloween, celebrations changed from an emphasis on fear of death and evil to a celebration of the holy (Hallow) men and women who worked to spread the Gospel and sometimes give their lives for it. Samhain didn’t lose the fun aspects of bonfires and dressing up (as saints) but shifted the meaning to giving God glory.
Tell children the history of Halloween and what it’s supposed to be about. Highlight how the pagans lived in fear and were reaching out to empty gods until they came to know the one true God who would be the ultimate sacrifice, the hope and perfect love that cast out all fear[iii]. Jesus conquered death so we need not fear it[iv].
Some great memory verses for Sunday school lessons on Halloween include:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them[v], because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4
(The "them" that we overcome are spirits that do not acknowledge Christ. God’s spirit rests upon us and is much greater than the evil one. We only need to dress up in the armor of God to defeat him.[vi])
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 A
nd we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Children, be on your guard against idols. 1 John 5:20-21
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 9:10
Appeasing empty idols like the Celts. did not bring them salvation or open the doors heaven, only Jesus could do that by his sacrifice on the cross.
Consider using the Sunday closest to Halloween or All Saints as a true Christian celebration. Ask the children to dress up as heroes and heroines from the Bible or saints and talk about their stories. Many denominations remember Martin Luther and the religious freedoms won during the Reformation on All Saints Day. While we have a tendency to talk about St. Patrick in March, he was the one who first brought the light of Christ to the Celtic peoples of Ireland. If you've never read his book Confessions, his aching words of humility and love for Jesus are inspiring. St. Boniface brought the Gospel to the Druids in Germany as well as many others. Talk about what it means to live a holy life and how we becomes saints. It is also a great opportunity to ask the children who are the saints in their lives today and how do those individuals show the love of Christ to them and others.
Some Christian families prefer alternative activities to Halloween or avoid the occasion all together. If you do choose to dress up and trick or treat, don’t make too big of a deal for it. By setting the tone, that this secular holiday is fun but not worth too much time or money we keep its lesser importance in perspective. The most important celebrations in our homes should always emphasize that we belong the Lord and that’s where we invest our time.
By: Jackie Zurinaga
[i] https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween [ii] https://www.newgrange.com/samhain.htm [iii] Psalm 1 John 4:18 [iv] Hebrews 2:14 [v] Spirits that do not acknowledge Christ [vi] Ephesians 6:10-18