It is that time of year again. The weather has cooled, holiday party invitations are going out, and I’m going back and forth about whether or not to go to Mr. Uppity’s Halloween work function (there’s free pizza and a bounce house). Is it right for a Christian to celebrate Halloween?
Gosh, it has been countless years that I have struggled to answer this question. Last year, I went to a Halloween party that one of Mr. Uppity’s colleague’s hosted. The food was good and fog machines are fun, but the atmosphere was a mess thanks to the large supply of alcohol at the drinks table. One man ended up mopping up his wife’s vomit from the floor. That hardly seems like the right place to be for a Christian. Some years I’ve dressed up and gone out. Others I’ve gone out but not dressed up. I’ve stayed home and watched old Halloween films. Another year Mr. Uppity and I just watched a marathon of Stranger Things episodes on Netflix with some take-out, which, at the time, could have easily been any other weekend for us. This year, I’ve avoided all Halloween-related activities and made no plans to do anything. But I admit, I haven’t quite made up my mind about this holiday.
I was never given a clear teaching on this by my family, either. I remember when I was four of five years old — my first memory related to Halloween — my mother allowed me to dress up. I don’t remember any explanations about the holiday; all I remember was my excitement to put on the costume of a ballerina and to plié all day. We had planned to go out to trick-or-treat, but just steps away from our front door, I got spooked by a dog and that was it. My mom called off the rest of the night. Looking back, I suspect she may have felt a similar ambivalence to mine about the holiday, and wasn’t sure whether or not to take her kids out at a time where people intended to scare children. My fright might have been only the straw that tipped the scales in favor of cancelling Halloween. After that, I have memories of going to church on Halloween. There was a bounce house for the kids (as per ancient Halloween traditions, I guess), but instead of candy we were given bags of oranges, apples, and walnuts. No one at church ever said anything about Halloween (or what was suddenly wrong with candy on this day), except some of the other children who boasted about the costumes they had worn to school earlier in the day.
You could say the one thing that has remained consistent about Halloween in my life between my childhood and now is the inconsistency.
It’s possible many adults in my church and family back then hadn’t thought much about this question of whether or not to celebrate Halloween. Perhaps some considered the holiday benign. I imagine many of them were never taught anything clear and decisive about it by their parents or church either. The fruit of all this ambiguity is confusion for me in adulthood. Mr. Uppity and I do not have children yet, but that means the time is now to make a decision ourselves on where we stand to avoid perpetuating confusion in our own family. Spoiler alert: I’m leaning toward not celebrating Halloween, but let me take you through my process of making that decision real quick.
I know there are probably many Christians out there who have made the rational decision to celebrate Halloween. One good example of this comes from an article I read this week on Crossway’s blog. The author, Jon Nielson, makes a reasonable point about enjoying Halloween (having fun) but not celebrating it (participating in any form of Halloween-related worship). I agree with him on many things in his post. He makes a similar point to the one I make in this article that we should not participate in or consume entertainment that promotes or depicts violence against people.
It is not a godly impulse that leads one to be titillated by severed limbs, bloody weapons, and grotesquely gory masks or scenes. As followers of the risen Lord who will one day raise his people from the dead—as followers of the loving Creator who made every man and woman in his image—we must not glorify or take pleasure in the violent destruction of his image.Jon Nielson, 6 Ideas for Thinking about Halloween with Your Kids
Nielson also makes a good point that trick-or-treating with your children may allow you opportunities to meet neighbors who you may not know yet, opening the door to building relationships with them and, hopefully, sharing the gospel in the future. I take it that Nielson is saying that Halloween, at best, can be an opportunity for evangelism or, at worst, harmless, and Christians can agree to disagree. But I’m not so convinced the holiday is harmless.
We have to remember that God’s overarching goal for his people (Christians) in this time since the Fall is to set them apart from the sinful world and prepare them for that blessed wedding day between himself and the church. To adopt some of the world’s ways into our own has always led to the corruption of God’s people (this pattern of adopting the ways of pagan neighbors to their own destruction occurs ad nauseam among the Jewish people in the Old Testament), and the scriptures hold repeated warnings against this type of admixture.
I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.Leviticus 18:3 (NIV)
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.1 John 2:15 (NIV)
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.James 4:4 (NIV)
Accepting some small aspect of the world’s godless or idolatrous way of living into our lives, because it seems harmless, typically leads to further moral slipping and can, eventually, corrupt the whole (person, family, church, etc.). This idea is best captured in the image of yeast, a symbol for evil, in the following passage from scripture:
A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.Galatians 5:9 (NIV)
Here, Paul is rebuking the early Galatian church after learning that some people there were syncretizing Judaism with Christianity. By tolerating some of these individuals and their anti-Christian ideas, others in the church, including the apostle Peter, began to be negatively influenced.
This isn’t just a Christian principle. You’ve all heard some version of the adage “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch,” or “if you give someone an inch, he’ll ask for a mile.” There’s one children’s book I recall opening with, “If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll ask for some milk.” This “slipping” from harmless to worse is a universal phenomenon in humans that can actually be manipulated in what’s called the Foot-In-The-Door technique. It seems like it would be unwise to allow Halloween its foot in the door of your home.
What sort of immorality could Halloween cause someone slide into? Take my own upbringing as an example. I enjoyed the so-called “harmless” aspects of Halloween as a child: trick-or-treating, making Halloween crafts, spooky specials on television. And then I got older and continued to celebrate Halloween per customs. Only for adults, I observed, those customs included some new items. Alcohol was added to the punch. A ballerina costume was no longer just a ballerina costume, but a “slutty ballerina” costume. Many women practiced divination at parties (e.g., tarot cards, palm readings). Other groups visit “haunted” homes. A child who is brought up to celebrate Halloween has to try to pick out wheat from chaff (or yeast from bread) as an adult. Given all the pressures on young adults to conform to the world when they’re outside of their parents’ guardianship, why run the risk of adding this one? I don’t think the little pleasures of Halloween early in childhood are worth that risk. And for those of us without children, how much control do we really have over our exposure to gore, violence, divination, and the thrill of fear on Halloween? You will undoubtedly see or hear or experience something of this sort that may entice you or someone with you who is not as self-restrained to be entertained by these things and seek more of it over time.
Well what about culture? Isn’t Halloween just a cultural tradition in the U.S.? We celebrate American holidays that are non-religious like Thanksgiving, the Fourth, and the New Year. Is Halloween any different? I would argue yes, it is different. For one, there is nothing particularly American about Halloween. It is celebrated all over the world and only became a holiday in the States in the 19th century with an influx of European immigrants. Halloween celebrations go back many more centuries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Also, just a quick peek at the Wikipedia article on Halloween reveals that this is hardly a non-religious holiday. The history of Halloween in the world is full of syncretism, blending pagan spiritism with medieval Christian beliefs. Although it may seem obviously wrong and silly to the Christian who celebrates Halloween to believe the spirits of the dead visit the living on this day and must be appeased or that it is possible to communicate with our dead, these are some of the misguided ideas of the actual traditions of Halloween around the world. Should these ideas be associated with Christians today? Does this syncretism carry any less potential for corruption than the Judaizers in the early church?
Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”1 Kings 18:21
I, personally, can’t toe the line anymore. I’m choosing this year to stop celebrating Halloween from now on. By deciding this now, Mr. Uppity and I can bring up our own children with a consistent teaching about Halloween and avoid the confusion caused by inconsistency in my childhood.
What about you? Did you decide at some point to stop celebrating Halloween? For those of you who celebrate Halloween, have you decided to celebrate it or have you always gone along with what is custom in your home or neighborhood? Comment below with your thoughts.