Halloween: The Inescapable Christian Dilemma
The popularity of Halloween continues to grow in the US every year. The National Retail Federation, which has been conducting an annual survey of the holiday since 2003, projects that Americans will spend $9 billion dollars on costumes, decorations, and candy this year. There has been a steady increase in Halloween participation and spending over the past several years, so much so that some have asked if it is “the new Christmas.”
Every year, Christians (especially those with kids in the home) face the dilemma of what to do about Halloween, and the fact that it has taken on the status of a virtual national holiday does not make it any easier. Many will find COVID-19 to be an excuse to avoid the issue this year, but avoiding issues do not make them go away. Even if you can skate around it in 2020, Halloween will be back next year.
Opinions of Halloween are found along a wide spectrum among Christians, from those who see it as nothing but a purely pagan celebration of evil in which the Christian has no business participating, to those who view it as an Americanized holiday for fun and candy—as innocent as apple pie.
These opposing opinions become more polarized when pastors and bloggers take it upon themselves to address the subject dogmatically and declare it either “clean” or “unclean” for believers. The default for many Christians is to stay home, turn out the lights and pretend that nothing is going on outside. Many churches hold some sort of “Harvest Festival” or “Trunk or Treat,” seeking to provide a Christian alternative.
So what are we to make of Halloween? Should we participate or not participate? Should we ignore it or find some alternative? And how do we shepherd our children in regard to it when it seems that everyone at school (sometimes even the Christian school) is going trick-or-treating this Halloween? Well, the issue is complicated—just like all of life is complicated because of sin—and God calls us to think. It is not an option to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to Halloween.
The Hollowness of Halloween
A brief survey of the origins of Halloween will certainly cause any Christian to cringe. Its beginnings were far from holy, and some of the practices carried on today are indeed rooted in pagan rites—but then again, so are some of the practices of our modern Christmas holiday.
Most of the confusion over all our modern holidays has come as a result of Roman Catholicism’s Christianizing of pagan celebrations in a vain attempt to redeem them, and Halloween is probably the most convoluted of all because it does not have any direct Christian affiliation (as with Christ’s resurrection at Easter). This is not to mention the profuse mysticism and perpetual false teachings of the Catholic Church that only serve to muddy the waters even further.
The fact of the matter is that in our 21st century American culture, materialism has trumped all vestiges of pagan roots and Catholic redefinition, so that the average American doesn’t even know (or care) about all of that history. We live for the moment, for the thrill, for the fun.
Let’s be honest: any excuse to have a ten-foot-tall blow-up monster in your front yard and to fulfill your inner longing to dress up like Batman without people thinking you’re a complete weirdo is pretty cool—and don’t forget about the candy!! So in reality, much of what our culture does at Halloween (or Christmas or Easter, for that matter) has virtually no meaning at all.
“In our 21st century American culture, materialism has trumped all vestiges of pagan roots and Catholic redefinition, so that the average American doesn’t even know (or care) about all of that history. We live for the moment, for the thrill, for the fun.
Communicating Conviction According to Conscience
With all of this in mind, the question of whether or not a Christian should participate in Halloween to whatever degree comes down to an issue of conscience (see Romans 14:1-12). The real question is, ‘How are you going to participate or not participate, and how you will communicate your convictions to your children?’
Here are some guidelines that may serve to help you in making these decisions.
For Christians Not Participating in Halloween
For those who choose not to participate, you should explain to your children the reasons why in a thorough, understandable way, pointing them to Scripture. You should also help them to understand that, while Christians are commanded to make wise, discerning judgments, we must always beware of the danger of falling into judgmentalism in regard to other Christian families who choose to participate.
For Christians Participating in Halloween
For those who choose to participate in some sort of alternative, you will need to give your children the same lesson about the difference between judgment and judgmentalism. If you choose to participate in the standard trick-or-treating holiday, you should explain to your children the danger of rejoicing in evil. It is never wise for Christians to celebrate death or evil, either with decorations or costumes. There are plenty of good, wholesome options for costumes that do not glorify horror or death, and you can always save decorating for Christmas. You also need to point your children to Scripture in this regard, showing them why there is a distinction in the way your family will participate in Halloween and the way other families choose to do so.
Obviously, you’ll also need to give your children boundaries and warn them of the practical dangers associated with trick-or-treating. If they are small, it is always best to accompany them.
Redeeming the Day: Remembering the Reformation & Gospel Opportunities
Regardless of how Christians choose to participate in, or abstain from, the festivities of Halloween, we are often so caught up in the dilemma that we forget about the awesome opportunity this day affords for evangelism.
I believe it is providentially ironic that October 31st is also Reformation Day. On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany, sparking the Protestant Reformation, recovering the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ which had been sorrowfully perverted by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.
Why not redeem this day for the gospel in the spirit of the Reformation? It does not take long to recognize the golden opportunity we have to place a gospel tract in the bag of every trick-or-treater who comes to our door, or to participate in some sort of tract-giving evangelistic event. Christians who do not wish to participate in Halloween could make it a ministry night involving the entire family. All you need to do is secure some good, gospel tracts (check out www.livingwaters.com for some great, affordable options or ask your church if they provide them), buy some candy (hey, don’t be a killjoy!), and have a fun family night interacting in a kind, loving way to the world at your doorstep while giving them the gospel. As a friend recently reminded me, it is the only time of year you can do this and even get a “Thank you” in response every time!
“Regardless of how Christians choose to participate in, or abstain from, the festivities of Halloween, we are often so caught up in the dilemma that we forget about the awesome opportunity this day affords for evangelism.
If you choose to participate in Halloween, you could take tracts with you and give them to people as your own “Thank you” for the candy you receive and even pass them out to other trick-or-treaters along the way. I would even go so far as to encourage churches to ditch the “Harvest Festival” or the “Trunk or Treat” and simply hit the town, posting teams of people in strategic places to hand out gospel tracts. My former church has done this for a number of years with great success, distributing literally thousands of tracts each year, and my current church has secured a booth at our community’s “Safe Trick or Treat” event that draws around 2,000 kids.
Whatever you do, think through how you can redeem October 31st for the gospel!