Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?
This article was published by Angie Mosteller on October 6, 2011.
Many Christians struggle to decide how (or if) to celebrate Halloween. After all, it is a holiday that seems to emphasize darkness, superstition and fear. Personally, as I tried to make decisions about what Halloween would look like for my family, I was surprised to find some very interesting Christian history about the holiday.
The name Halloween is distinctly Christian in origin; it is a blending of the words All Hallows’ and Even or E’en (referring to the evening before All Holies Day, or All Saints’ Day, which is November 1). The term hallow means “holy” – you may recall reciting it in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9).
All Saints’ Day was formally established by the church in 835 A.D. as a time to remember the lives of holy men and women who had died. Some scholars claim, and many Christians have come to believe, that the church chose to commemorate the saints on November 1 in order to compete with an ancient pagan Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) that was celebrated on the same day. However, Samhain seems to have been a tradition limited to the Northern Celtic people (particularly in Ireland and Scotland), and since these areas were Christianized by this time, it is difficult to substantiate this assertion. Scholar Francis X. Weiser believes that November 1 was chosen so that the many pilgrims who traveled to Rome to celebrate the saints could be easily fed after the harvest.1
Whatever claims are made about the ancient pagan celebration of Samhain are purely speculative. There were no written records among the northern Celtic people prior to their Christianization in the 5th century. What we do know, however, is that the Celtic people viewed Samhain as a change of seasons. The name itself is derived from Old Irish that roughly means “summer’s end.”2
The change of seasons brought increasingly long and cold nights that drew people around their hearth fires. Combined with a Christian holiday that focused on the dead, there developed a perfect setting for colorful storytelling about ghosts, goblins and superstitions.
Now it comes as no surprise that nonbelievers would associate a holiday for the dead with darkness, mystery and fear. However, even among Christians there developed a host of wild and terrible descriptions about the afterlife – particularly regarding the “punishments, torments and pains” of purgatory.3 Such beliefs, particularly the connection between purgatory and indulgences, are what motivated Martin Luther to post his famous 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church on October 31, 1517. The date was not coincidental. For more information on the association, see our Halloween and Reformation Day page.
To address much of the misunderstanding about the afterlife among Christians, Reformers emphasized that the Bible addresses all believers as “saints,” even “the muddled and sinful ones to whom Paul writes his letters.”4 Furthermore, the Reformers argued that, biblically, there are no distinctions made between the destination of “heroes of the faith” and the rest of Christian souls; they all enter the presence of the Lord immediately after death.5 For as Jesus says to the criminal on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
We Christians can truly celebrate our dead, for we know that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). And, though our bodies die, our spirits dwell with Christ (Philippians 1:23) until He returns to earth to make all things new (2 Peter 3:13) and to clothe us with glorious bodies (Philippians 3:20-21). What a message of hope! So, though we mourn the loss of our loved ones, we do not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
In light of the history of Halloween, here are some ways that I have decided to celebrate with my family:
(1) Remembering Heroes of the Faith:
Since All Saints’ Day was intended to celebrate heroes of the faith, I find that it is a perfect time to read biographies about Christians who have demonstrated exceptional faith and courage. These stories inspire us to “live up to what we have already attained” in Christ (Philippians 3:16). Furthermore, if we choose to wear costumes for Halloween, we have a wealth of Christian heroes to choose from who represent virtually every time period, every geographic area, and a wide variety of professions (yes, even princesses and warriors).
(2) Remembering Our Loved Ones:
October 31 is Reformation Day (in honor of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on this day). One important aspect of the Reformation was the emphasis that all believers are saints and “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20); the destination of our loved ones who died in Christ is no different than that of the “heroes of the faith.” Remembering our loved ones connects our hearts to heaven in a more intimate way, and it can motivate us to explore the Scriptures and learn what they teach about the afterlife. What a perfect time to reflect on what our loved ones might be experiencing in heaven and to acknowledge our longing to be reunited with them under the perfect lordship of Jesus.
(3) Remembering the Lost:
It should come as no surprise that a holiday celebrating death would come to be associated with darkness and fear. We live among so many people who don’t know Christ. To many of them, death is mysterious and even terrifying. There is a desperate need for light in our dark world, and the Bible says we are to “shine like stars in the universe as [we] hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15b-16a) to those who are perishing. So many aspects of Halloween are natural starting points for spiritual conversations: “Why do you think Halloween is such a ‘dark’ holiday?”; “Do you believe in ghosts?”; “Are you afraid of death?” Halloween provides a rare opportunity to discuss the reality of the spiritual world which is so often neglected or ignored in a materialist culture like ours.
In summary, I pray that God will help us to be light in the darkness and to find ways to creatively bring the “hallowed” back into Halloween.
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Some of the content on this page is drawn from a Rose Publishing pamphlet, Christian Origins of Halloween; it has a copyright © 2012. You may freely use this content if you cite the source and/or link back to this page.
1 Weiser, Francis X. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. Deus Books, 1963 (original 1952), p. 188.
2 Rogers, Nicholas. Halloween, From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 11.
3 Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Question 2, Articles 2 and 6.
4 Wright, N.T. For All the Saints? Remember the Christian Departed. Morehouse Publishing, 2003, p. 22.
5 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, Chapter XXXII.