How Halloween Got Started
Would you be surprised to find out that common holidays like Halloween originated centuries ago when the Catholic church, in hopes of enforcing conversion of pagan lands to Catholicism, created Christian observances on dates that coincided with with pagan rites? For example All Saint’s Eve, which is the night before All Saint’s Day1 was designed to usurp the the ancient Celtic observance of Samhain, a time when the Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. All Saint’s Eve became known as All Hallows Even which morphed into the title Halloween.
Ultimately the design backfired since people just blended pagan symbols and rites in with the Christian ones. Christmas and Easter have similar histories. This blending is called syncretism. It still goes on in the world today not only among cultures adopting Christian beliefs and customs, but also among individuals who become Christians.
What’s Halloween Mean Now?
While all this is important to know, I would challenge you set the past aside for a moment and take a more “wake up and smell the coffee” approach. Take a good objective look around you and ask yourself what the symbols and traditional activities of our holidays really mean to people today. Then consider what God would have us do.
I observe three things about Halloween in the U.S.A. (and I’d love to hear your observations):
- It’s a time of social fun. The kids get dressed up and visit the neighbors (wherever that’s still safe). People get to meet some new people and socialize with the ones that have little kids. It’s fun play.
- In our culture, it is also a time when most mock the realities of life after death and of a spiritual world. I cringe at the complete naivety and ostrich-like attitude people around me demonstrate about what lies beyond the human senses and human death.
- As more and more people actively and openly worship and perform ancient rituals associated with demonic powers, they use the Halloween observance for destructive purposes, even upon innocent children.
Are There Really Spirits?
Can people afford to ignore all this talk of “spiritual” stuff? Perhaps it would not be wise to. I’ve learned from the Bible that contrary to popular thought in Western culture, human history is not completely in the hands of humans. There are a large number of intelligent and powerful beings inhabiting what we call a spiritual world, or dimension, some of whom are influencing human behavior for their own agenda at the expense of human life and happiness. I’m not talking about dead humans. The Bible is very explicit that dead people never become disembodied spirits and are not allowed to contact the living except in a few very specific instances.2 Rather these beings are ultimately seeking control of humanity and earth3 by deceiving people to abandon and mistrust the God who created them and loves them. Since humans have been granted the right to choose their own allegiance, even ignoring God if they want, He is allowing this conflict to play out for a time. So it’s not surprising that certain symbols, rituals and behaviors that reinforce demonic deceptions crop up repeatedly in history and it should not be taken lightly that Halloween is full of them (you can Google Halloween rituals to get more details).
There is a lot at stake.
The Bible says that “…it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,”4 and in another place “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”5 and “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power…”6 Frankly the second death seems to be of very little concern to most people in our culture and yet it is the most serious and permanent consequence each of us faces for the life we live here. It would be a tragedy to be described by these words: “But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.”7 The good news is that whether a person must experience this permanent second death depends upon one thing and one thing only, their relationship to Jesus Christ, not their deeds nor points accumulated for good behavior or even the best of intentions.
What would be appropriate Christian response to all this?
To form an answer let’s consider these questions:
What are we doing to train our children in truth and wisdom so they are able to discern good and evil? The Scripture considers churches as families, in fact a family of families. If you are in a church, or are a church leader, what are you doing to reinforce a Biblical world view in the younger generations?
How do we engage a culture that mocks the realities of the spiritual world to their own peril? Can we stand by and enjoy the trappings of Halloween as harmless fun while people, as Jude said, arrogantly revile what they do not understand and which leads to their destruction?8 Do we love these people? Are we concerned for their welfare? How can we get them to consider their error? Paul’s words to the Colossian church come to mind: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.”9 How can Halloween be an opportunity to be effective in demonstrating God’s grace and love and at the same time challenge people to consider their eternal destiny?
What are your thoughts?
- Mershman, F. (1907). All Saints’ Day. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 25, 2008 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm [↩]
- Luke 16:19-31; 1 Sam 28:11-16; Matt. 17:3 [↩]
- Daniel 10:12-13; Matthew 4:8-9; 1Tim. 4:1; Acts 10:38 [↩]
- Hebrews 9:27 (NASB95) [↩]
- Matthew 10:28 (NASB95) [↩]
- Revelation 20:6 (NASB95) [↩]
- Jude 10 – Also see 2 Peter 2:10-11 (NASB95) [↩]
- Jude 8-10 [↩]
- Colossians 4:5 (NASB95) [↩]