To 'trick or treat' or just retreat?


Over the past month, as store aisles have become lined with costumes and candy galore, I have been asked about Halloween.

In some ways it seems harmless enough doesn’t it?  Children dressing up in cute costumes going door to door to get candy, singing, “trick or treat” ... what’s so evil about that?  But we know that Halloween is also known for its darker side -- time for witches, ghouls, goblins, and ghosts to come out and frighten. 

So what do we do?

For Christians there’s always been a lot of debate on whether or not we should participate in Halloween. I get questions like, “Is it alright to go trick-or-treating?”  “Can we dress our kids up in costumes on that day?”  “If we do, are we celebrating an evil holiday?”  

So let’s talk about it.  And to do that let’s begin with some history.

The origins of Halloween have pagan roots that can be traced back to an ancient Celtic festival that began on Oct. 31st.  The word Halloween is derived from the term "All Hallows Eve".  You may recall that November 1st is “All Saints Day” or “All Hallows Day”.  This  celebration that began on October 31st was the celebration of the end of summer called Samhain -- pronounced 'sow-ane' and means “end of summer”. 

This was important because it was the time that animal herders would move their animals into barns and pens and prepare for the winter. This was also the time of the crop harvests. 

There was much superstition associated with this change of season, including the belief in fairies and that the spirits of the dead wandered around looking for bodies to inhabit. Since the living did not want to be possessed by spirits, they dressed up in costumes and paraded around the streets making loud noises to confuse and frighten the spirits away.

In addition, the new year began for the Celts on November 1st, so the day of Samhain was believed to be a day that was in neither the year past or the year to come.  Since it was in between, chaos ruled on that day. People would often pull practical jokes on others as a result.

Do you know where trick or treating likely originated?  After “All Saints Day” a custom developed that people would go door-to-door on November 2nd, requesting small cakes in exchange for the promise of saying prayers for some of the dead relatives of each house. This came out of the religious belief that the dead were in a state of limbo before they went to heaven or hell and that the prayers of the living could influence the outcome. 

Interesting isn’t it?

It seems that the origins of Halloween are a mixture of old Celtic pagan rituals, superstition and early Catholic traditions.

So, what does the Bible say about Halloween? Nothing. 

But the Bible does speak clearly regarding witches, the occult, and paganism.  Take a took at  Deuteronomy 18:10-12 which says:

"Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…"

But really, what are the chances that any of us actually do that sort of thing on Halloween? Hopefully, ZERO.   And if so please make an appointment. We should talk.

So given all that, can Christians celebrate Halloween?

The answer is simple: Yes and No.  Not helpful?  Let’s take a look at why I think no.

As Christians we are not to be involved or support the occult, witchcraft, demonism, or any other thing that uplifts the occult. To do so is to contradict God’s word, dabble in the demonic, and invite judgment from God. If a Halloween celebration is centered on demons, devils, spirits, etc., I would say don't have anything to do with it.

Here’s why I think yes...

It isn't wrong to dress up in a costume and go door-to-door saying "Trick or Treat." It’s actually a lot fun!  I used to love making costumes for our kids every year.  Emily made a beautiful princess and Tyler was the most adorable Super Bunny.  (Don’t give him a hard time he was only five at the time.)  In our house, the rule was always that the costume couldn’t represent something demonic or evil.  So, no witches or ghouls in our house. I can't see anything wrong with this.  It's just fun for the kids.

I think about it like I do the Christmas tree.  It was originally an ancient fertility symbol. Yet it has become so much a part of our Christmas tradition that it is the honored place where gifts are placed. Are we as Christians paying homage to an ancient pagan fertility god? Not at all. We likely don’t even consider it pagan and are simply joining in a cultural event and giving no honor to anything unscriptural. Is it any different with Halloween? 

Here’s the thing, even though Halloween has pagan origins, because of your freedom in Christ, you and/or your kids can dress up in costumes and go door-to-door and just have fun. But as in all things, if you are not comfortable with doing this, if you feel that you are dishonoring God in any way, then don’t do it.  I would always recommend that you study the issue for yourself and then respond accordingly.  What you will find is that what is right for one family may not be for another, and that’s okay too.

I personally am looking forward to seeing the children in their creative costumes come to the door.  And when they do, they will be greeted with a smile and a lot of CANDY.