We’re going to stand for Jesus this Saturday night, just as we do every day. And we’re going to have fun doing it.
by Marie Notcheva ©
This post is not so much in response to the so-called “culture wars”, as it is to younger Christians who have asked my opinion on the matter. Halloween, and all its related festivities, is definitely one of the “gray areas” of conscience. I am certainly not writing this to sway the reader’s opinion one way or the other; as in all matters of conviction, observing Halloween is an issue you will have to work out before God yourself (Romans 14).
I’ve noticed that the strongest opinions (“Halloween is satanic and Christians should not participate!”) come from brothers and sisters in Europe (specifically Albania), and this makes sense. They are not wrong, and I applaud the believers who stand up for their convictions. Halloween is a Western import – not part of their cultural tradition at all – and of course, the worst elements (read: the occultic overtones) are going to run completely counter to Christian life. My Albanian and Bulgarian brothers and sisters did not grow up bobbing for apples and collecting chocolates while dressed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costumes. Neither did their parents. It makes sense that they would reject this cultural observation – very much rooted in paganism – as inappropriate for Christians.
However, I am going to approach the issue from the perspective of an American…..a former Irish Catholic (ok, I’m still Irish; but haven’t been Catholic since 1990), who grew up in New England (where everyone and his brother is a Roman Catholic) and even churches have Halloween celebrations. I am not justifying blending of the sacred with the profane – far from it – my point is to demonstrate how culture and what is “acceptable” does play a part in what we condemn as “unChristian”.
To give an example, many American Evangelicals frown on drinking alcohol, even in moderation. (This is especially true in the South). Smoking is even more taboo – in fact, the main reason I quit 14 years ago was exactly that. Educated, middle-class, Christian moms simply don’t smoke in the United States – unless they want to “damage their Christian witness”. This mentality (which I do not agree with, by the way) is bizarre to our European brethren. Many Christians there smoke, drink in moderation, and – gasp – send their children to secular ‘government’schools for their education. These spiritual judgement calls are a product of one’s culture; not careful exegesis.
And they’re dumb, and have nothing to do with following Jesus.
Apples and Candy Corn
Which brings me to the age-old question of Halloween in New England.
As some of my readers know, I was raised Catholic. Not just “Catholic”, but uber-conservative; traditional; pre-Vatican II, by-the-book IRISH Catholic. Only trouble was, that “book” wasn’t the Bible; but rather the Baltimore Catechism. Now, before you think this is a Catholic-bashing post, stay with me on this – it’s not. A non-Catholic may be unaware of the importance of “Feast Days” and “Holy Days of Obligation” in the Catholic Church, and how that is all mixed up with costumes and Spook Walks.
Halloween (October 31st) falls on the eve of All Saint’s Day, one of 6 “Holy Days of Obligation” in the Roman Catholic Church. (Not to be confused with “All Soul’s Day”, which is November 2nd). It is obligatory to attend Mass on these days, even though they may fall during the work week. By Catholic rules, attending Mass the evening before a Holy Day of Obligation (including Sunday) “counts” as attending on the day itself, and so most Catholics go to the evening Masses. What this means to a Catholic kid is that before you go out Trick or Treating, you attend Mass with your parents (or risk being in a state of mortal sin, and burning in hell for all eternity….unless, of course, you make it to Confession first).
In addition to a Halloween party (with costume parade and Spook Walk), my childhood church had a “Costume Mass” on All Saint’s Day eve. Both children and adults were encouraged to attend Mass in costume, and even the priest said Mass in costume. (I remember one year he dressed up as the Easter Bunny, and the attendant priest was a carrot. I thought it was hilarious. My mother didn’t.)
An extremely religious woman, my mother was horrified by this and would never let my brothers or me wear our costumes to church – although we did Trick or Treat around the neighborhood; put ourselves into sugar-induced comas the next day; and that was the end of it. We went to a number of Halloween parties as kids; got our hair wet bobbing for apples; ripped our fillings out on Sugar Daddies; and got excited planning our costumes. None of us, to my knowledge, ever began worshiping the devil or practicing Wicca.
Honoring God in All Things
However, I began reading the Bible and became a Christian years later, as a college student, and now I see my mother’s point. The Catholic Church, from it’s foundations in the 4th Century A.D., has been riddled with syncretism, and while that is not the reason I left, it is a serious problem. Blending pagan (or purely secular) practices with the worship of God does not honor Him – it really doesn’t matter if the costume is a devil, witch, or angel….don’t bring it into a liturgy. But where does that leave us outside of church – is any and every observation of Halloween inherently wrong?
This was the question I struggled with as a young Christian mom.
Not long after starting a family, I became more serious about getting my life back on track and following God in every area. Naturally, I wanted to do the best I could to bring up my children to know and love Him, and so, by the time they were old enough to be dressed as pumpkins, I wrestled with the question of whether Halloween was a sin.
What I believe is sinful about Halloween is the celebration (I would even say “glorification”) of death, blood, gore, and all that is morbid. It makes me shake my head when I drive past yards that are filled with ‘decorative’ tombstones, zombies, bats and monsters (how much money did they pay for that junk?) and see adults posting pictures of themselves in either gory, macabre costumes or hyper-sexualized get-ups. What are adults doing celebrating Halloween? Is it a genuine attraction to the occult (for some it may be); or just an excuse to get wasted?
In either event, it’s dumb and it does not glorify God. Is anything about monsters, zombies or vampires (which I realize are not real) “true; noble; pure; lovely; or of good repute”? Apart from office parties, most “adult” Halloween celebrations cater to the baser side of human nature.
But what about children, who simply like to dress up in costumes; play games; collect candy from the neighbors? When I realized many of my Christian friends would not allow their children to Trick or Treat (or believe in Santa Claus), I began to feel “convicted”. Surely we would be “compromising” by allowing our kids any form of observance! I shared this with my husband, who, frankly, didn’t see what the big deal was.
Although I don’t recall ever sitting down and having a theological debate, I came to balance the opinions of the ‘Super Christians’ with his – and where the Bible is clear that some things are not clear (1 Corinthians 10:28-31; Romans 14:5).
It wasn’t ‘conviction’ I was feeling. It was ‘peer pressure’.
I simply do not see condemnation of the heart that lets little ones wear fuzzy costumes for the entertainment of the neighbors, or collect sweets. Interestingly, this tradition is very similar to the Jewish feast of Purim, where costumes are donned and behavior gets a little bit crazy! Although not biblical, the observance of many traditional holidays allows Christian license for having fun.
Whatever You Do, Do It For the Glory of God
Some years later, I’ve solidified my conviction even further that allowing our children to Trick or Treat is not only “permissible”, but is beneficial. Why? For one thing, it’s a given that no costumes glorifying sin or demonic practices were allowed (witches; devils; etc.) But the Bible goes a step further: we’re not commanded to stay morally neutral, but to glorify God in whatever we do: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). How are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups glorifying to God?
On their own, they’re not…but we can use Halloween to engage our neighbors, and shine the light of Christ. While it may not be the case elsewhere, here in New England people keep to themselves. We rarely interact with our neighbors, and almost never set foot in their houses. Although of course there are many exceptions, (and I know Christians who are intentional about practicing hospitality), New Englanders are known for being “stand-off-ish”. The social spectrum is 180° from the “cafe culture” of the Balkans, for example. So….Halloween provides a golden opportunity to interact with our neighbors; show off our cute kids; and just generally be friendly.
….and Give them the Gospel
“Friendship evangelism” is nice, but Halloween gives you the one chance out of the year when people are coming to your house, asking for something. So give it to them (remember to be an excellent ambassador for Christ by being generous with the chocolate); and give them a Gospel tract. They might not read it. They might, and then tell your kid on the school bus that it’s “mean” to give out a pamphlet that says some people will go to hell (*true story). Or they just might take it to heart and open a Bible. You never know; but it’s as easy as handing out candy and may reap eternal consequences.
I once watched a good friend from church turn away Trick or Treaters from his porch by explaining why he and his family refuse to celebrate or condone Halloween. While his reasoning was not wrong, and he believed he was being faithful to Christ, I personally feel there is a better way: demonstrate Christ-honoring love by being generous; giving them the Truth of the Gospel along with their “treat”; and having fun. Forbidding our children the innocent part of the tradition, just because it may become tainted with darker elements, does not make them love Christ more. Any time we focus more on “rules” or putting “hedges around hedges” when it comes to behavior, it may cause our children to rebel and question the sense of it all (if not outwardly, at least in their hearts). When we “set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts” (1 Peter 3:15), we needn’t worry about ballerina and Spiderman costumes offending Him.
Agree? Disagree? Leave me a comment! 🙂