The Autumn holiday, Halloween, is soon coming and with it much false information. Our Children's Pastor at Austin Stone Community Church has done extensive research on this day, and this is what he found:
Halloween - Finding the Facts
My favorite memories as a child revolve around holidays we celebrated as a family. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, the Fourth of July, and yes, Halloween – all of these were celebrated with gusto in the Murchison household. And Halloween was one of my favorites. What’s not to like for a kid? You get to dress up and use your imagination, go to parties and festivals at school, and of course, eat mountains and mountains of candy.
As I grew up, though, I started hearing that my love for this holiday was wrong. In fact, it was not only wrong, it was “un-Christian,” which is a hard adjective to go against. And as a Bible-believing-Southern-Baptist-youth-group-attending student, I decided to swear off the holiday once and for all. No more costumes, no more trick-or-treating, no more parties, and no more fun on October 31.
Then I “grew up” and became a Minister to Children, and saw the joy the children in our ministry would have telling me about their costumes, and looking forward to their parties and trick-or-treating… and I started to wonder. Killing the joy of the kids who were celebrating Halloween seemed wrong, but I also couldn’t keep quiet if I truly believed they were participating in a holiday that was contrary to the cause of Christianity.
So, with the encouragement and help of a few friends, I decided to take a closer look at this holiday we celebrate on October 31, and find out why so many evangelical Christians are diametrically opposed to this holiday. This was not an easy task, because there is a lot of contradictory information out there about Halloween, as well as a lot of information that is just plain wrong. But the truth can be found, and if you are like me, you will find that a lot of it is surprising, and that a lot of what I’ve been told and have been telling others is just not backed up by the facts.
I am not writing this in order to persuade you to my views on Halloween. Each believer must look at Scripture and at the facts and make their own decision with guidance by the Lord. My goal in this posting is to encourage you, parents who care for their children, to take the time to look into the facts on this holiday, and to determine fact from fiction for yourself. I will be glad for the Christian who looks at the facts and decides to celebrate in portions of this holiday, and I will be just as glad for the Christian who looks at the facts and decides that they should not celebrate Halloween at all. I just don’t want anyone to do what I did for a long time – to make a decision based on incomplete and inaccurate information.
I have done my best to make sure this article is accurate, and relied more on sources that seemed to have researched their information deeper than the encyclopedia and Wikipedia (even some encyclopedias have verifiably false information on this holiday). In particular, I am deeply indebted to Dennis Rupert and W.J. Bethancourt III, who did a lot more research than I have on this topic. The sources I used in compiling this will be at the end of this post, and I encourage you to check out their information and their sources as well.
The History of the Holiday
Perhaps the most surprising thing I found about Halloween is that it is only in existence because of the Christian church. In the 7th century AD, Pope Boniface IV created the holiday All Saint’s Day, to celebrate and remember all the martyrs of the faith. Apparently, there were so many martyrs at that point in history that the church had to move away from the standard of assigning a different day to each saint. Later, in the 8th century AD, Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day from its original date in April to November 1, the date we celebrate today.
Gregory III moved the holiday to November 1 so that it was celebrated at the same time as a Celtic holiday called Samhain. This was not without precedent. The Catholic Church had a desire to redeem every day of the year for the cause of Christ, and therefore intentionally placed religious holidays at the same time as pagan holidays. For example, Christmas is celebrated on December 25 largely because the Catholic Church wanted to redeem the pagan holiday named Yule.
According to Catholic tradition, holidays begin with sundown the day before the holiday. Hence we celebrate Christmas Eve, hold Easter vigils, and celebrate All Saint’s Eve. Another name for All Saint’s Day was All Hallow’s Day, and All Saint’s Eve is also known as All Hallow’s Eve. Over time, this was shortened to Halloween. So, even the name “Halloween” itself comes from the Christian faith.
So what about the holiday that Halloween was meant to replace? I have seen several articles and Christian tracts that describe Samhain as an evil holiday, celebrating the Celtic “god of the dead.” This is simply not true; rather Samhain literally means “summer’s end,” and is a time of year, not a god of the Celts at all. The holiday marked the transition from fall to winter, and was the Celtic New Year. Saying that Samhain is a Celtic god would be like someone saying that the Americans have a god named Thanksgiving, and that we honor him by indulging ourselves with food.
Samhain is also said to have been a time when the Celts sacrificed human beings to the devil, or to demonic spirits, and otherwise worshiped demons. This also is unfounded. There is no historic evidence of human sacrifice on this Celtic holiday. In addition, there is no such thing as demons or devils in the Celtic belief system. What is true that the Celts believed in otherworldly beings, including gods, giants, fairies, witches, elves, and monsters, and Samhain was seen as the time when the veil between the “otherworld,” as I am calling it, and our world was the weakest. Clearly, this is not in line with Christian belief. However, it is a big jump to go from saying that someone has a different religion and is in need of the light of Christ to saying that they are evil demon-worshipers. The Celts were not evil so much as they were non-Christian. To call Samhain an evil holiday is equivalent to calling Ramadan an evil holiday. Ramadan and Samhain are not Christian holidays, and they do not glorify God, and are not celebrated by Christians – but they also should not be seen as evil.
So if Samhain is not inherently Satanist or demonic, and All Hallow’s Eve is officially a Christian holiday, how did October 31 get to be known as an evil day? Why does it seem to have a connection to the demonic world? The answer, from what I have been able to determine, is that the Church unintentionally created this connection. When the Celts and other pagans continued to celebrate their holiday rather than the Christian holiday, the Church then maligned their holiday and traditions. We assigned evil meanings to their practices, and called them demon-worshipers. We made up stories and traditions (and still do) in order to make it easy to hate them and their practices, and introduced the idea that the Celts were devil and demon-worshipers.
There are those in the world who do worship Satan, and their intentions are purely evil. These people do indeed claim Halloween as their holiday, but they only do so because we have allowed them to. When they heard us say that all the demon-worshipers celebrate on October 31, they agreed with us, and adopted this day as their holiday. In reality, though, no day at all belongs to those who follow Satan.
"The earth is the Lord, the earth and all it contains." - Psalm 24:1
Everything belongs to God, including every day of the year. To say that October 31 is an evil holiday is only to give credence to the Satanists’ claims that Halloween is their holiday, when in reality the opposite is true. October 31 belongs to God, and All Hallow’s Eve was created as a Christian holiday. Rather than give this day to those who worship our enemy, I say we should claim it as our own.
A Mix of Traditions
The holiday we now call Halloween is the product of many different influences and misconceptions, and has morphed and changed over time. Likewise, the traditions currently associated with this holiday are also from various sources, and have grown and changed over time. So what is the Christian community to do with all of these various traditions?
As mentioned in the previous section, those who worship Satan and demonic spirits, have claimed this holiday, and some of their practices have been associated with October 31. Any action related to evil spirits or the worship of our enemy is not acceptable for a Christian on Halloween, or on any other day for that matter. This includes activities such as Ouija boards, Tarot cards, séances, or any type of fortune telling. Scripture directs the Christian to stay away from these activities, and to have nothing to do with them, on every occasion.
Because of the association that Christians made between Halloween and evil, Hollywood producers and marketers jumped on this holiday as a way to make more money by promoting monsters, ghouls, and other grotesque images. This is how Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Freddy Krueger, Jason, and other evil villains came to be associated with October 31. Many decorations and costumes (even children’s costumes) are associated with death, blood, and gore. How should the Christian respond to this part of Halloween?
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” – Philippians 4:8
This verse and other commands from Scripture tell the believer to continually think about things that are “right, pure, and lovely.” We should ensure that all of our activities on Halloween, and on every day of the year, do not prevent us from following this commandment. Parents should take care before buying a headless horseman costume for their children and before allowing their teenagers to go see a horror movie at the theater. Each Christian must decide what is right for themselves and for their families in light of this commandment.
What about the Christian influences? All Hallow’s Eve is a Catholic holiday, after all… are there any traditions remaining from these roots? Several Catholic churches still hold prayer services for all the saints who were martyred for the cause of Christ on October 31, in honor of All Saint’s Eve and All Saint’s Day. If you and your family choose to celebrate in this manner, then this is an excellent way to spend your October 31.
Then there is Samhain, the pagan holiday that All Saint’s Eve and All Saint’s Day were intended to replace. Are there any surviving traditions from this holiday that Christians should not participate in? This is where most of the misinformation about the holiday comes from. Many current Halloween practices, including pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, and dressing up in costume are said to have come from the supposedly evil practices of Samhain. These claims are not supported by historical fact, despite being widely promoted in many publications.
There are two traditions that do seem to come from the harvest festival of the Celts. The first is that of bobbing for apples. This was a way of determining who would get married first in the new year. Whoever got the first apple would be the first to get married, much like our modern “throwing of the bouquet” at weddings. This tradition is rarely celebrated these days, and in my mind, should be avoided more for sanitary reasons than spiritual ones.
The other tradition that does have roots in the celebration of Samhain is the “trick” part of trick-or-treating. As mentioned earlier, the Celts believed that the veil between the supernatural and the natural world was the thinnest on Samhain. So, on this night, the story was that the elves, witches, fairies, and other beings would come and play tricks on the humans. Remember, these beings were not evil according to the Celts, just playful. Many Celts would then play minor pranks on their friends and family on Samhain, crediting the cause of these pranks to the fairies, elves, or witches. There is no evidence that these tricks included cursing people, or killing them, as many current Christian tracts claim… and there is absolutely no “treat” portion associated with these pranks.
So where did this idea of “trick-or-treating” come from? The Boy Scouts of America. In modern times, people began to take the innocent pranks of Halloween too far. With urbanization of American society, the tricks that took place on October 31 morphed from switching shop signs and soaping windows to the actual destruction of property. To stop this from getting out of control, the Boy Scouts and other city clubs organized to give children and youth a positive alternative to vandalism. Children were encouraged to go from door to door at shops and homes and receive treats. This served the dual purpose of keeping kids from being on the streets unsupervised that night, as well as having shopkeepers and homeowners vigilant to look for people wanting to harm their property. It seems the phrase “trick or treat” first appears in the 1940’s, used as the title of a poem in the Saturday Evening Post.
What about the costumes? There does not seem to be any cultural reason that costumes began to be associated with Halloween. Throughout history and in many cultures, beggars would go door to door and put on performances in costume in exchange for food or money. It was an early version of the street performers in modern cities. This was most often associated with Christmas (wassailing) or a New Year’s holiday, if any holiday at all. The best guess most historians have is that when groups started encouraging going door-to-door for treats, some people started dressing up and performing to earn the treats… with Halloween costumes spreading from there. There doesn’t appear to be any historical connection to the original Celtic holiday.
Finally there is the tradition of pumpkin carving. Historically speaking, people have carved gourds into lanterns for centuries, and at all times of the year. It’s a cheap and easy way to make a lantern, and also a fun activity for parents. As for carving pumpkins, no one did that in the time that Samhain was celebrated. Pumpkins were discovered as a fruit from the New World, and pilgrims found them to be more efficient for making lanterns than the other gourds they formerly used.
There is an Irish folktale regarding a man named Jack who could neither enter heaven or hell, so he wanders the earth eternally as a spirit, with a pumpkin lantern to light his way. To symbolize this tall tale of Jack, some would carve a face into the pumpkin and call it “Jack’s lantern,” or a Jack-o-lantern. This is not where the tradition of carving pumpkins came from, though. It is simply something added onto the tradition. Many families now call carved pumpkins “Jack-o-lanterns” without even knowing the Irish folktale, much less to communicate with Jack’s spirit.
Why is this associated with Halloween? The pumpkins are harvested in the fall, and therefore October and November are the most common times to see lanterns made out of pumpkins. Over time, people combined this yearly tradition with the holiday on October 31.
In addition to pumpkin carving, there are many other traditions that are associated with the fall season that are simply harvest-oriented traditions, having no spiritual connection whatsoever. Activities such as hay rides, cornfield mazes, and the like are cultural traditions only, and Christians should feel free to enjoy these festivals as a celebration of what God has given.
Making an Informed Decision
Each Christian family should make a decision for themselves about if and how to celebrate this holiday. Personally, I believe that carving a pumpkin into a lantern as a family, dressing up as a fireman or a dog, and going door-to-door to ask for candy is not related to the worship of Satan or other demons. In fact, I believe that it can be a celebration of the gifts God has given us in the pumpkin and in our imaginations, as well as a great opportunity to get out and spend time in our community, getting to know our neighbors so that we can love them better.
That said, the purpose of this article is not to persuade you to believe what I believe. If you look at the Word of God, and the facts and history of this holiday, and believe that you need to abstain completely from any sort of celebration on October 31, then I will support you and rejoice in your decision. I believe that we can have different opinions on this holiday and still worship Jesus in spirit and in truth together.
My job is not to think for you, but rather to point you to the Word of God, and to truth, and to empower you to make a decision according to the Spirit of God inside you. I hope this article is helpful in that regard. My main point in writing is to point out that there is a lot of false information out there regarding Halloween, and that Christians are among those most responsible for spreading this false information.
Of all religions of the world, we should be the most eager to defend truth and historical fact. Look at what the apostle Paul says about the resurrection of Christ:
“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is vain.” -1 Corinthians 15:13-14
Christianity is based upon fact – namely, the fact that Jesus died and rose again. In addition, Jesus Christ said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. We have truth to share with the world, truth that will give them spiritual life. Christians, we must not be known for propagating false information, lest we lose credibility in the world.
My prayer is that Christians will be zealous for fact and truth in all things. So next time you get an email about Halloween, or about a politician, or about a company and its supposedly evil practices, I encourage you to determine its validity before forwarding it on. If we do not defend truth, in Halloween and in everything, then we undermine all that we believe.
Thank you John for the enlightening information. As Christians we should be sharing our faith in Jesus and the good news of the Gospels, but the question remains: how many people are we turning off from God because we are being hateful and judgmental? We are called to be good, loving and kind people. Let us see if we can live up to that calling.
Here's John's link to the original blog post: http://www.austinstone.org/what/next_generation/halloween_finding_the_facts/