Halloween is fast approaching and there is not a lot we can do about it! It has become a matter of routine for many Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween. However, we now live in a world with North Korean nukes, opioid addiction, Russian hackers, mass shootings, terrorism, and monsters like Harvey Weinstein. Honestly, by comparison, spooks like ghosts and goblins are kind of tame!
Growing up, my parents had strong convictions that Halloween was the devil’s holiday, and they refused to let me and my siblings participate. As parents, my wife and I have wrestled with how to approach Halloween with our own children. Over the years we've run the spectrum of total avoidance to moderate involvement (i.e. letting our kids dress up and trick or treat with friends in our neighborhood while avoiding demonic costumes etc.).
I don't have it all figured out, and I'm certainly NOT advocating for or against the holiday. Reading Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, it seems clear to me that Halloween is a "disputable matter," and it will probably always be so. Christians should follow their conscience. However, like most things, the Christian tradition is not silent about Halloween and can inform our perspective.
It might surprise some to learn that Halloween was originally a Christian holiday. The name, “Halloween,” is a contraction for All Hallows Eve which was the night before All Saints Day. All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve arose sometime in the 300s A.D. as a celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ over the satanic forces of evil and darkness. (“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12) The festival of All Saints Day was intended to remind Christians of their victory in Christ and to encourage them to fight against spiritual evil.
The festival of All Saints Day began the evening prior - All Hallows Eve - just as Christmas Eve celebrations precede Christmas day. The concept was that on October 31, just prior to All Saints Day, Satan does his best to unleash all Hell on earth to achieve victory but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom which dawns on November 1, All Saints Day.
In the Christian tradition, the festival of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day was intended as a dramatization of the biblical story of Christ’s victory over Satan and an object lesson - a sign and symbol - of our victory in Christ. Interestingly, the means by which the demonic realm was vanquished in this dramatic retelling was mockery, ridicule, joy, and laughter. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a red suit with horns and a tail. His power was broken, and he was revealed as a laughingstock for thinking to exalt himself above God. Halloween was thus understood as a celebration of the defeat of evil, not a celebration of evil itself.
Over the centuries, many various and sundry customs were established including costumes, Jack-O-Lanterns, and trick or treating most of which were understood as communal practices aimed at mockery of heathendom by Christian people.
Given the Christian history of Halloween, it is sad to see that it has become the exact opposite of its original intent. Now, rather than a mockery of evil, it is a celebration of evil. Instead of a Christian holiday, it has been co-opted by secularists and pagans and redefined to be a time to mock Christian truth and celebrate the victory of death and evil over goodness and grace. Rather than fight for the recovery of the truth of Halloween, most Christians are content to let the secularists and pagans have it. Maybe this right, maybe this is capitulation. You can decide.
Can Halloween be redeemed? In our current cultural context, this is not an easy question to answer, but no, I don’t think so—at least not in its current form as it is currently practiced. However, the truth of Halloween remains regardless of how it has been perverted, and our children deserve to know that truth. It is a truth worth celebrating.
Jesus has won the victory and inaugurated His kingdom rule on earth. Satan has been crushed and his power over us has been broken. Praise be to God! He has delivered us from evil!