What Do We Hallow?
Rebecca Yuan—Canoga Park, California, USA
My first memory of Halloween was
as a six-year-old in Texas. I remember my parents dimming the lights and
telling us to be quiet so the trick-or-treaters would believe that nobody was
home. That experience became a model for years to come. Like many other True
Jesus Church members, my parents believed that Halloween was associated with
evil spirits and should be avoided.
However, in recent times, there seems
to be a shift in some of our church members’ perception of Halloween. We view
it as a part of American culture, a harmless community or social event. Our
children dress up for school Halloween parades, our youth attend costume
parties, and our adults go to work in character. To be a good neighbor (or to
appease pranksters), we greet and provide candy for trick-or-treaters.
Sometimes, we even let our kids go trick-or-treating with other church kids.
Is the traditional church stance
on Halloween antiquated, just as our former ban on permed hair or the strict
division of male-female seating in church?
If yes, then why are so many other
Christians opposed to Halloween participation? Are we being overly conservative
when avoiding a festivity that promotes community spirit, creativity, and good,
clean, fun? What exactly are we hallowing or celebrating when we participate in
ORIGINS OF HALLOWEEN
Halloween is a largely commercial holiday, it still contains many influences
from its pagan past. As we examine the history of Halloween, we can see the
spiritual significances that exist behind its modern-day rituals.
Samhain, the Festival of the Dead
The roots of Halloween can be
traced back to an ancient Celtic festival called “Samhain” (meaning “Summer’s
end,” pronounced “sow-en”).1 The festival took place on October 31
and marked the beginning of the dark season, which was associated with death
and the waning of the sun.
The ancient Britons believed that
on this day the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred. The dead
could return to visit their family and friends, and the living could be tricked
into passing into the other side.2 Therefore, people did what they
could to protect themselves.
Celtic priests called “Druids”
built sacred bonfires for people to burn animal, crop, and even human
sacrifices to appease Muck Olla, the sun god, and Samhain, the god of death.1
During the ritual, people wore costumes made of animal heads and skins, danced,
sang, and jumped over fires to scare away evil spirits.
At home, food was left outside to
appease roaming spirits, and turnips were carved into lanterns with faces to
ward off evil ones.2 If someone had to leave home after dark, they
would wear a guise for protection.3
For some, it was an opportunity
to play pranks on each other since abnormalities could be attributed to the
spirits. For others, it was a good opportunity to have one’s fortune told
because the presence of supernatural beings made it easier to predict the
When the Romans conquered Celtic
territory in AD 434, Samhain became intertwined with the Roman festival of “Feralia.”
This was a day in late October in which the dead were remembered. The day following
Feralia honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and gardens. The symbol for
Pomona was the apple, which explains the custom of “bobbing” for apples.3
Christendom “inherited Hallowe’en
from Pagan times” when Ireland was converted to Christianity in the 5th
In AD 835, Pope Gregory IV tried
to replace Samhain with a church-sanctioned holiday by declaring November 1 as
All Saints’ Day to honor saints and martyrs.3 By AD 900, the church
realized that All Saints’ had not supplanted pre-Christian customs, so it
established All Souls’ Day on November 2 to recognize all faithful souls that
had died during the previous year.5
The celebrations were reminiscent
of Samhain, with bonfires, parades, and people dressing up in costumes. To
discourage people from leaving food out for the spirits, the church encouraged
the practice of giving “soul-cakes.” Poor families would beg for food, and
families would give them pastries called “soul-cakes” in exchange for prayer
for the family’s dead relatives.
Together, All Saints’ Eve, All
Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day collectively became “Hallowmas.”3
Americanization of Halloween
Large populations of Irish
immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine of 1846 brought their Halloween traditions
to America. On October 31, the new immigrants would dress up, play pranks, beg
for money door-to-door, and tell fortunes with apples and nuts (symbols of
Pomona and Samhain).4 They also carved lanterns out of pumpkins, a
New World vegetable that was bigger and easier to work with than turnips.
Unfortunately, the pranks turned
into real destruction of homes and businesses by the 1920’s.6This prompted communities to seek more benign alternatives
for the night. “Good” children were encouraged to dress up and receive treats
from shops and homes that they visited. The phrase “Trick or treat!” was coined
as a greeting, and an American version of Halloween came about. By the 1930’s,
October 31 was referred to as “beggar’s night” and celebrated nation-wide.6
Halloween in America was
sanctioned as a neighborhood-oriented children’s holiday until the 1970’s, when
adult activities became popular once more.8 Retail chains and
amusement parks joined in and pushed the commercial importance of the “scary”
Today, Halloween is one of the
highest grossing commercial holidays, involving young and old alike.7
Meanwhile, there has been some
spiritual revival of Halloween in America. In places such as Salem,
Massachusetts, modern-day witches gather in the month of October in
anticipation of the annual Feast of Samhain on Halloween Eve.9 The
festival is a revival of the ancient Celtic festival, complete with Samhain
fire, witchcraft, chanting, and the honoring of Roman and Canaanite goddesses.9
Modern-day Satanists also view October 31 as their “highest of holy days.”10
Researching and learning about the
history of Halloween left me in shock. I was disturbed by the dark, spiritual
roots of Halloween. I also recognized the similarities between Halloween and
the pagan Chinese Ghost Month.
The Chinese Ghost Month is a
period of time during the seventh month of the lunar calendar in which the
gates of hell are believed to be opened. Therefore, people parade the streets
in frightening costumes of ghosts and gods, burn incense and paper money, and
offer food to wandering ghosts (especially those who died unnaturally and
cannot rest). These idol-worshipping festivities are incontestably unbiblical.
However, the same elements are packaged as something fun and child-oriented in
the Western world and accepted by some church members.
This causes me to think: If to
“hallow” is to “make holy,” what exactly are we hallowing when we celebrate
Halloween? Community spirit? Friendship? Conformity? Indulgence? Gluttony?
...God? Are we sending out a message to our children that we truly believe the
first part of the Lord’s prayer?
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:9, 10)
BIBLICAL GUIDELINES ON HALLOWEEN
After emailing my preliminary
research to friends and church students before last Halloween, I received mixed
reactions. Some parents decided to pull their young children out of Halloween
festivities. Others were still not convinced of the dangers of Halloween. After
all, commercialism seems to have overtaken the spiritual significance of the
holiday, and the Bible does not specifically refute Halloween.
Yet, the book of life provides
wonderful guidance on matters pertaining to our daily living. Here are some
biblical principles that may help us decide about Halloween:
Glorify God and Edify Our Brothers
We often hear,
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything
is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Cor 10:23, 24, NIV)
Before we participate in
Halloween, let us consider the effect of our actions. Will our actions glorify
God before unbelievers? Will it edify our fellow brethren?
Jesus tells us that we need to
glorify God as the salt and light of the earth. As salt, we need to have the
distinct flavor of God so we may season and better the lives of others. If we
lose our Christian qualities, we become “good for nothing but to be thrown out
and trampled underfoot by men” (Mt 5:13).
Jesus also says to us,
“You are the light of the world…[l]et your light so shine before men, that they may see
your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14, 16)
Yes, we may show community spirit
and befriend others by joining local Halloween activities, but do our actions
reveal the glory of God? When we hand out sweets to trick-or-treaters, do we
guide others to the peace and joy of Christ? Or does it cause the flavor of our
faith to appear bland and indistinctive from those of the world?
Let us remember that we are
ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20), representing an unseen God to the people in
this world who need God’s salvation. As “a chosen generation, a royal
priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people,” our job is to “proclaim the
praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet
2:9) and lead others to eternal life.
We also need to make sure that our
actions are edifying to others. Even though our own participation in Halloween
may not affect our faith, we may signal to a new or young believer that it is
harmless to participate in other activities that are unedifying or even
For example, although we may know
to avoid tarot card reading at a Halloween event, a new believer who doesn’t
fully understand God’s abomination of divination may be led to believe it is
benign. When our children receive permission from us to dress up as their
favorite fantasy character, they may not be able to distinguish fictional
witchcraft from real occult practices. Whatever we do, the exercise of our
freedom should not become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Cor 8:19). Scripture
“[W]hether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews,
Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For
I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”
(1 Cor 10:31-33, NIV)
Avoid What Is Detestable in God’s Sight
Before the Israelites entered the
land of Canaan, God told them,
“When you enter the land the LORD your God is
giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 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, and because of these
detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.
You must be blameless before the LORD your God.” (Deut 18:9-13)
most participants in Halloween no longer practice human or animal sacrifice,
the themes of divination, witchcraft, and consultation of the dead have been,
and still are, staple elements of the holiday.
in the form of fortune-telling is viewed as popular and harmless. Witches and
their black cats are ubiquitously honored on Halloween decorations. The return
of the dead is portrayed through characters such as zombies, vampires, mummies,
ghosts, and goblins.
To not inadvertently promote or
involve ourselves in witchcraft, divination, or the returning dead, we must be
even more careful to separate ourselves from things that are detestable to our
Lord Jesus during Halloween. As Peter reminds us,
[B]ut as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:15,
Be Aware that We Are Fighting a Spiritual Battle
Lastly, we need to be aware that
we are constantly fighting a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 tells us,
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,
but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness
of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore, our physical acts often
have spiritual consequences. For example, when we participate in sacraments
such as baptism, footwashing, and Holy Communion, we are united and take part
in Christ (Rom 6:5; Jn 13:8; 1 Cor 10:16); when we eat food sacrificed to
idols, we become affiliated with demons (1 Cor 10:19, 20); when we commit
sexual immorality, we sin against the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:18, 19).
The danger in participating in
Halloween activities is that we may give Satan a foothold by unwittingly doing
something with spiritual meaning.
As a holiday that emphasizes
material gratification and abnormalities, Halloween may also be used by Satan
to tempt us to sin. The devil “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he
may devour” (1 Pet 5:6). He tempts us with the same things he tempted our Lord
Jesus with—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”
(1 Jn 2:16).
For children, these temptations may
be manifested in massive amounts of candy and the ownership of a cool costume.
For youths and adults, they may take form as sensual indulgence (drunkenness
and dancing) and visual stimulation (provocative costumes), or the satisfaction
of social acceptance.
For us to live a spiritually
victorious life, we must flee from these temptations. We must not have “even a
hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity or of greed, because
these are improper for God’s holy people” (Eph 5:3, NIV).
Instead, we need to fill our mind
with the following:
[W]hatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever
things are just, whatever things
are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy. (Phil
This means that sometimes we have
to sacrifice a sense of belonging and feel like “aliens and strangers in the
world” (1 Pet 2:11, NIV). However, if we are able to truly live for Christ, our
reward will be worth it. As Hebrews 10:36 tells us, “[Y]ou have need of
endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the
or not to participate in Halloween is often a difficult decision. On the one
hand, we do not want to feel excluded from society or have our children harbor
resentment toward our beliefs. We also feel that it is a secular holiday that
does not harm our faith. On the other hand, we don’t want to disobey our Lord
Jesus, intentionally or not.
Hopefully, by learning more about
the background of Halloween, we can make a better-informed decision regarding
If we still have a hard time
deciding about our family’s Halloween participation, let us ask the Holy Spirit
for wisdom and discernment. As the Psalmist prayed:
“Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees;
then I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding and I will keep your law
And obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
For there I find delight.” (Ps 119:33-35)
Russo, Steve, Halloween, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1998, p. 18
Arnold, Bettina, University of Wisconsin
–Milwaukee, Lecture notes by Professor Bettina Arnold, Dept of Anthropology,
Co-Director, Center for Celtic Studies http://www.uwm.edu/~barnold/lectures/holloween.html,
viewed Oct 29, 2007
History Channel website http://www.history.com/minisites/halloween,
viewed Oct 29,2007
Schauffler, Robert Haven, HALLOWE’EN, Dodd, Mead
and Company, New York, 1933, p.ix
Santino, Jack, Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, University of
Tennessee Press/Knoxville, 1994, p. xvi.
Wier, Kim & Pam McCune, Redeeming Halloween – Celebrating Without Selling Out, Tyndale
House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 2004, p. 26
Yahoo! News “More adults want in on Halloween
lts_dc_1 , viewed Oct. 29, 2007
Russo, Steve, Halloween, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1998, p. 13
Edwards Sanders, Catherine, Wicca’s Charm, WaterBrook Bress, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2005,
Russo, Steve, Halloween, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 1998, p.75