Growing up in Winnipeg, I always found Halloween a bust. I’d work for months on my costume, wear it to school, and by the time I came home, the temperature had dropped and the snow was flying. Forced to conceal my beautiful costume under a snowsuit, I’d add a token superhero mask to convince myself it was actually Halloween.
Off I’d go, ringing doorbells and shouting “Trick or treat!” while holding my pillowcase open with great expectation. Every year, however, I was tricked and not treated by an elderly couple down the street. Their porch light was on, but when I rang the doorbell, they’d greet me with a leaflet emblazoned with the name “JESUS.” I’d watch that leaflet drop into my pillowcase like the last of the autumn leaves. I remember one year stomping back to the end of the driveway and asking my mom, “What’s the deal with those people?” To which she replied, “They love God too, just a little differently than we do.”
Should Christians celebrate Halloween? I have some wonderful, faithful Christian friends who have polar-opposite opinions on this question.
The origins of Halloween are undoubtedly pagan. Its earliest roots are found in Samhain (pronounced sow-in), the Celtic harvest festival at the end of October that marked the beginning of winter and a bridge to the world of the dead through the transition of seasons. The Romans conquered parts of the Celtic region in the first century AD and added their own celebrations to the mix, including Feralia, another day set aside to honour the dead, and the festival of Pomona, named for the goddess of fruit and trees (bobbing for apples, anyone?).
When Christianity hooked up with Constantinian power in the fourth century AD, church leaders started to eliminate the pagan influence in the empire. On Nov. 1, 731 AD, Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to all Christian martyrs and ordered an annual observance in the city. By the ninth century, the first day of November was celebrated throughout the church as “All Saints” or “All Hallows,” with the day before known as “All Hallows’ Eve,” shortened over time to “Halloween.”
Of course, All Saints’ Day is not controversial. For followers of the risen Christ, the dilemma is what to do with the day previous. Is Halloween a harmless holiday or something more sinister?
I suppose the answer partly comes down to how far back we want to take things. Oddly, many of my Christian friends who are opposed to Halloween gladly put up a Christmas tree in December. There’s usually an awkward moment when I point out that the Christmas tree tradition was originally pagan as well, before being appropriated by Christians.
For centuries, faithful Christians have wrestled — through prayer, scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — with how to be in the world but not of the world. Jesus warns us against gaining the whole world and losing our soul in the process, and commands us to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves in this pilgrimage through life. For some, this means turning out the lights on Oct. 31 when the ghosts and goblins come knocking. I respect that.
Should Christians celebrate Halloween? Celebrate — no. Participate — sure. Personally, I’m less worried about the devil showing up on my doorstep and asking for candy on All Hallows’ Eve and more worried about letting the tempter sneak into my life the rest of the year by denying Christ in my words and actions in everyday discipleship. I suppose in the end, I simply trust in the awesome Sovereignty of God that has proven time and time again to be able to redeem all that seems lost and wrong — even Halloween.
Rev. Ross Lockhart is the director of ministry leadership and education at St. Andrew’s Hall in Vancouver.
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