When I first entered full time ministry as a youth pastor, I vividly remember the tension — our church had to have an alternative to Halloween, a “Harvest Party,” — even though there was almost no one in the church who was doing much harvesting. This created a dilemma for my Senior Pastor who had a home in the backyard of the church but didn’t want his kids to miss out on all the trick or treating. He snuck his kids out the back door, hoping that nobody at the “Harvest Party” would see him and the kids all dressed up ready to participate in what some were convinced was the devils holiday. The hysteria over Halloween was intense with some insisting that to participate was to do something spiritually dangerous. I never did figure out how the alternative “Harvest Party” was spiritually safer. Years later I’m glad that the level of hysteria has calmed considerably in most churches. But still from time to time I get asked, “Hey Doug, what do you think about Halloween?” So to those who have been asking more recently, here’s something I wrote back in 2009 that I’ll re-post for Halloween 2013 …
• The word “Halloween” itself is not an evil or bad word. It simply comes out the old Christian church calendar used by mainline churches including the Anglican church that comes from All Hallows Eve, or the Night Before All Saints Day, with the word “hallows” meaning Christian “saints”. It was a time when we celebrated great Christian leaders who God used to change history. Over the years the concept of “venerating” or honouring saints, like we honour great heroes of the faith today, took on some unbiblical baggage that contributed to the Protestant Reformation.
• Martin Luther chose Halloween in the year 1517 as the symbolic day that he would nail 95 Theses to the Door of the Church at Wittenberg that started the Protestant Reformation. In essence the Protestant Church was born on Halloween. Luther was not opposed to the celebration of the heroes of the faith, but he was opposed to how that celebration had developed into something like “praying to the saints”, that they might intercede to God on our behalf, when we have direct access to Christ in prayer.
• The pagan practices of the Druids that some connect with Halloween were not initially associated with Halloween. They happened around the same time of year (late October/ early November) and over time the “days” did end up both being October 31st. But the Druid Samhain festival eventually came to compete with Halloween and in many places overtake it. But Halloween, from All Hallows Eve, is still a Christian not a pagan word, even if Samhain practices now take place on Halloween.
• The fact that some folk do bad stuff on Halloween, mimicking the Druid Samhain festival, is no reason for Christians to withdraw and not have a great party full of fun, costumes and the like. When we withdraw and condemn the Devil wins. Far better for Christians to take the day back and turn it into a great God honouring party. And as we know from Scripture, Jesus was not party adverse!! In fact he would turn up at parties that the religious’ folk thought were too pagan for good believers to be at.
• You may remember the old Larry Norman phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the good music?” He pioneered the use of rock music in the church at a time when you could statistically show that there was a connection between rock music and drug use. In some ways you still can. God used him to redeem something that devil was using. Just because the devil uses it, does not make it wrong. So too we can participate in Halloween in God honouring ways and again take it back from the Evil One.
• December 25th, the day we celebrate Christmas on, was originally a pagan festival to the Sun god, that Christians decided would be great day to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. But the day was originally very pagan. And it still is in some parts. Would we withdraw from celebrating Christmas if Satanists decided to revive old pagan Sun god practices on Christmas day, and police stats went up on that day??
The bottom line is we simply will not allow the Devil to win by taking what is good and positive and fun about Halloween. The colour, the candy, the costumes, the games … Jesus loves them all. And I’m convinced He’s right there in the middle of the party with us. I’m looking forward to All Hallows Eve – both enjoying the colourful party and remembering the birth of the Protestant tradition.