Putting the hallow back in Halloween

Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America. We spend $6.9 billion. What is it about Halloween that draws us in?

We’re called to be light, even on culture’s darkest days. How do we live October 31? How do we prepare for it? How do we respond to our culture’s celebration, whether we boycott it or participate redemptively or mindlessly in it?

How often we separate sacred and secular: Halloween has become a secular celebration that we many Christians either boycott or cautiously or emphemistically participate in. How can we more effectively join our sacred and secular lives in such events as Halloween?

Our Ugandan friends are curious about other cultures such as ours, as we were curious and learning their culture. We found it difficult, however, to explain Halloween to our Ugandan friends. In fact, we were awakened to the fact that any holiday that glorifies gore and darkness is suspect at best and can lead to sin at worst.

Yet there we were, ironically, “celebrating” a holiday in Uganda, where we were trying to move Ugandans out of superstitions and belief that evil controls them, that evil spirits reign above the earth, that God is not in control; we were trying to preach Christ as more powerful than the evil one or evil spirits that most Ugandans very much believe in (Jn 4:4). We would talk about fetishes and charms they wore on their arms, under their clothes, put in their houses. We’d warn against curses they’d put on others to hex them and win power over them. We’d frown and condemn the spirit mediums who would dress up in cowry shells with a shepherds crook, get drunk, wear a leopard skin, dance around, smoke a pipe, and divine the nature of sickness or death in a village, trying to determine what was the cause, animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice . . .

And we were Americans come to “show them the way” and we were glorifying a holiday where we dress up as spirits and gools . . . or maybe fools. We weren’t parading in the streets, mind you, but our neighbors saw some of our festivities.

Were we wrong? Did we send a wrong signal? One tailor named Charles Oneka even sewed costumes for our children. Our close friends understood . . . but perhaps others didn’t.

But I tell you that story because when we got out of our culture, we learned something about ourselves that we otherwise might not have learned.

Like many other Christians recently, we’ve helped our children avoid dressing up as blantantly evil characters. Events have been changed from Halloween to “Fall Festivals,” and trick or treating has become “trunk or treats” at churches.

For example, churches like ours do Fall Festivals, Pumpkin Patches, or dramas about the Fires of Hell.

What is the biblical principle that guides us here? Should we join culture, celebrate with, revise events with Christian emphasis? Shouldn’t it concern us that we celebrate rightly as Christians? Do we celebrate outside of our Christian faith? Should there be secular and sacred separations in our lives?

Do we keep the porch light on the very one night of the year when our neighbors come to meet us, when we might meet our neighbors or do we turn the porch light off in protest and sashay to our “holy” events?

Our family chooses to leave the light on and be in the neighborhood on Halloween night. We celebrate with our culture and intentionally meet our neighbors as we trick or treat or receive trick or treaters. I will usually come home and write down the names of neighbors we’ve met.

The night is holy to us as a way to be good neighbors.

5 comments on “Putting the hallow back in Halloween

  1. As always, you have captured my feelings about a subject that often has become controversial among Christians.

    We’ll start leaving our lights on, too — every night of the year.


  2. It’s really “hallowed eve” . . . it’s really a religious holiday that has been preverted into something else . . .


  3. Your post reminded me of one I did two years ago. Forgive the LONG post, but you touched on a topic that has always been a challenge for me!

    Monday, October 18, 2004

    All Saints Day

    Just two weeks left until Luke’s first Halloween! He is going to be a chicken! “Just Hatched 2004!”

    It is funny because not so very long ago the entire concept of Halloween really bothered me. Let me give a little background— I taught high school English, American Literature–10th and 11th grade, for 8 years. Part of the territory I covered each year was pieces such as The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible. We had to discuss the early colonies and their attitudes on Satan and witchcraft and the events surrounding the Witch Trials in Salem. It just so happened that every year this unit ended up corresponding with October and Halloween. SO– inevitably as we discussed witches and the colonists’ perceptions of good and evil we would get into the whole Halloween debate. For some reason it just bothered me that the kids so readily dismissed the darker side of what the day actually represents… If you haven’t ever pondered the origins of the day– visit http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/halloween/holiday_origins1.html

    Yes- I know the same pagan claims can be made about Christmas– not as convincingly perhaps— But, anyway– I liked to challenge the kids to think a little beyond the “getting free candy mentality.” It always got a good heated debate started! 🙂 They would get extremely fired up at the thought that anything evil could be associated with dressing up– even as witches and ghosts and monsters– or wanting to get as much candy as possible! The Bible is very clear about what God thinks of witchcraft in ANY form or guise:

    “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spirits, or one who calls up the dead. “For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. “You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. “For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so.” Deuteronomy 18:9-14

    But, the event that truly shook my beliefs about Halloween happened one year when I actually had a student who professed a belief in Wicca– a religion derived from pre-Christian times, also called Witchcraft. This girl, I’ll call her “Jane”– had always been troubled to say the least… She was introverted yet brash and sometimes cruel in her remarks. This did not make her a class favorite at the more “preppy” and conservative private Christian high school where I taught.

    Jane had major family issues– a father who had left to pursue a life with a younger live-in girlfriend. Her mom suffered major depression as a result and Jane had to witness the misery she lived through each day. So, it wasn’t hard to understand how Jane was drawn to Wicca or to anything that she felt could give her answers on how to cope with life. Wicca was also nice for the shock value it brought her. She could annoy her dad and the kids at school– it was “cool” in her mind to take a completely different path than the rest, and she loved flaunting her new beliefs.

    I had a pretty good relationship with Jane. She could confide in me, and she wasn’t afraid to discuss her beliefs concerning Wicca with me. This lead to many long talks where I tried my best to listen and to encourage, while at the same time trying to speak truth to Jane about the myth of Wicca. Toward the end I was practically begging her to see how opposed to God and Jesus this “religion” was and how it would only leave her empty and unfulfilled– not to mention lost.

    Jane had become increasingly suicidal at one point. I will never forget the conversation I had with her on one particular day. She came in wanting to talk, so I actually went to my principal– who was already aware of the situation. He had someone cover my classes for me, and Jane and I went to a quiet, secluded corner of the library to talk. I had again tried to talk to her about Christ and how only in Him could she find the peace and joy she desperately needed in her life. I was trying to explain to her that God was opposed to witches, witchcraft, divination, and that these were not the way to connect with a “higher power” or the way to find meaning in life. She listened, but I never really could convince her at that point that witchcraft was a horrible scam which was tricking her into thinking that she could come up with the answers on her own apart from God’s help.

    As I left her that day, I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted! We had talked for close to three hours. I walked out of the library and down the now quiet and empty halls of the school. I was just passing the door of the home-ec room when I looked up and saw a whimsical cartoon witch smiling at me. The bitter irony reflected back at me in the toothless grin of that tattered cardboard witch was almost more than I could take. The harmless Halloween decoration seemed to mock everything that I had been trying to share with Jane that day and now seemed horribly out of place and inappropriate in my Christian school.

    For the better part of a year this whole dialogue with Jane went on– and I will not take the time here to explain all that happened both good and bad… But, just to give some closure to Jane’s story– She ultimately did abandon Wicca. She became pregnant before graduation. I think the sobering reality of motherhood pushed her toward real truth and faith.

    I haven’t seen Jane in awhile, but now every year when the pumpkins and goblins and witches come out- I think of her and pray that she is doing well and living in the joy of the Lord with her precious child.

    So, when I zip up Luke’s chicken outfit in a couple of week’s, I will be struck by the innocence of it all. He has no thoughts of witches, monsters, or ghosts. I will be thankful that he is my sweet baby boy. Some day when he is old enough I will try to share with him my new definition of “All Hallow’s Eve”– thanks to Jane. The old Middle English title of “All Saints Day” means that we can celebrate! Thanks to God we are indeed saints. We are saved and spared from the misery of the evil that was so feared and represented in the images of ghosts, monsters, devils, and witches. We don’t have to fear death or evil because God has already given us, His saints, the victory! Praise God!


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