Stumbling through Halloween

*writer's note: this blog was written several weeks prior to its actual post date. Some sections have been updated based on my own conversations & study since then. My son came home from church all excited! The Happy Haunts Hayride is just around the corner! He can hardly wait! This has been the biggest “youth ministry” event of the year for the past four years. Kids literally line up in droves! Why? To ride in a trailer pulled by a tractor, loaded up with hay, and to be scared out of their wits at different points along the route by people dressed up as werewolves, clowns (yes, clowns) and even the undead (zombies).

This will be the same week as Halloween, but not ON Halloween. And our church will be hosting a “Harvest Fest” carnival in the church parking lot on October 31 – where anyone and everyone is welcome. So it’s “for a good cause” and that makes everything better.

Right?

So why am I not excited? Why do I even have an issue wanting to allow my kids to take part in this?

halloween

Have you ever studied the origins of Halloween?

Here’s the basics: Its origins are from the ancient Celts (2000+ years ago), who called it the Festival of Samhain.  It was all about ushering out the harvest season and ushering in winter, and this happened on the eve of October 31 and during the day on November 1. It included bonfires (bone fires) where animal (and reportedly sometimes human) sacrifices were made to the god of harvest. Costumes were worn for a variety of reasons – including hiding from malevolent spirits who were said to be trapped on the earth. Then everyone would take fire back home from the bonfire (often using turnips or pumpkins) to light their hearths, and place treats on the porch to appease any of those wandering spirits (trick or treat). The practices associated with the Festival of Samhain have varied through the years, but include psychic readings (divination), attempted communication with the dead, and other pagan practices. Even “bobbing for apples” was once associated with divination.

Then in the 800s AD, the early church in England tried to “Christianize” the old Celtic festival. Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as “All Saints Day” – a day to honor saints & martyrs – particularly those who did not have a specific day of honor already assigned to them. And October 31 was decreed “All Hallows Eve”. This was shortened by the common folk to Hallow’een. But the poor ignorant saps just kept on practicing their pagan rituals even on this newly sanctified day. And while the traditions have changed somewhat over the years, a lot of what the general public does on Halloween in the modern era is still deeply rooted in old, pagan customs from that originated before the birth of Christ.

Wiccans and other specifically pagan groups consider Halloween (they still call it Festival of Samhain) to be a very important day of the year. They view October 31 as a time when the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is thinnest, and when it is easiest to communicate with those “on the other side”. Many witches still perform ritual to “honor the dead” and practice forms of divination to communicate with the deceased.

What does the Word say?

Again, these are just the basics. There’s a lot more information available from a variety of sources. I’ve done a lot of study on the matter, and through the years I’ve formed a pretty educated opinion of this “holiday.” Its pagan origins are enough to make me wary. Add in all the specific activities that still take place today, and I just can’t get comfortable with it. But how I feel really doesn’t matter. I look to scripture as the final authority on all matters. And of course, I don’t see anything specific about “Thou Shalt not celebrate the Festival of Samhain.” But there are many passages that sure give me plenty of pause. Here are a few:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. ~1 Corinthians 10:21

There shall not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. ~Deuteronomy 18:10 

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.Ephesians 5:11

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.Romans 12:9

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. ~Ephesians 6:12 

Scripture has much to say about being light and not darkness, following Christ and not the world (or evil or satan). We are taught plenty about being in the world but not of the world. If you dared to do your own web search, you would literally find hundreds of scripture passages warning us about what happens when people of God co-mingle our beliefs and practices with the ways of the world. It's just dangerous.

And then there’s James 4:17....If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

So, what do you do?

Last year I, personally, spent October 31 on a prayer walk through neighborhoods near our church. It might’ve been the best “Hallow’een” I’ve had in years. Meanwhile, the rest of my family took part in our “Fall Festival” in the church parking lot. Which, by the way, I think is redundant in itself. After all, it’s like the church has once again tried to cover over the practices surrounding Halloween with yet another activity- which still includes some aspects of the original pagan practices.

I'm still left wondering: what should I do this year? How should I lead my family? How firmly do I put my foot down about this? We’ve never “dressed up for Halloween.” In fact, when my daughter was in preschool, that became cause for a lot of tears when her class was encouraged to dress up, but we would not allow it. And then it became a cause for frustration when the teacher gave her a costume anyway – against our wishes.

And so it has been every year. This complex struggle to do what is right, to walk what feels like a spiritual tight rope between “common sense” and good biblical doctrine. To be in the world, but not of the world. And for some reason, it just seems to be more difficult on this one day of the year than at any other time.

I once heard someone say that taking part in Halloween practices with the mindset of “I’m not celebrating anything evil so it’s okay for me to do this” is like drinking cyanide with the thought “I don’t consider this to be poison, so surely I won’t die.” Hmm...maybe a little overly drastic, but there's some truth in that too.

And after all, I put up a Christmas tree in my home every year. And of course the Christmas tree has origins around worshiping a pagan god with emphasis around fertility. So how do I reconcile that? Very poorly, I'm afraid. But maybe I digress...maybe not...?

And then I think of 1 Corinthians 10, where the Apostle Paul warns believers not to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols or demons. Not because it would necessarily harm them, but because it could potentially harm their witness.

That’s really it, isn’t it? Apostle Paul tells believers “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble.”

And I wonder…what is the best approach to Halloween, or anything associated with it, so that no one would stumble? I don't pretend to have the answers. I don't think a spooky hayride or a church carnival would necessarily cause people to consider practicing witchcraft or getting involved in evil practices. No more than having a Christmas tree would cause someone to start worshiping a fake god of fertility.  But then again...what if it did...?

What are your convictions surrounding Halloween?

 

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