It’s late October, so second tax season is over, and it’s time for an annual controversy. Some Christian parents will take children dressed up as their favorite superhero or monster out to collect candy while their spouses stay home to be on the candy-distributing side. Others will decry the paganism of the festival. My Halloween post will explore which side is right here.
There’s no denying that, despite a name like All Hallow’s Eve before All Saints Day, Halloween has its origins in paganism. It was originally Samhain, the Celtic New Year, on November 1. In their reckoning, it was the start of winter, and since dark preceded light in Celtic thinking, winter started the year. Likewise, night started the day, so the night of October 31 was the beginning of that New Year. Important decisions were made on November 1, like what animals to slaughter for winter and which to keep alive for the next spring. But first, the barriers between this world and the Otherworld went down for the night, as they did at all the four festivals marking the seasons. For some reason, the Irish worshipped gods, whom they called the Tuatha de Danaan, whom they thought their mortal ancestors, the sons of Milesius, had defeated and driven into the Otherworld underground and who came out only on these days when the barriers broke down. If there’s a sillier religion than that of my ancestors, I don’t know it, but it just goes to show you how far people will go to avoid worshipping the true God.
I’ve often wondered why we celebrate Halloween the way we do. Surely that should play into our calculation of what’s right and wrong here. I mean, the candy and dressing up like superheroes has obvious appeal to the children, but for practically a month we celebrate things dark and dangerous. We’ll watch movies about gory death and all kinds of creatures whose sole purpose is to harm us. Who in their right mind would make a festival out of that?
I think the Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan provides a reasonable answer when he talks about why we’re so fascinated with monsters. His book is a rational look at what’s been hard-wired into us to fear the kinds of creatures we make movies and campfire stories about. We’re facing our fears this way in a setting where we know we won’t get hurt and enjoying the adrenaline rush we would normally get only in dangerous situations.
Which is why I think Halloween is okay for much the same reason as Harry Potter and other books about magical characters are okay for Christians (if you haven’t, check that blog post out in the archive). Most people know the monsters aren’t real. In fact, we don’t generally dress up as the evil things we do believe in. How many Halloween stores sell costumes of Hitler or Stalin? People might dress up as grotesque zombies, but how many intentionally dress up as someone suffering from a real disease like Ebola or cancer? Since the Christians taking their kids out to get candy aren’t encouraging them to worship the creatures people are dressing up as (and certainly most of them have never even heard of the Tuatha de Danaan), most children should be perfectly fine participating.
As for Halloween being originally pagan, so was Christmas (and, yes, there are Christians who object to even Christmas on those grounds). The Bible nowhere states that December 25 was Christ’s birthday, and it gives no evidence of early Christians celebrating it. What did happen was the Church took a big pagan holiday, of which there are a lot at the time of the Winter Solstice, like Saturnalia or Yule, and converted it to Christian use to give Christians something sacred to celebrate at the same time their pagan neighbors were living it up. That’s exactly how we got All Saints Day and All Hallow’s Eve as well.
It’s true that when Paul wrote, “One man esteemeth one day above another. Another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5, KJV), he probably mainly had the Jewish festal calendar in mind, but notice he doesn’t say, “except for your pagan holidays.” I think worldly holidays like Halloween fall under the adiaphora category like eating meat sacrificed to idols. It doesn’t matter so much what the other guy is making of it as what you are making of it. If you want to let your kid enjoy some role-playing and candy and fellowship with the family and the neighbors, that’s perfectly fine.
But here are my caveats. A festival celebrating dark things can obviously lead to sin very easily. Paul didn’t mind the Corinthians eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but he didn’t want them participating in the sacrifices themselves. Anything involving genuine attempts at witchcraft, necromancy, or what-not should be avoided at all costs! As for pranking and scaring people, my advice would be to remember the Golden Rule and not do anything to anyone you wouldn’t want them doing to you. While many movies like Universal’s 1930s monster movies are classic works of art depicting the clash of good versus evil, I don’t see anything healthy, artistic, or God-glorifying in watching graphically gruesome slasher pics with senseless violence. And certainly don’t violate your conscience in anything you do. Other than that, enjoy the candy!