SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN?
by Shawn Brasseaux
What should be the Bible believer’s attitude of Halloween? Some Christians say that it is a harmless, fun-filled holiday for children to enjoy themselves; other Christians vehemently disapprove of its observance because of its pagan and secular elements. In this Bible study, we will evaluate Halloween from the historical and Biblical perspectives, and let our readers come to their own conclusion as to what they should do about Halloween.
ORIGIN OF HALLOWEEN
According to the “Halloween” article of The World Book Encyclopedia:
“Halloween developed from an ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago in the area that is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northwestern France. The festival was called Samhain (pronounced SOW ehn), which means summer’s end. The festival marked the beginning of the dark winter season and was celebrated around November 1. In the 800’s, the Christian church [the Roman Catholic Church] established a new holiday, All Saints’ Day, on this date. All Saints’ Day was also called All Hallows’. Hallow means saint, or one who is holy. The evening before All Hallows’ was known as All Hallows’ Eve, or as it came to be abbreviated, All Hallow e’en. This name was eventually shortened to Halloween.”
The New Encyclopædia Britannica says in its article “Halloween:”
“Halloween had its origins in the festival of Samhain among the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland. On the day corresponding to November 1 on contemporary calendars, the new year was believed to begin. That date was considered the beginning of the winter period, the date on which the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed. During the Samhain festival the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favourable for divination [fortune-telling] on matters such as marriage, health, and death. When the Romans conquered the Celts in the 1st century CE, they added their own festivals of Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and of Pomona, the goddess of the harvest.”
Thus, we see that secular history confirms that there is nothing Scriptural about Halloween—in fact, Halloween is anti-Scriptural. Halloween originated in non-Christian cultures, and is founded on superstition and spiritism (communication with the dead). There really is nothing Christian about Halloween. Let us now briefly look at the elements of Halloween and what they signify.
ELEMENTS OF HALLOWEEN AND THEIR MEANINGS
During Halloween-time, we observe a variety of morbid elements on display: jack-o’-lanterns, haunted houses, skeletons, black cats, witches, and ghosts, to name a few. Activities include trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples. Do you ever wonder why these elements are associated with Halloween, and what they symbolize? The World Book Encyclopedia answers in its “Halloween” article:
- “Trick-or-treating. It was once common for people to leave food out on a table as a treat for spirits believed to be about on Halloween. In England, people went house-to-house souling—that is, asking for small breads called soul cakes in exchange for prayers. In some areas of the United Kingdom and Ireland, people went mumming (parading in masks) on many holidays, including Halloween. Groups of masked adults would go door-to-door asking for food and drink in return for a performance or song. Dressing in costume and asking for food or money was done in England on Guy Fawkes Day (November 5).”
- “Jack-o’-lanterns are hollowed-out pumpkins with a face cut into one side. Most jack-o’-lanterns contain a candle or some other light. People in Scotland and Ireland once carved out large beets or turnips to use as lanterns on Halloween. After this custom reached America, pumpkins began to be used. The jack-o’-lantern originally represented spirits present in the dark, or souls released from Christian [Roman Catholic] purgatory. According to an Irish legend, jack-o’-lanterns were named for a character named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miserly, bad-tempered man. He could not enter hell either, because he had tricked the devil several times. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth forever with only a coal from hell to light his lantern.”
- “Fortunetelling methods that developed in Europe hundreds of years ago became an important part of Halloween rituals and celebrations. In Ireland, objects, such as a coin, a ring, and a thimble, were baked into a cake or other food. It was believed that the person who found the coin would become wealthy. Whoever found the ring would marry soon, but the person who got the thimble would never get married.”
- “Halloween magic is also associated with foods, such as apples and nuts. In one fortunetelling game, a young woman would peel an apple in one long paring and throw it over her shoulder. People believed it would land in the shape of the initial of the man the woman would marry. Halloween’s connection with apples and nuts is ancient, and Halloween was sometimes referred to as Nutcrack Night or Snap Apple Night. Today, some people use fortunetelling techniques, such as tarot cards or palm reading, to predict the future on Halloween.”
- “Halloween symbols. In the 1500’s and 1600’s, people in Europe believed that the devil made witches do evil deeds. Over the centuries, people came to imagine that witches—and sometimes their animal companions, often black cats—rode through the night sky on Halloween. Throughout the ages, superstitious folk thought that fairies and ghosts could be asked for help casting spells or seeing into the future on Halloween. These supernatural creatures were not always friendly, and people sometimes carried turnip lanterns carved with grotesque faces to keep them away. In Scotland, people lit huge bonfires on hillsides to drive away evil spirits. For centuries in Europe, people remembered the dead at All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 2) with bonfires. Although bonfires are less common on Halloween today, people still mark the night with candles burning in jack-o’-lanterns. In addition, although most people do not believe in ghosts or witches, these supernatural beings remain symbols of Halloween.”
- “Samhain. Scholars know little about ancient Celtic religious rituals, festivals, and celebrations. Many believe the festival of Samhain to be the beginning of the Celtic year. At Samhain, farmers brought livestock in from summer pastures, and people gathered to build shelter for winter. During this time of reunion, new laws were made, stories were told, and they celebrated the season with bonfires and feasting. The festival also had religious significance, and people burned fruits, vegetables, grain, and possibly animals as offerings to the gods. In ancient Celtic stories, Samhain was a magical time of transition when important battles were fought and fairies cast spells. It was a time when the barriers between the natural world and the supernatural were broken. The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living at this time. During Samhain, the living could visit with the dead, who they believed held secrets of the future. Scholars believe that Halloween’s association with ghosts, food, and fortunetelling began with these pagan customs more than 2,000 years ago.”
- “All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Many of the customs of the pagan Celts survived even after the people became Christian [Roman Catholics?]. In the 800’s, the [Roman Catholic] church established All Saints’ Day on November 1. About two hundred years later, it added All Souls’ Day on November 2. This day was set aside for people to pray for friends and family who had died. People made many of the old pagan customs part of this Christian holy day. Some people put out food for their ancestors, or they left a lantern burning in the window so that ghosts could find their way home for the night. Through the years, various regions of Europe developed their own Halloween customs. In Wales, for example, each person put a white stone near the Halloween fire at night and then checked in the morning to see whether the stone was still there. If it was, the person would live another year.”
- “Halloween in the United States. Many early American settlers came from England, and they brought various beliefs about ghosts and witches with them. In the 1800’s, many immigrants from Ireland and Scotland arrived in the United States and introduced their Halloween traditions. Other groups added their own cultural influences to Halloween customs. For example, German immigrants brought a vivid witchcraft lore.”
“The New Encyclopædia Britannica” says the following about “Halloween:”
“In the 7th century CE Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day, originally on May 13, and in the following century, perhaps in an effort to supplant the pagan holiday with a Christian observance, it was moved to November 1. The evening before All Saints’ Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween. By the end of the Middle Ages, the secular and the sacred days had merged. The Reformation essentially put an end to the religious holiday among Protestants, although in Britain especially Halloween continued to be celebrated as a secular holiday. Along with other festivities, the celebration of Halloween was largely forbidden among the early American colonists, although in the 1800s there developed festivals that marked the harvest and incorporated elements of Halloween. When large numbers of immigrants, including the Irish, went to the United States beginning in the mid 19th century, they took their Halloween customs with them, and in the 20th century Halloween became one of the principal U.S. holidays, particularly among children.”
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HALLOWEEN
While the Bible does not use the term “Halloween,” God’s Word surely speaks against its associated activities: witchcraft, necromancy (communication with the dead), celebration of spiritual darkness, and devil worship. The LORD God had a very serious command as to how the nation Israel should deal with witches: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18). We read His commandments to Israel in Leviticus 20:27: “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.”
In Deuteronomy 18:9-14, JEHOVAH told Israel before she went into the Promised Land: “ When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.  There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination [witchcraft], or an observer of times [astrology], or an enchanter [magician], or a witch.  Or a charmer [one who casts spells], or a consulter with familiar spirits , or a wizard, or a necromancer [raises the dead].  For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.  Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.  For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.”
The LORD declared in Micah 5:12: “And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers:” Clearly, God wanted Israel, His earthly people, to have no part in Satan’s policy of evil. He did not want them to mingle with witches, spiritual darkness, and so on.
What does God want for us, the Church the Body of Christ, His heavenly people, in this the Dispensation of Grace? Galatians 5:20 refers to witchcraft as a “work of the flesh” (verse 19), something that opposes the “fruit of the [Holy] Spirit” (verses 22 and 23).
In Ephesus, the Apostle Paul was able to evangelize many people. Acts 19:19 indicates that these people were formerly pagans who were also Satan worshippers: “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver [~US$6.4 million!].” The Ephesians were notable for their magic spells, but once they had trusted in Jesus Christ, the Bible says they literally burned their magic (spell) books! Witchcraft and the occult should have no part in our lives as Christians. God has separated us unto Himself. We should not be fellowshipping with devils (see 1 Corinthians 10:19-23).
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN TO DO?
There is no law in the Bible, “Thou shalt not celebrate Halloween.” Yet notice 1 Corinthians 10:23: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” Although they are not explicitly forbidden, we should avoid the activities that are inconsistent with our identity in Christ Jesus. What we need to be most careful of is not to associate with secular observances that cause us to send “mixed messages to the lost world.” If we as Christians associate with dark or evil-looking celebrations, does that convey God’s wisdom and Word to the lost world? Is God’s Word honored when we claim to believe it but we do not let it impact our lives?
Our purpose here has been to enlighten you about Halloween so that you can make an informed decision. It is certainly not our goal to “have dominion over your faith;” our desire is to be “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). We will not dictate to you what you can and cannot do regarding Halloween, but we do offer this study for your consideration. Our goal is to have your faith rest in an intelligent understanding of God’s Word, so that you may have joy and peace in believing God’s Word (Romans 15:13).
Let us use this dark, “death-filled” time of year—a time when people are most open to “spiritual things”—to share the wonderful news of the new life we have in Christ, and the new life that they can have in Jesus Christ, too, if they trust Him alone as their personal Saviour. This is the wonderful Gospel of the Grace of God, and it alone is the life-giving message that lost people need to hear—at Halloween and every other time!
NOTE: My own research about Halloween yielded too much information to be reproduced in its entirety here. The reader is greatly encouraged to search the internet to learn more about Halloween’s history, and not take this author’s word for anything.
Also, please see our Bible study “Impressionable Minds and Effectual Doctrine,” which goes into greater detail about how our young people need to guard their minds against Halloween’s associated pagan beliefs and practices. You may also enjoy our “Arrayed in Hypocrisy” Bible study, which discusses how Satan’s ministers wear ingenuous disguises—these are the “monsters” of Scripture.
» How does Satan operate today?
» Where in the Bible did God give Satan domain over the Earth?
» Did God create evil? (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)