You may be aware our modern Halloween has its roots in something called “All Hallows’ Eve” or “All Saint’s Eve.” “All Hallows’ Day” is the beginning of a three-day event that celebrates dead martyrs and other Christian believers.
There is some debate as to whether Halloween was created by Christians or borrowed from an ancient pagan holiday. The latter theory reflects a practice known as “Christianizing.” Something is Christianized when pagan symbols and traditions are given new meaning. The philosophy behind this practice is that it allows cultures to retain the form of an unchristian tradition while embracing biblical truth. Similar histories exist in our celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
Throughout my lifetime I have seen a variety of approaches to Halloween by believers. When I was a teenager, it was perfectly acceptable to transform church buildings into haunted houses as an outreach event. I’m not talking about one of those frightening experiences where kids confront death and are challenged to recommit their lives to Jesus. Instead, our haunted houses were filled with body parts made out of spaghetti and catsup, monsters that jumped out from behind a curtain and a casket from the local funeral home. Some youth groups in town charged for their haunted houses and used the money for missions. It all seems a little strange now, but at the time a cool haunted house was a sign of an exciting church.
Before you write off these events as thoroughly heathen, realize this was before the first sewing needle was found in a trick-or-treat apple, and before people became obsessed with Satanic activities on Halloween. Ok, so maybe the head on a platter with blood and guts dripping over the side was a little over the top, but we considered it all good, clean, fun.
I have lived through trick-or-treat at the mall, Halloween alternative events (which many people preferred not to hold on Halloween because that gave a nod to the Satan), trunk-or-treat and bible costume parties. Some of my Christian friends have refused to have anything to do with Halloween and others wouldn’t miss handing out candy to neighborhood kids for anything in the world.
As parents, we dressed our children up as their favorite characters and escorted them around the neighborhood. Then we came back home and handed out candy for the rest of the evening. Though our children dressed up, we didn’t allow witches or devils. “Scary” was fine. In fact one of our son’s favorite activities was dressing up as a big ape and pretending to be a dummy with a bowl of candy in his arms. When the neighborhood kids reached down to grab their candy he would jump up and scare the living daylights out of them!
Halloween remains the one time of the year when kids from our entire neighborhood come to our door for a treat, and we have an opportunity to connect briefly with their parents. If Halloween in any form bothers you, I understand, and I respect your position. I also realize our world is always changing, and there is no way I can decide what is best for every generation. Christian parents just have to figure things out for themselves, while considering the wisdom they are able to glean from others.
I do, however, like the general notion of Christianizing a pagan celebration. I like to think of it as turning the tables on Satan by taking something he intended for evil and using it for good. But we do need to make sure our adaptations reflect the joy and righteousness of God.
A few days ago I talked with a little girl who recently gave her life to Jesus. She plans on wearing the armor of God to trick-or-treat. She has a sword and everything. Satan had better look out!