I look out my window and see a horde of zombies coming down the road. Granted, they’re mostly under three foot tall, and the screams are those of overexcited children, but their costumes are ghoulish enough to frighten my two-year old, who takes cover close to me but watches on in morbid fascination. It’s Halloween folks, and as Christians we have to decide – do we or don’t we? Or, how do we?
This typically American holiday went under the radar in South Africa for many years, but has made a comeback with increasing popularity, as retailers cash in on consumers’ weak ability to resist an opportunity for revelry. It’s a controversial topic – and not a gospel issue – but when your children get invited to join your neighbourhood trick-or-treat procession, you need to know which Halloween camp you fall into, and why.
The ‘harmless fun’ camp
Today, most people celebrating Halloween do not see it as a day on which evil spirits are any more active or sinister, although superstitions still exist. Christians can reject superstition, enlightened by God’s word that He has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:15), and also knowing that in fact any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Dismissing things like goblins, witches, ghouls and other symbols of the underworld as harmless cannot be done easily in light of the Bible’s call to think about things that are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Dressing one’s daughter as a busty pirate wench, or decorating the house in a way that can only be described as a celebration of death, does not constitute a Christ-centred approach to Halloween.
The ‘no participation’ camp
Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination – death, superstition and expressions of debauched revelry, seems like it has little to redeem itself. Parents in the ‘no participation’ camp don’t want their children to participate in spiritually compromising activities –dressing up in costumes for trick-or-treating, or attending Halloween alternatives; they prefer to skip 31 October altogether and put emphasis on other events. “The roots of the holiday are purely pagan; there’s not much, if anything, that we feel can be salvaged,” says one non-participant mom on a forum. “Apart from the dark side of it, the excessive consumption of sugar, along with spending money on appropriate costumes just doesn’t seem wise.”
If you fall into this camp, it’s important to explain your stance to your children and to prepare them for possible scorn. This response does provide a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask.
The ‘ground rules’ camp
If you fall into this camp you most likely have amended the occasion to better complement your convictions. This means allowing your children to participate in trick-or-treating but ruling out scary costumes and rather encouraging them to dress up as superheroes or someone of admirable reputation. The same applies to carving pumpkins –smiling faces; nothing wicked. This limited, non-compromising participation can of course provide good opportunities for relationship building, and to share the gospel. This would be a way of “redeeming Halloween” – taking elements of culture that are often used for sinful purposes and mining them for truths that can be celebrated, reclaimed and redeemed for God’s purposes.
The ‘alternative celebration’ camp
With Halloween co-inciding with Reformation Sunday, some Christians (particularly in the US) opt for “Reformation festivals” or “Harvest festivals”, with kids dressing up as farmers, Bible characters or Reformation heroes. This can be an effective way of reaching out to neighbourhood families with the gospel; as is the practice of taking acts of mercy into the community and “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.
The Bible does not tell us how to handle Halloween, and there are valid points on both sides of the argument. Perhaps it’s about praying and asking God for wisdom on how to handle Halloween this year for your family – knowing that ultimately it comes down to our hearts and what God is leading us to do in our communities.
If you need more information to decide the best way forward check out: Halloween- a Haunting History