Am I a Heretic?
Before I go on, I know what a lot of you may be thinking at this time… “Christians celebrating Halloween? That’s so wrong! So very wrong!”, or worse, “You’re celebrating the Devil’s day? You can’t be a Christian – you’re an apostate / a ‘condescending horse’s rectum’!” Seriously, that last bit are the words from a fellow Christian via an online dialogue a few years ago now – lovely.
I know this, because I used to think exactly the same things myself. I had read books by Christian publishing houses supposedly about witches who had become Christians and were selling their “story”, going on tours and so on. I had even bought tracts and handed them out to trick or treaters at the door – you know the ones, small booklets with cartoons depicting kids sacrificing cats, children going into “haunted houses” and someone committing suicide because they’d been involved in Halloween activities. I’d walk around the town praying like mad to keep the devil at bay during that night. I’d even turn the lights out and pretend I wasn’t at home – fearful of the dreaded knock at the door and the curse “Trick or treat?” being uttered from the lips of poor deluded children.
That approach carried on for decades of my life. The same old hiding away, flatly refusing to engage with the culture which now sees Halloween as the third biggest holiday sales time of the year (bar Christmas and Easter). Shutting myself (and my then young family) away from experiencing Halloween.
The “Dangers” of Thinking and Studying for Yourself
About seven years ago, I researched the history of Halloween (linked here) and discovered it had been (and in many countries still is) a Christian celebration, overlayed upon the old end of Summer celebrations (called Samhain – pronounced “sow en”)! I then did some thinking (dangerous I know in some Church circles)… If some Christians get hot under the collar about the commercialisation of Christmas, wanting to “Put the Christ back into Christmas”; if some Christians get upset at a bunny and chocolate eggs taking over what is arguably the high festival of the Christian calendar – Easter Day (I use Easter and not that new fangled term “Resurrection Day” because I’m an Anglo Saxon Christian and it’s part of my heritage), then why on earth do these same people not get upset at the commercialisation of another Christian holy day (holiday)?
Perhaps it’s because these same people are from the Reformed tradition, and as such don’t accept All Saints Day as being part of their heritage? Yet, go back far enough and Western Christians all share a common heritage which did celebrate it (and still does in many places).
Perhaps it’s because a particular approach has been taken to spiritual warfare which, believe it or not, attributes more power to negative spiritual entities than we should give them credit for, and maybe even more power than God if we stop and think for a while? Couple that with false information in some Christian publications and it’s quite easy to see how many Christians struggle at this time of the year, especially when walking down certain supermarket shopping aisles.
Don’t fear! I understand, I really do. I hated those aisles too! They made me shudder! I’d pray as I walked down them! I’d avoid them where possible.
But remember, “for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world” (1 John 4:4). Do you truly believe that then? What about “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) – do you truly believe that too?
How big is your God compared with the evil that is in the world, an evil which is far greater than any Halloween mask or costume, just look at the news to see how dark it can be in some places. When you get uptight about a supermarket stocking a skeleton costume, or children knocking on your door saying “Trick or treat?”, remember this – there are innocent civilians being killed by remote control, video-game style drone pilots; children having their flesh ripped off their bones by illegal bombs in Gaza; and much, much more evil taking place. Isn’t it about getting our priorities right? Or are we being hoodwinked by a sideshow which seems to press all the right buttons of “righteous indignation” in those who choose to remain uninformed about their church history and modern culture?
Is it possible to “refocus” Halloween? Surely with all its association with death and evil it’s not possible? To that I’d simply say, have you read your Bible recently? It’s full of death, gore and evil actions! Seriously – go check out a few of the following stories which are gruesome:
- Serial mass-murderer Samson whose bloodlust led to the killing of thousands during his lifetime when he got angry and whose death literally brought down the house! (Judges 15 & 16). He’s a prime candidate for anger management!
- Ehud and the Jabba the Hutt of the time, King Eglon (Judges 3:12-30). That’s one seriously large dude!
- The rape of Dinah and the revenge of Levi and Simeon upon the men in the city of the offender via a rather enterprising trick (Genesis 34). You’ve gotta credit them with ingenuity, but really???
And then there’s the highly explicit content of the Song of Solomon which the (supposedly) prudish Victorians wouldn’t read. Seriously – once shown, the imagery is never forgotten!
If Halloween’s more modern association with death and gore are off-putting to even exploring it, then why are you happy to have such stuff in your Bible? Life is more complex than love and light!
What would “refocusing” Halloween look like if it were ever possible? Well, to answer that, you have to look at the Christian festival, All Saints Day, or All Hallows (which was preceded by All Hallows Eve – Hallows Eve – Hallow E’en – Hallowe’en – Halloween). It was this festival which celebrated and honoured the memories of the saints (Christians) who had passed through the veil of death. It was to give thanks to God for them and to honour their lives (in the same way we may choose to honour those who gave their lives at Remembrance Day, November 11th).
A Ritual of Remembrance and Thanksgiving!
Why wouldn’t you want to honour someone who has followed Jesus and been a good example to us, being possibly a huge part of our own spiritual journey along the way? I’m not saying attempt to contact them via necromantic practices, which are outlawed in the Bible (for reasons I won’t go into here). Instead, why not recall stories about them, passing them down to your children and your children’s children? After all, isn’t family a fairly important thing? Isn’t sharing stories with friends important? Why was Hebrews 11 written if not to inspire those who follow on?
Surely none would disagree that it’s a good thing to tell the story of someone close to you who made a positive impact on your life?
What if there was a special day set aside where people could gather together and share those stories? Well, there is – it’s…. [cue drum roll] … Halloween! That’s right! Isn’t it time to recapture some of the original meaning of All Hallows Eve? You wouldn’t let it happen to Christmas or Easter, so why ditch that Christian festival of Halloween?
Based on that premise, here’s a small, family celebration I wrote last year as part of an MA assignment I was working on:
Please feel free to adapt this to your context. It’s meant to be sowing a seed of an idea for you to take your own creativity and play with it to fit it for you and your family / friends. If you feel you’d like to share your thoughts on what you may have done and how the experience was, please do so by commenting below.
From Disengagement to Engagement, to Restoration
Some churches have chosen to go down the route of not engaging with Halloween at all, and for them, that’s fine. I think they’re missing out on exploring and celebrating the darker sides of the Christian journey (and by that I mean it’s not all sugary, sickly sweet Christianity which only ever promises nice things to those who play by God’s rules, and ends up creating broken Christians who can’t cope when “God” doesn’t let them have everything their way). This can raise up children who are fearful of the world they’re part of, or worse, are resentful of their upbringing and rebel in later life as they discover for themselves what Halloween is all about.
Some churches celebrate Light Parties or “Trunk or Treat”. This is a much more positive approach to engaging with the culture we are part of. However, I personally think this misses the whole point of the holiday, that death is real and times of darkness do descend upon us when we grieve. It can lead to setting people up for a huge fall when death does strike close to home. God isn’t god of the light only, but of the darkness too. Whilst it’s true that darkness in the Bible is often associated with evil, but look up darkness in a concordance and you’ll find it’s also associated with God and the presence of God! After all, darkness is part of the created cosmos and necessary for the circadian rhythms of creatures!
Still, this approach is much better than not doing anything at all and I’m all for a party (as was Jesus).
Recently however, more and more churches in the West are beginning to realise that we can celebrate Halloween, All Hallows Eve, and that it doesn’t have to only be about dressing up (though that’s great fun and part of the whole creative and joyous atmosphere of the tradition of carnival). With the advent of the global connectedness of the Internet, more Christians are reclaiming their heritage and seeing how other parts of the church have always done it. Celebrating the lives of the saints who are now part of the vast cloud of witnesses surrounding us should be a high point of our liturgical calendar, whatever tradition we come from! After all, death is what unites us as human beings, made in the image of the Creator, beautiful, yet broken in our many different ways.
And a few, yes, just a few churches, are actually going OUTSIDE and engaging in positive life-giving ways with the festival atmosphere peculiar to their location, despite the bull-horn street preachers shouting at the party-goers that they’re dirty sinners going to hell.
My Halloween Celebration?
Well, I jointly facilitate a local Forest Church, and as a group we celebrated our All Hallows / Samhain gathering last Sunday, outside using this liturgy and ritual:
At home, I’ll be sitting down with the family remembering those who passed on.
Then we’ll be having fun watching these bad boys projected onto some of the pumpkins I recently purchased. And who knows what might appear in one of our windows? I have noticed that The Addams Family has finally been released on DVD – so may check that out with my boys.
So, yes, I’m a Christian who now loves Halloween! Does that make me an apostate? I don’t believe I am – I know who I am in Christ. You may disagree, and that’s absolutely fine with me – we’ll have to agree to disagree.
Thank you for getting this far, and if you’re inclined, think how you might want to “refocus” Halloween for yourself, and have a very blessed one.