How might Christians respond to Halloween?
Folklore professor Jack Santino has characterized the holiday as “an amalgam of Celtic druidical ritual, Christian theology, and northern European folk belief.”
And Santino himself, in All Around the Year, theorized as to why parts of the Christian community reject Halloween celebrations.
“Other holidays, such as Easter, combine pre-Christian or nonreligious symbols with sacred ceremony. People do not complain about Easter eggs and rabbits as pagan symbols, for instance. But Halloween is peculiar because its ‘evil’ symbols are not non-Christian,” Santino wrote. “The devil, witches, and even ghosts all have specific meanings within a Christian context, and this is why this holiday stirs up so much resentment.”
Kathryn Capoccia, writing for Bible Bulletin Board (www.biblebb.com), claimed that “Halloween remains popular because of only one reason–it is the date when Satan receives glory from a vast horde of mankind, knowingly or unknowingly.”
Reflecting on such claims in Christianity Today, Anderson M. Rearick III, an English professor in Ohio, said, “I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar [i.e. Halloween] to the Great Impostor and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his.”
Rearick referred to the Satanist practice of holding a “Black Mass” on October 31.
“We can expect to see the fascination with the occult, sorcery, witchcraft and other Satanic activities continue to gain popularity,” Capoccia wrote. “Halloween, that ancient occultic holy day, will grow ever more important until it eclipses every other holiday, including Christmas, as Satan seeks to exalt himself on this earth.”
“Even if there was no basis for saying that Halloween is pagan,” wrote Capoccia, the principles of Philippians 4:8 “preclude our participation.”
To label Halloween “pagan” misrepresents, I believe, the history and context of the holiday. If Halloween’s link to the Celtic celebration of Samhain makes it “pagan,” then its relationship to All Hallows, All Souls Day, Pope Gregory the Great and missionaries makes it Christian.
Nevertheless, Philippians 4:8 is always worthy of mention: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Capoccia asks, “How does Halloween reflect what is true, admirable or excellent?”
“Halloween is about death, and it involves people’s attempts to understand death and control it. During Halloween, people play with death, mock it, and fear it,” wrote Santino.
It may well be that the Celts, through the seasonal celebration of Samhain, understood life as well as they understood death. Surely, the appreciation of one is deepened by meaningfully engaging the other.
Halloween strikes me as just such a meaningful engagement. Far from being limited to “just kids in costumes,” Halloween has the potential to address a God-given cycle–a cycle of life and death.
The death imagery of Halloween in the autumn is later followed by life imagery of Easter in the spring. Our seasons, and our holidays, mirror our lives.
Of course, it is possible for Christians to recognize the cycle of life and death without celebrating Halloween specifically. Many churches have adopted this tactic with “harvest celebrations,” “fall festivals,” and the like.
I applaud and support these initiatives, for they highlight the wonder of seasonal change and allow children–and adults–to grapple with death and, in so doing, experience life.
Yet I continue to support Halloween as well. I enjoy it not in spite of its history, but because of it.
Halloween reminds me that faith communities do not exist in a vacuum. Throughout our history, we Christians have borrowed, usurped, claimed and copied. Halloween stands as a rather well-known example of such behavior.
And I appreciate Halloween’s ability to reflect our theology. For our actions on and around October 31 tell us a great deal about how we perceive Christianity.
Do we practice a Christianity which rejects its own past? Embraces it? Questions it? Revises it?
My own view of Halloween tells me something about my theology.
What does Halloween tell you about yours?
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s project coordinator. He holds a Ph.D. in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University, where he studied with Jack Santino.