Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?
1. Help! The Pumpkins have arrived in Tesco!
It was fantastic to have a bit of a late summer in October – who could have thought we would be driving around in temperatures of 32°C in the middle of October? Well now that frosts have been forecast and the winter woollies are coming out, it’s quite evident the heat-wave has ended. Tesco and Asda have flogged off the last disposable BBQ and plastic picnic sets at a 75% discounts and as if by magic the seasonal aisles have been transformed into that familiar orange and black livery as the annual arrival of over-priced tacky Halloween tat appears.
To millions of parents around the country, this advent signifies nothing more than having to dip into already stretched coffers for costumes, sweets and treats. For some however, it sends a chilling shiver down the spine and so start various chains of events that usually begin with them prayer walking up and down the adjacent vegetable aisle.
Once it barely got a mention on our shores, but now, the modern re-invention of Halloween has fully completed it’s journey across the Atlantic and has firmly embedded itself in British culture. It is now as much a part of the retail calendar as Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Easter which means that the British marketeers only have to work on St Paddy’s and Thanksgiving and they can have the full money-spinning set.
2. Alarm Bells.
Having been involved in church leadership and particularly working with children and young people, Halloween (or the avoidance of it!) is an issue that has raised it’s ugly head repeatedly as far as I have been concerned. Along with it’s questionable bedfellows (Harry Potter, Pokémon and Tai Kwon Do) Halloween continues to be an evocative topic among a number of Christian parents. They would see all things connected with it as evil, satanic or ‘Of the devil’ and there is a proactive reaction against it. And so is born the ‘Light’ party or similar event.
I have nothing whatsoever against the precautionary approach and I certainly don’t want to be over-critical of parents who hold a position which says ‘If not sure – stay away’. I think it is a wise and prudent approach when unsure of all the facts. I also think however, that there is a large element of ‘gut reaction’ with a lack of real analysis when it comes to responding to Halloween and perhaps some careful evaluation of the subject should be undertaken and would benefit so we can at least make a more informed decision.
I know for sure that not everyone will see eye-to-eye with me on this and some of my fellow Christians will toast me (in love of course) over this, but I have that T-shirt already – in fact a bottom drawer full of them – so I’ve nothing really to lose.
3. Magical Inconsistency.
A major issue I have is a lack of consistency on how many Christians handle the genre of mythical, magical beings. Curiously, I have never been approached by concerned parents on the matter regarding a magical-man who lives with an army of magical elves in the North-Pole. In the case for Father Christmas, there is a disturbing inconsistency with these parents. The same parents that pressed me to put on ‘alternative events’ to Halloween (which I have never embarked on incidentally) absolutely berated me for suggesting that Father Christmas is not real in peripheral earshot of their Children.
Because I would ruin the ‘Magic of Christmas’!
Despite all of this, Santa is promoted in churches up and down the nation with many Christians preferring to endorse him rather than avoid him. The same also goes for the Easter Bunny and a some-what cynical and crude observation may conclude that supernatural characters are OK if they are good, cute and cuddly but evil if the are anything other.
4. Ban Santa . . . ?
Before you get carried away and start thinking that I have a ‘Ban Santa’ campaign I don’t. I am just not into over-promotion of the idea or lying to my kids about his existence.
When asked if he is real, I told my kids that he was as real as Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine. That way, he will occupy a place in their imaginations for as long as these characters do. At the end of the day, it’s the realness of Jesus that I want to grow in my kids.
Even so, they still enjoy leaving a glass of sherry and mince pie for him – knowing full well that dad eats the mince pie, but not really suspecting that mum knocks back the sherry!
5. So what’s the debate on Halloween?
For me the debate around Halloween (or other festivals for that matter) falls in a number of areas.
1. What is the primary driver?
2. Is there a genuine spiritual threat?
3. Is Halloween contrary to the teaching of Scripture?
4. What constitutes a good Christian response?
5.1. What is the primary driver?
The root of something helps us determine what the fruit of it will be.
Why is it then that Halloween has enjoyed not only a renewed popularisation, but an elevation in its new resurgence over the past 15-20 years? Well without going into too much dialogue I am just going to state that the primary driving force behind Halloween, is not the Church of Satan, The Druids or the Wiccans, but that unholy of all institutions – The Supermarket chains.
Halloween makes money. Period. For retailers, it is now the third biggest cash-cow after Christmas and Easter, with sales rising from £12m in 2001 to £235m in 2009 – a twentyfold increase in just 8 years (Source: Planet Retail).
What then is it that the retailers are tapping into? A desire for the demonic? An anti-Christian conspiracy? Of course not. They just want to make shed loads of money and the best way they can do that is persuade our kids that if they get dressed up for an evening they can get stuff. Loads of stuff. Yes, there is an element of ‘everyone is doing it’, but for the kids that I speak to, they want ‘stuff’ and as much of it as they can get. They know the best houses and the best times to go. All they need to get it is their passport – a freaky costume and a consenting adult. It’s easier than carol singing – they only have to learn three words – ‘Trick or treat?’ – the rewards are greater and the weather is usually milder . . . sometimes.
If we look at it this way, for those who have no Christian conviction, Christmas, Easter and Halloween fit pretty much in the same box. A commercially driven celebration where I can get stuff. Just in passing, I ran this past a colleague who is not a Christian. ‘Yep! That’s me!’ she said.
Are most people who are not Christians interested in the birth of Christ at Christmas? No, not really. A small percentage might take a trip to church to add to the season. The vast majority though take their trips to the pubs and shops. Are they interested in the death of Christ at Easter? Well unless it was presented to them in chocolate, they answer is for the majority ‘No’. Following this mind set, I think it would be safe to assume that the primary objectives of those celebrating the commercial Halloween is not out of an interest in getting involved in the occult. Neither are they drawn into it by participating.
It’s all just about ‘getting stuff’.
At this point, I will need to make clear that I am not walking around with my eyes closed or oblivious to the seriousness of the occult, I know there are people in this country who actively practice witch-craft and do indeed have an anti-Christian agenda which they actively pursue. I have come face to face with such people on occasions and they have been quite open about their intent. There are people who record curses on audio tape and then place it along the side of roads tying it to plants in order to ‘command’ a route or area.
Then there are a whole plethora of the neo-pagans, New-agers, Angelologists, earth religions, druids ad infinitum which,draw a whole variety of followers and not just those who have graduated from their cellars and a life of playing fantasy role games. Often you find these people have rejected an ‘organised’ religion in pursuit of something ‘more real, more tangible’. Some are trying to tie into a perception of an ‘old-religion’ but a lot of the time they have no real idea and make it up on the hoof.
We have a full range of occult practices, serviced through books web-sites and organisations.
I am therefore not underestimating the reality or the seriousness of such things and while there is a danger to be aware of it is far removed from the commercially driven enterprise I discussed above.
All the people I have met that were actively involved in the occult went looking for it.
5.3. Is Halloween contrary to the teaching of Scripture?
Depending on the translation of the Bible that you may own, it will mention either ‘witchcraft’, ‘Divination’ or ‘sorcery’. Does Halloween stray into this territory? No I don’t think so. Is wearing fancy-dress one day a year and knocking on doors somehow angering God? I am not sure that there is anything from Scripture we can use to answer ‘Yes’ with. If you have a different idea, let me know.
Again interestingly some (and only some!) of the people who have approached me on this subject in the past and held very strong opinions on the subject have been some of the most rebellious and difficult people to lead in the church, yet, they do not feel convicted in any way that their actions are (as 1 Samuel 15:23 states) on a par with that of witchcraft.
If you read these witchcraft passages in the Bible, you can see that they are deliberately acting against God in a particular way. I would therefore not make a comparison with this and someone’s five year-old wearing a pointy hat.
5.4. What constitutes a good Christian response?
So how do Christians respond? Well there are a number of approaches:
1. The Hiders. Batten down the hatches. Wrap yourselves and your loved ones in a king-size duvet at 5pm on October 31st and stay there until 7am on the morning of November 1st. Under no circumstances should you ANSWER THE DOOR!
2. The Proclaimers. (Not the band!) Wait for the door to knock and proudly deliver a sermonette to a group of bewildered 6 year-olds while their parents make a note of you house number to pass on to other parents. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being called a ‘Christian Weirdo’ but please let it be for the right reasons!
3. The Tract-ers. Open the door, smile and give the expectant little children a beautiful little ‘tract’ (That’s Christianese for leaflet!) about how little Danny once took part in Halloween and now he is in league with the devil.
4. The Ignorers. Ignore that the thing is happening, go out take the family bowling and have a pizza.
5. The Alternatives. Put on an equally exciting ‘Light’ party or similar so the kids can have some fun too. I recall attending a ‘Carrot Party’ at my first placement church as a theology student where children were invited to decorate a carrot. It was a superb party and I had great fun judging the dozen or so carrots that were decorated as witches, vampires and monsters.
6. The Greeters. Don’t actively participate, but when the door-bell rings, have some sweets and goodies ready for the kids.
7. The Embracers. Not just embracing the event, but embrace the community where God has placed you. Get fully involved and walk the neighbourhood, meet the neighbours while their kids ‘get stuff’ too.
Now I don’t want to appear blasé about the whole thing. I am not. I have spent a lot of time evaluating what is going on. Whichever category or combination of categories you fall into in the above list, bless you. My aim is not to criticise, but to critique and ask Christians to think further on how sensibly and practically they are responding to Halloween.
6. Where am I on the issue?
I have great respect for the guys like Adrian Warnock who takes the position ‘We don’t do evil’ as well as John Piper who would take a different view.(UPDATE – See also Mez McConnells blog now available here) At the end of the day, it has to be in line with personal conviction, but I think whichever position you take, you need to be generous to those who don’t necessarily agree with you.
For many years, I fell into category 6. I always tried to be welcoming and open when answering the door. Mostly I have given treats. One year I used UCB’s ‘Little Bag of Hope’ with the addition of some extra goodies.
Having done this for many years, I was challenged last year by my children to think carefully about how it was we could participate in one part of the transaction without the other. They pointed out that to them there was an inconsistency and after careful thought, I came to the same conclusion. Good going for a 9 and 7 year old, although their position was being motivated by the need to ‘Get stuff’.
I have to admit that it was not without some apprehension that I took to the streets last year with my daughter dressed as Hermione Granger and my son as . . . something interesting. For what came next, I was totally unprepared.
Firstly, I met with more of my neighbours than I had in the last year and had some really good conversations. Secondly, I was well and truly blown away by the sheer generosity of strangers. From old ladies dressed in costumes just sat there waiting for children to knock the door to the older gentleman in the big house with the Jaguar parked outside who gave a huge bag of Haribo to each child – and believe me, there were plenty when word got out.
At the end of the evening, the kids came back with enough sweets to last them until Christmas, I had made new contacts with my neighbours and no children were sacrificed in the process.
For the 8% of practising Christians in the UK , there is deeper significance to Easter and Christmas. To everyone else, they’re about ‘getting stuff’ and if I am honest, to many Christians, the ‘getting stuff’ bit is gladly attached to the rest of it. Halloween is no different. It’s about a night of ‘getting stuff’ and word soon spreads as to where it can be found. At Christmas, the majority of people in the UK do not go to church. They continue the tradition of feasting, merriment and over indulging that preceded the Christmas festival and are totally unaffected in a spiritual way. I would argue that for the general population, Halloween comes and goes in pretty much the same way.
Dress up. Get Stuff. Have a party. Go to bed. It goes no deeper than that, mainly because there is no door open to take them anywhere deeper. Plastic pumpkin buckets and skeleton masks really don’t lead there.
The devil does not come out on one day a year. He is there 365. He’s there on Doctor Who teaching same sex relationships are OK. He’s there on day time chat TV affirming ungodly lifestyles. He was there today, lying to you, accusing you and the most sinister of them all, deceiving you. Focusing on Halloween in my estimation elevates what he does to some absurd and unrealistic level, when in reality he is prowling the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may destroy.
As Christians, we have to be careful that we are calling his work correctly and not just knee-jerking in a superstitious way. My kids love Jesus, but one night a year, they love dressing up and getting stuff. The major issues I am working on with them is greed. Other than that I believe Christians can place themselves in the middle of it and still honour God in doing so. I’ll let Pastor John Piper have the last word.