"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:8
‘Halloween.’ The very word conjures up images of witches, mummies, ghosts, and goblins. It’s the season of haunted houses, horror movies, and carved pumpkins. October 31st is a day that divides Christians. On one side of the spectrum, you have believers who see it as harmless fun. “They’re just kids enjoying themselves,” these folks might say. On the other hand, you have people who hold strong convictions that the very day is pure evil and the best thing a Christian can do is turn off the lights, lock the door, and wait until November 1st. I’ve known and had friends who fall on both sides and everywhere in between. Not only that, but I’ve fallen on either side at one time or another. Today, I find myself somewhere in the middle. There’s no doubt in my mind that much concerning the holiday glorifies death and the macabre. On the other hand, I believe, as Christians, that we have a responsibility to sanctify every day of our lives. But can Halloween be sanctified? And if so, how?
Can Halloween be made Holy?
It’s somewhat ironic to ask the question, ‘Can halloween be made holy?” because the very name of the day, ‘Halloween’, comes from the phrase, ‘Allhallow-even’ and ‘hallow’ means ‘holy.’ October 31st was originally just the ‘eve’ of a holiday called ‘All Hallows’ or ‘All Saints Day.’ Now, some of you may be protesting, ‘What about Samhain?!” For those of you unfamiliar with it, Samhain was a Gaelic festival that was also celebrated on October 31st and November 1st. This was a very pagan holiday that involved all sorts of twisted beliefs/practices including, but not limited to human sacrifice, the dead having access to the living world, etc. Samhain’s influence is one of the main reasons that Halloween today seems to have such an obsession with death and horror. Many of the practices that are commonly associated with Halloween today bear the mark of Samhain specifically and Gaelic paganism in general (in the same way that many of our Christmas practices bear the mark of Germanic paganism). Now, some of you may be ready to stop reading. I just admitted that much of what is today associated with Halloween is based on blatant paganism. How could I possibly defend it?
The fact is, many Christian churches already celebrated an ‘All Saints Day’ well before Samhain’s first appearance in the history books. The earliest mention of Samhain is found in Old Irish literature from about the 10th century. On the other hand, the history of ‘All Saints Day’ goes back to the early 7th century. It was the fusion of these two, very different holidays that created our modern day Halloween. And this is my problem with both sides of the ‘Halloween’ debate. One side says, ‘It’s pagan, let’s throw it all away.’ The other side say, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s all in fun.’ Rather than full acceptance or complete rejection, I see a middle road: Let’s sanctify the day unto the Lord.
Why must I choose in this all or nothing fashion? Why not take the kernel of truth that resides in the celebration of All Saints Day, strip away the pagan coating, and sanctify the day, all the time praising God and pointing others toward the risen Savior who overcame death and the grave? If Christ can save a wretched sinner like myself, he can certainly save a day that the darkness has tried to possess. As Christians, we have a responsibility to stand and fight the fight of faith. We haven’t been called to hide in our homes and turn out the lights. We’ve been called to BE lights. We’ve been called to be a ‘city set on a hill.’ We’ve been called to let our candle give light to all who are in the house. How can we do that while cowering in the darkness? October 31st is another day to give God glory and share His marvelous gospel. When we turn out our lights and hide in our homes on October 31st, we’re tacitly giving the enemy a victory. We’re telling him that there’s at least one day of the year when he’ll see no resistance from us.
Sanctifying Halloween as a Day of Praise
All Saints Day was originally a holiday on which the church remembered the martyrs of the faith. This isn’t just a ‘Catholic’ or ‘high church’ practice either. The practice of remembering God’s faithfulness to those who have passed on is a thoroughly biblical one. The Psalms (the Early Church’s leading hymnal, remember) are filled with references to God’s faithfulness in past generations. Consider some of the following excerpts:
“Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.” – Psalm 22:4-5
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.” – Psalm 44:1-3
“O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever…And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever…” – Psalm 136:1 & 14
“Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.” – Psalm 99:6
“Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” – Psalm 77:20
I could go on and on and on. The people of God have always been a people that have recognized God’s faithfulness to past generations in their worship. I’m reminded of the book of Hebrews, where the author says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1). We are to always keep our eyes set on Jesus; however, we can be encouraged by those who have finished running and made it by the grace and Spirit of God.
In fact, many churches which historically would never have celebrated ‘All Saints Day’ officially still gave time to the congregation for the telling of testimonies. And what are testimonies but stories about God’s faithfulness in the lives of others?
So, I propose using October 31st and the season around it to glorify God by remembering his faithfulness to all generations. So much of what kids find ‘fun’ about Halloween could be retained and even sanctified. Instead of dressing up like a witch or devil; dress up as a favorite Bible character or Christian from history. Then, give everyone an opportunity to tell about God’s faithfulness in the life of that individual. Celebrate God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Daniel, Peter, Paul, John Wesley, John Hus, John Wycliffe, and so many others! Many young people in the church today are completely ignorant of church history. Dedicate October to learning about the history of the Church and the servants of God who were so powerfully used by Him. Teach about Isaac Watts and have the congregation learn some of his songs. Celebrate God’s faithfulness to His people through song, art, preaching, testimony, etc. Give individuals in the service an opportunity to share testimonies about how God has showed himself faithful to them and to their families. Turn the celebration of death into a celebration of godly lives!
I once heard a Christian tell me that they dreaded Halloween because even going into the stores was a reminder of the wickedness. The fact is, wickedness is surrounding us whether we are reminded of it or not. Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged; rather, view it as an opportunity to glorify God in spite of the darkness.
Sanctifying Halloween as a Day of Evangelism
There’s another reason that Halloween should be one of our favorite days of the year. How many other days see people willingly walking up to your home in hopes for receiving a ‘treat’? It’s like God has given us a day when evangelism is so easy we don’t even have to try. You don’t have to go anywhere or try to think of what to say to start a conversation. But rather than grab hold of the opportunity, we too often just go along with what the rest of the world is doing or lock our doors and turn out our lights. How sad!
There’s nothing in the Bible that forbids handing out candy. In fact, Jesus said, “Give to every man that asketh of thee” (Luke 6:30)! So when those kids are knocking on the door, asking for candy, the Christian thing to do is give it to them! And while you’re at it, why not invite those parents to church? Why not hand out little Bibles or verses along with the candy? Why not take the opportunity to ask if there’s anything you could pray for them for? Why not give them information about the ministries going on at your local church? There are literally hundreds of things you can do to point people towards Jesus. And that’s what every day of our lives should be about, even on Halloween.
Can you think of other ways that God could be glorified on Halloween? Let me know in the comments.