The Origins of Halloween & A Biblical Response


street_lightMy parents took us trick or treating sometimes, but never bought any Halloween costumes. One year I dug through my dad’s closet and turned a white dress shirt into a doctor’s outfit, which I proudly wore with my doctor’s kit in hand. Another year I cut leg and arm holes in a paper bag and painted it orange. In retrospect, I surmise they didn’t want to give funds to an industry that made them somewhat uncomfortable.

Many of our modern holidays like Halloween, Christmas, and Easter (to name a few) are a mix of seasonal activities coupled with pagan and Christian traditions. Though to be honest, the long passing of time has turned the specifics of many of these rituals into creative speculations.

To the best of our knowledge the early Celtics celebrated their New Year with a festival to appease the god of the dead “Samhain” (pronounced sow-in). Superstitions regarding the passing of the harvest period into the winter season dictated the nature of these appeasements.

When the Romans defeated the Celts, they put their own spin on it by combining the Celtic fall festival with two of their own holidays celebrating some of their gods.

The early church begin commemorating its martyrs on “All Saints Day” (also called ‘All Hallows’ or ‘All Souls’) in May, most likely originating separately from the Celtic and Roman traditions. However, over time it was moved to November 1st and the evening prior became known as “All Hallows Eve” (hence Halloween today).

Today, Christians remain divided on how to celebrate October 31st. Some ignore it all together. Others propose alternatives or use it as a time to remember saints or departed loved ones. Still others dress up in costumes and join their neighbors as they trick or treat around the neighborhood.

Biblically, how should we respond? First Corinthians 8:1–13 offers some practical insight.

In the New Testament era, people offered sacrifices to their gods and afterward sold it in the marketplace. Some concerned believers surmised that since there was only one true God, their pagan neighbors must be sacrificing meat to demons and this meat should be avoided.

Paul pointed out that it was not wrong to eat meat from the marketplace. Believers were free to eat this meat so long as it did not cause another believer to stumble.

In fact, a similar Pauline passage (Romans 14) suggests believers can eat and drink to the glory of God without fear of impurity so long as (once again) fellow believers are not hindered in growing in their faith.

As verse 19 puts is, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

I suggest a similar response to Halloween today. Believers are free to participate in Halloween activities (within reason) since we know early pagan or demonic rituals hold no power over us. And we can do so to the glory of God!

So, feel free to let your kids raid your closets for a doctor’s outfit or take them shopping for iconic costumes and accessories.

Last year, our kids dressed up like batman and batgirl and participated in the annual tradition of seminary kids collecting candy in the married student apartments at Dallas Theological Seminary: