A few days ago, I caught a glimpse of a snapshot of me modeling my fifth-grade, home-made fairy princess outfit complete with foil-covered cardboard wings slipped over the sleeves of a white cotton nightie gown. My perfectly feathered hair formed a second set of wings that framed my foil-covered cardboard crown. I’m not sure how I made my scepter, by my transformation was complete for a night of trick-or-treating.
I had to be inventive with my costumes. No matter the volume or persistence of my begging, my parents refused the coveted store-bought versions. One year, I procured a large box from the grocery store, cut holes for my head and arms, painted it white, and then added the name of a popular toothpaste brand. Yep. I circulated the neighborhood as a tube of toothpaste. I won’t even attempt to describe my version of piglet, as it had absolutely no resemblance to the famed childhood character.
Then there was the preservation of the candy. Because our mom was a stickler about sugar, she wouldn’t allow us to keep our loot. My sister and I would hover over our piles of candy, consume all we could in a single sitting, and then Mom would “throw it away.” (In reality, she stowed it for my father!) It was absolutely traumatic, especially for a child who 1) loved to eat, 2) loved to eat sugar, and 3) was deprived year-round between Halloweens!
So, in the spirit of the “trick” in trick-or-treating, my sister and I found a way around the eat-it-or-lose-it dictate. After exhausting every doorbell within a three-block radius, we would make our last stop our “foster” grandparents’ house, where we would stash at least half our booty before heading home to gorge and purge.
As an adult, I embraced the traditions of Halloween with my kids. It’s what we did, so it’s what we do with our kids, right? Because it’s been cleaned up, westernized, and Christianized, we see no harm in it.
Even when I started learning about the origins of Halloween, I continued in my childhood habit of finding a way to get what I wanted out of Halloween. There are plenty of options. We can make sure our kids’ costumes aren’t demonic or evil. We can hand out candies with scriptures on the wrappers and pass out tracks. If we don’t feel right about trick-or-treating, we can dress up our kids and attend one of umpteen fall festivals. There was even an email that circulated before FaceBook and YouTube dominated the viral world establishing a Christian origin for Halloween.
There isn’t one.
If you don’t want to be challenged today, read no more. I confess there are areas of my life where I knowingly adhere to the ignorance-is-bliss approach, so I get it. For example, whatever you do, don’t ask me to watch Food Inc., Supersize Me, or any other food documentary that causes people to eat nothing but grass and leaves!
Halloween actually started two thousand years ago as an ancient Celtic festival the night before their new year, which was November 1. Here’s a little background from the History Channel’s website:
Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes (http://www.history.com/topics/halloween).
Later, when the Roman Empire took over most Celtic lands, they blended some of their festivals with the Celtics’ celebration of Samhain, and then the Catholic church did the same, and the pagan festival became a sanctioned church event.
The bottom line is this: No matter how we dress it up, it is a pagan holiday with origins in witchcraft, sorcery, and the dead. The Church of Satan itself celebrates Halloween “as a time when one’s inner-self might be explored through the use of a costume, or one might recall those of importance in one’s life who have died… the night when the mundane folk try to reach down inside and touch the ‘darkness’ which for Satanists is a daily mode of existence…Children (of all ages) can indulge their fantasies by donning costumes that allow for intense role-playing and the release of their ‘demonic cores,’ the parts of their personalities often hidden from their friends, co-workers and families… This night, we smile at the amateur explorers of their own inner darkness, for we know that they enjoy their brief dip into the pool of the ‘shadow world.’ We encourage their tenebrous fantasies, the candied indulgence, and the wide-ranging evocation of our aesthetics (while tolerating some of the chintzy versions), even if it is but once a year” (http://www.churchofsatan.com/faq-holidays.php).
Please hear me: I am in no way saying you or your children are Satanists if you choose to participate in Halloween.
What I am say is we have a responsibility as Christians to know what the word of God says and to know what we are joining ourselves to as we embrace our culture’s traditions.
Paul tells the Ephesians, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11). He’s not advocating withdrawal from the world. We can’t reach others for Christ if we’re isolated in our homes and our parallel Christian universe that exists alongside but doesn’t interact with the secular world. What Paul is saying in the Greek is that we are not to partake with others in barren activities that spring forth from roots of ungodliness and immorality.
Speaking of the things Gentiles sacrificed to demons, Paul instructs the Corinthians not to have fellowship with demons:
Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:18-21).
The same is true for us.
Ephesians 5:20 exhorts us to find out what is acceptable to the Lord. We’ll find that in His word and as the Holy Spirit leads and guides us into all truth (John 16:13).
I am not here to tell you what to do or to condemn you if your convictions are different from mine. I am simply here to share the journey the Lord has taken me on and His word as a guide for all areas of our lives.
At first, I made sure my kids’ costumes weren’t demonic or evil. Then, when we decided our kids would no longer trick-or-treat, we went to church festivals instead, and later that evening, we would receive neighborhood kids with fistfuls of candy. For a while, we declined all participation in the evening’s activities and instead created consolation events of our own. Then we simply stopped acknowledging it as a special day at all.
It hasn’t been easy. Our kids didn’t agree and didn’t like our decision, especially when they were younger (and especially because they, too, love candy!). When everyone is talking about their costumes and what they’re doing for Halloween, we are awkwardly silent. It can be uncomfortable. Now that our kids are older and understand Halloween’s roots, they’ve accepted our decision. I’m not sure they agree with it, and perhaps their kids will one day knock on your door asking for candy.
Interestingly, as I was writing this blog, I received an email that today is Reformation Day in the protestant world, marking the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five thesis to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. As he was a defender of the truth of God, even as it trumped church tradition, let us be defenders of God’s word today, even as it trumps cultural traditions.
Lord, tenderize our hearts to Your Holy Spirit today and guide our decisions in all things having to do with living in a corrupt world. Help us to be lights in darkness, sanctified and set apart for Your purpose and for Your glory as we become more wholly Yours today.