Thursday, October 22, 2015

Deeds of Darkness or Harmless Fun: Looking at Halloween from Christian Perspectives


NOTE:  This began as a very brief blog post about my thoughts on celebrating Halloween.  Then I reached out by email to a community of women within my church, and received additional perspectives on the subject that I wanted to share with you as well.  Many thanks to the women who took the time to share their experiences and perspectives!  Please add your voice to the conversation with a comment.


"It's Not Really My Thing"

People celebrate BIG for Halloween where I live.  Halloween rivals Christmas for outdoor home and lawn décor.  We see inflatable ghouls riding motorcycles, spiders crawling up the sides of houses, netted webs across bushes, and phantoms hanging from the trees. 

Every year my girls ask if we can decorate BIG for Halloween, and every year I say, “Nah, Halloween’s not really my thing.” (I’ve always felt that’s close to blasphemy around here, so I usually keep that opinion within the family.)

This year, on the way to taking Bayla to 1st grade and Katy to 2nd grade, we passed a house with a simulated graveyard on the front lawn—a sea of headstones with sentiments like, “I love dead people” and “RIP Zombie.”  The girls asked if we could put a graveyard in our front yard, too.  I tried my usual, “Nah, Halloween’s not really my thing,” but they pressed me to find out why not.  This is what I told them,
“Girls, I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate Halloween, and I don’t mind the ‘fun side’ of it with pumpkins and candy and that kind of thing.  But Halloween isn’t a Christian holiday.  Halloween celebrates monsters and witches and darkness and scary things, while God is Light and Love.  That’s why I don’t ‘get into’ the scary, dark side of the holiday.”
They set aside their dreams of a front yard cemetery, and Katy moved on quickly to, “Okay, Mommy, but can you get us some white cloth and some thread?; I have an idea for making ghosts…”

I had never before articulated my “problem” with Halloween, so my response to the girls was completely off the cuff, but it set me to thinking about a Christian’s “proper” response to this somewhat controversial holiday. 

The Bible doesn’t directly address Halloween, trick-or-treating, and creepy home décor, so Christians have to decide for themselves from what the Bible does say and their personal direction from the Holy Spirit how they will respond to it. 

Responses to Halloween

Some Christians fully embrace Halloween; as one of my friends wrote to me in an email: “I see Halloween as a fun night to be creative with costumes and have fun with your friends.”  Another friend wrote that until her son began attending a private Christian school, Halloween had always been “an innocent day where kids dress up and get candy.  Friendly pumpkins, fall leaves, candy corn…what’s so bad about that?”

Others celebrate a modified version, with certain limits that make it more comfortable for them. As one  friend shared with me, she and her husband focused on the “community building connections” of trick-or-treating, and encouraged her kids to create clever, rather than gory or dark, costumes.  Their decorations focus on pumpkins, gourds, hay bales, and cornstalks, what she calls “evidence of God’s creativity and goodness” rather than the “scary stuff.”  Another friend agrees that the children are allowed to dress up in “non-ghoulish attire” and “exchange candy with our neighbors as an expression of welcome and friendship with our community.” 

Some ignore it quietly, like a family in Katy’s kindergarten class who kept their son out of school on the day of the class party and costume parade.  A woman from my church described Halloween as having a negative effect on her son’s spirit when he was just three or four years old.  She had not much liked the holiday anyway, so her family stopped celebrating it.  In place of trick-or-treating, her children got to go to the store and pick out their favorite candy, and on party day at school, they could choose to dress up if they chose, or stay home that day if they preferred. 

Others boycott it, perhaps by turning off the lights during trick-or-treating, or leaving them on while refusing to answer the door.  When my friend’s son began attending a private Christian school, they encountered an environment in which Halloween is not even mentioned, except to specify that no Halloween-themed shirts are allowed on “wear your favorite holiday shirt” day. 

Still others turn it into an opportunity for evangelism, perhaps handing out Bible verses attached to their Halloween candy, or speaking about Christ to the children who come to their door. 

Determining Your Comfort Zone

No matter what your “take” on the holiday, I think the important thing is to determine the parameters of your comfort zone, and listen to the calling of God’s spirit on your conscience.  I don’t like monsters, skeletons, devils, skulls, and creepy witches.  I don’t mind pumpkins, cats, “cute” witches, and ghosts of the white-sheet, not-particularly-frightening variety.

I have let my girls participate in school Halloween Trunk-or-Treat events and trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.  They love going around for the candy, and enjoy the experience of handing out candy at our house almost as much.  I have determined that all of this lies within the parameters of my comfort zone.

A woman from my church made a very good point:  She grew up in a home where Halloween was not observed, and was seen as evil.  Because it wasn’t part of her childhood, she “had no sentimental connection or enthusiasm about Halloween; it was a non-issue.”  She had to reevaluate her point of view after marriage to a man who embraced the holiday with enthusiasm.  But she continues to welcome conversations on topics like these, saying, “I find compelling arguments for many perspectives and am not married to mine should the Lord convict my heart in another direction.”

In addition to listening to your own conscience by defining the parameters of your comfort zone, and being open to redefining your views, consider this point from this same friend:  Consider consistency.  “Am I making an issue out of something I’m okay with in other areas?”  She uses the other holidays with pagan origins as her examples.  Is she boycotting Halloween, yet singing songs about Santa Claus at Christmas and hunting Easter eggs at Easter? 

The Problem with Halloween

Why do some Christians have a problem with Halloween, anyway? 

Our Halloween traditions are drawn from pagan celebrations marking the beginning of winter and the Celtic new year.  October 31 was seen as a time when there is free movement between the natural world and the spirit world.  Witches and evil spirits were said to roam the earth, playing tricks, a feature we memorialize with our trick-or-treating traditions.  (This article from the Grace to You web site, entitled "Christians and Halloween," provides some helpful background on the holiday.)

While the Bible doesn’t address Halloween directly, there are plenty of passages contrasting darkness and light, warning against a spirit of fear, and not participating in fortune-telling, sorcery, witchcraft, and casting spells.  (If you feel like some homework, you can look up some of these many verses for yourself:  Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 1:5, 4:18 Luke 1:74; John 8:12; Ephesians 5:7-12; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 2:14-15.)  Halloween is seen as glorifying things that Christ does not represent, and making light of things that do not honor God.

One of my friends did not think it was a good idea to explain the pagan roots of Halloween to her young children, as it “would put the emphasis on things we did not feel they needed to ‘carry’ in their hearts and minds as little people.”

Another friend explained to her children that they didn’t want to celebrate anything evil or glorify things like demons.  “I still am not crazy about the holiday,” she writes, “but have come to learn not to judge those who do choose to participate.”

Still another friend told her son:  “Anything is bad if you focus on the bad parts of it.  But Halloween has a lot of good too.  Number one—it’s just plain fun!  Number two—it’s exciting for children to dress up…to become football players, TV characters, or  for a special night.  Number three—it’s great practice in meeting people [when handing out candy to trick-or-treaters].  This builds confidence.”  She concludes, “There is much evil in the world.  But my belief is when you make it about the evil, the evil wins.  When you make it about love and friendship, God wins.” 

What's Your Stance?

As you make your own decisions about the role of Halloween in your Christian home, I would suggest taking some time to consider what is acceptable to you and what is unacceptable, and determining your reasoning. That way, when your children ask you about particular activities, you can respond calmly and authoritatively. This approach is much more likely to lead to acceptance and moving on, then if you are caught off guard, hem and haw indecisively, or offer a “because I told you so” explanation.


Defining MY Comfort Zone

When I was thinking about this blog post, I took some photos at Target, Party City, and Michaels that illustrate my personal Halloween parameters.  Maybe doing this could be a step towards you defining your own comfort zone.  If you are like me, you definitely will have different feelings based on what you are looking at on your foray into "the Halloween zone."  The next step is determining how you can articulate those feelings if challenged by your children or others. 

The NO Zone

For me, these images represent the "NO" area of my Halloween comfort zone:

Skulls and skeletons of all sizes?  Um, no thank you.
Creepy skeleton phantom greeting me and my children when we come home every day?  Um, no.
An image of death and torture for "fun"?  I don't think so.
Bloody weapon garland?  Do I even have to say?
A prom corpse costume for my little girl?  Again, no thank you.

The YES Zone

And here are some images that represent the YES area of my Halloween comfort zone:

Flowers in the beautiful colors of fall?  Sounds like a good place to start.
Traditional plastic pumpkins for trick-or-treating?  That's a Halloween tradition from my childhood!
"Cute" black cats and ghosts?  I'm down with that.
You want to dress like Super Mario, a hot dog (bless your heart) or Super Girl?  I can handle that!
And even though it drives me crazy from a dental hygiene perspective, I well remember the thrill of sifting through piles of delicious candy alongside my sister after an evening of trick-or-treating:
Not everyone's YES and NO areas are going to look the same; I can see that by looking around at the choices that my friends make during the Halloween season.  I don't think my choices need to dictate anyone else's, and I don't think anyone else's choices need to dictate mine.  But, as with so many things, I think there is room for fruitful conversation about our differences. 


About Such Things

Julie at Happy Home Fairy offers a bit of advice when it comes to choosing a Halloween costume.  There are so many options out there; she advises following the principle found in Philippians 4:8: Is this costume choice right, pure, lovely, admirable, true, noble, excellent, and praiseworthy?  “The Bible tells us to think about these things, so I think it’s appropriate to apply our thoughts to our actions,” she writes.

Perhaps this is a worthy guiding principle for our approach to celebrating Halloween as a whole.
Found in Yahoo images; source not found
For Further Reading

Here are some links to articles from Christianity Today that I think add to the conversation.  Keep in mind that the comments that come after the articles often provide new points of view as well:


  1. I agree with you it is about my least favorite holiday. But boycotting it as Christians has always made me uncomfortable. With so many issues of real importance that we have to fight, a holiday seems the wrong place to draw the line. Our church is having a 'harvest party' during trick or treat hours. Lovely, fun. But there will be candy and costumes are encouraged, so isn't that exactly the same thing as Halloween? It rubs me wrong, I'm sure it is never intended as such but ends up being exclusive, elitist. Such a interesting topic, I enjoyed reading everyone's takes.

  2. I grew up loving Halloween. I lived out in the country and it was very dark and spooky when we went trick or treating. I can still remember the family that made popcorn balls and had a huge smorgasbord of treats from which we could choose. Often we just blacked our faces and dressed as hobos. We didn't know any better then. And the best part was getting lots and lots of candy. One of my sisters hoarded hers, but my other sister and I gorged on ours. As a grownup my problem with Halloween had to do with the treats. Now, I guess, there are places to donate extra Halloween candy, but we ended up eating ours and it was not a good scene. A couple times I gave out apples -- not well received:) Finally, I got the idea of making and distributing soft pretzels, which I had just learned how to make, and for many, many years I had a claim to fame as the pretzel lady. For some reason, I got the sense that last year was to be my retirement from that identity. I gave out recipes with my pretzels. I hope some people tried them. This year Rich and I are going to the orchestra Halloween night, but I found some Herr's snack bags at Linvilla Orchards that our boarded can give out if he so chooses. I think it is sad that about the only holiday kids are still allowed to celebrate in school is Halloween. It's fun but not very meaningful. Thanks, Andria; and thanks to everyone who shared thoughts and perspectives. p.s. I was amazed to see that you can buy a hot dog costume. I went through much creative angst the year our daughter wanted to be a hot dog. She deserved to have a more creative mom.

    Renee Erickson


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