What's Halloween About Anyway?

Dr. Brian Allison

Should Christians observe Halloween? That is a question over which there has been much debate. In this tract, I want to do two things: 1) state the history and nature of Halloween; 2) present a Christian perspective on Halloween. First, what is Halloween? Halloween is a annual festive occasion for many children. On the eve of October 31st., many children dress up in costumes and go from house to house, knocking on the doors (often calling out, "Trick or treat!"), in order to receive candy, snacks, and other delightful gifts. It is a time that many children anticipate and enjoy. Halloween was originally called All Hallows Eve because it fell on the eve of All Saint's Day (i.e., a day to honour the saints). The Mass performed by the Roman Catholic church was called Allhallowmass. The name of the day was eventually shortened to its present form.

A pagan celebration

This Christian religious festival was eventually influenced by pagan religious rites and festivities which were held on the same day; and, accordingly, All Hallows Eve became infiltrated with pagan practices and customs, thus losing its original intent. Many of the customs and practices of the present observance of Halloween reflect these ancient paganistic beliefs, superstitions, and fears. For instance, one paganistic practice consisted of bands of laughing young people, disguised in grotesque masks, carrying carved lanterns from turnips through the village streets.

The actual pagan rites and festivities pre-date the birth of Christ. These rites and festivities were first introduced and practiced by the ancient Druids (i.e., the Celtic priests who lived in pre-Christian Britain, Ireland, and Gaul). These ancient Druids observed a religious celebration which coincided with the onset of Autumn. For three days at the beginning of November, festivities and rites were observed. On October 31st itself, the Druids celebrated the Celtic festival of Sambain (i.e., summer's end), marking the conclusion of summer. This date was also the eve of the new year in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times, which occasioned the ancient fire festivals, marked by huge bonfires on the hilltops to frighten away evil spirits that supposedly would roam the earth. The autumnal festival acquired a sinister character with the presence of witches, ghosts, hobgoblins, various kinds of demons, fairies, elves, black cats, or some other dark form, roaming upon the earth. All Hallows Eve became a time when ghosts, witches, and other dark characters could have a final fling before the holy day of November 1st. Light, in contrast to the darkness, became a source of protection against these dark powers and characters. Hence, along with the building of huge bonfires on the hilltops, the Celtics also practiced the burning of torches in the fields, and eventually the setting of candles in pumpkins carved in the appearance of a demonic face. Other forms of protection were Wych-elm, witch hazel, and holly. Halloween became a time for placating the supernatural and dark powers which controlled nature.

Interestingly enough, ancient Rome also celebrated a festival during this time of the year in honour of the Pomona, the goddess of fruits and gardens. This celebration was associated with the time of harvest. Everywhere nuts and apples (symbols of the winter store of fruit) played an important part in the ceremonies, being roasted before the huge bonfires. Even the Roman observance had a sinister character, with ghosts and witches supposedly on the prowl. However, for the Druids, this night apparently marked the time when the god of death would summon the souls of the wicked who had died during the previous year. One of the ancient beliefs of pagan Ireland was that on this particular night the souls of the dead could return to the earth and were free to revisit their homes and be entertained.

The powers of darkness

For the pagan worshippers, this celebrative autumn holiday marked the time when the Sun retreated before the powers of darkness. It was a time when the powers and characters of the underworld were released and engaged in acts of mischief. It apparently was the special day on which the help of the devil was deliberately invoked for such purposes as divination (i.e., the practice of trying to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers), particularly concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. Some celebrants, on this night, tried to foretell the future by performing such rites as jumping over lighted candles.

The idea of a witch flying on a broomstick comes from an old Scottish superstition. It was believed that witches (i.e., those who had sold their soul to the devil) would leave a stick which looked like them, made through magic, in their beds on All Hallows Eve. Eventually, these witches would fly on these broomsticks up the chimney into the sky, being attended by black cats.

Halloween has now become a secular observance. Many of its practices and customs (i.e., bobbing for apples) have become games which children play. In the late 19th century, immigrants to North America, particularly the Irish, introduced the secular Halloween practices and customs which quickly became popular. Adult mischief-making was an essential aspect of the observance. Today the observance is typically confined to small children.

The occultic and satanic

Second, should a Christian observe Halloween? Some say that Halloween has changed and has become merely a fun time. Some say that Halloween is now relatively innocent. Are these observations really true? Before a Christian observes Halloween, I would ask him or her to consider the following points. First, Halloween is still considered a high religious day of celebration for occultists and satanists. It is still, in many respects, an evil day. Reportedly, Halloween is one of the noted witches' sabbaths of the witchcraft community (e.g. the Church of Wicca, USA). A gathering of 10,000 witches on these sabbaths has been reported. Favourite locations for theses gatherings are the Brocken, in the Harz Mountains, Germany; the Bald Mountain, near Kiev, Russia; the Blocula, Sweden; and the Departement du Puy-de-Dome, Auvergne, France. Halloween is the special day of worship for wizards. Witches gather to worship, in particular, a sun god and a moon goddess.

A Christian should have no participation or involvement in satanic or demonic activity of any kind. The Bible says: "And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them" (Eph. 5:11). Again, "...and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He are we?" (1 Cor. 10:20b-22). Again, "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14). The observance of Halloween is not harmless. There are serious religious ramifications in having any participation in the observance of Halloween.

Clearly anti-Christian

Second, the traditional elements of Halloween still carry cultic meaning today. Witches, sorcerers, ghosts, hobgoblins, diviners, and (skeletons of) the dead, still characterize the observance of Halloween today. Though the ancient religious significance of these characters may be generally, though not exclusively, inconspicuous, the religious value, meaning, and symbolism remain. Such concepts and symbols are patently, and historically, anti-Christian. Hence, the Christian's association with these concepts and symbols is not an innocent one. Accordingly, the Christian's testimony and witness are tarnished through such an association; he or she stands guilty through that association. The Christian is to distance himself from all forms of witchcraft, black magic, and sorcery. The Bible says: "You shall not allow a sorceress [or witch] to live" (Ex. 22:18). Again, "There shall not be found among you anyone...who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead...You shall be blameless before the LORD your God" (De. 18:10,11,13). The works of carnality or anti-God behaviour include witchcraft or sorcery (see Gal. 5:20).

Well meaning, but deceived

Some well-meaning Christian may say that the observance of Halloween is a matter of personal choice; that one should do what he feels is right or good according to his or her own conscience. However, the exercise of personal choice according to one's own conscience concerns areas of life for which specific moral directives are absent. Halloween is not an amoral issue. It concerns an implicit, albeit often unconscious, allegiance to the powers of darkness. The history, as well as the present elements, of Halloween relate to the demonic. The observance of Halloween is clearly a spiritual and moral issue. It is not a question of Christian liberty and conscience, but rather an issue of Christian morality and obedience. The Christian is commanded to "abstain from every form [appearance] of evil" (1 Th. 5:22).

The question that is often raised is that Christians acceptably celebrate Christmas, which has a pagan origin, so why is it wrong to celebrate Halloween? The contemporary character and associations of Christmas and Halloween are noticeably different. The substance of Christmas, notwithstanding the secular and commercial aspects, is essentially Christian, centring on the birth of Jesus Christ. The substance of Halloween, on the other hand, is essentially anti-Christian, patronizing and elevating the demonic. The Bible says: "Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?...'Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,' says the Lord. 'AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you'" (2 Cor, 6:15,17).

Some Christian parents may be concerned about dealing with the disappointment of their children if the fun of Halloween is taken away from them. But these parents can substitute another fun time or activity (such as dinner at their favourite restaurant; some recreation, such as bowling; and a bag of candy) so that the children do not feel deprived as they see their friends enjoying the day. Our approach to Halloween need not be a time of disappointment, but rather a great opportunity for Christian witness.

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Compton's Encyclopedia. Volume 10. Toronto: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1991.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Fifteenth ed. Vols. 6 and 12. Toronto: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1990.

Horsley, E. M. ed. Hutchinson 20th Century Encyclopedia. Seventh ed. London: Hutchinson, 1986.

Lindsey, Hal. Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972.

Tobias, Don, et al. "Halloween?" Falls Church: Greater Love Ministries, n.d.

Wright, Ernest, et al. Richards Topical Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: J. A. Richards Pub. Co., Inc., 1949.