Should Christians Be Scared of Halloween?
On 31 October, as vampires, werewolves and ghouls descend on neighbourhoods, demanding chocolate in exchange for not terrorising the neighbourhood, some Christians have expressed worry.
From being labelled “the Devil’s Festival” to being decried as an American import of commercial excess, Halloween is sometimes the subject of Christian concern over what the festival means. From organising Christinised alternatives such as ‘Harvest parties’ to fully participating, Christians respond to the festival in a wide variety of ways.
The festival has Christian roots: Halloween is held on the eve of All Saints, or All Hallows Eve. This is the result of Pope Gregory IV moving the Feast of All Saints to assuage the fears of Gaelic Christians who had previously taken part Samhain. Samhain was a festival that marked the end of Summer and the transition into the coldest part of the year, a scary time that marked very real danger. As a piece written by Ian on the Mockingbird blog demonstrates, moving the vigil before All Saints Day to the night that Samhain used to be observed allowed these new Christians to participate in a ritual of facing their fears:
The consecration of Samhain to illuminate the fears of weary Celts meant they didn’t have to pretend the frost wasn’t setting in, that the days weren’t getting shorter, that death wasn’t enclosing for the winter. They didn’t have to live in denial of the very real darkness they were in the midst of: instead, they could reappropriate the old trappings of Samhain to subvert the terrors that once attended it. They could participate in Christ’s triumph too, and shame the powers he had defeated. They no longer needed to wear frightening masks or light bonfires to scare away demons and spirits–now they could dress up to mock and deride them.
So why do Christians respond negatively to what began as a Christian take on a pagan festival? Halloween’s current status as an American cultural phenomenon is one factor.
Uniting Church minister Neil Ericksson hinted at this when he told Insights, “Even worse than Christmas, I reckon even fewer people actually know what Halloween celebrates. The Americans have completely ruined its real meaning.”
In the US, the festival is quickly becoming the second highest grossing commercial holiday, with around a quarter of the year’s candy sales taking place on that date. The firm place of Halloween in the US calendar has led to American Christians perhaps being more accepting of the event than others abroad, who take umbrage at what they view as the importing of American culture. As UK-based Freelance writer Jennie Pollock commented in a 2013 piece for Think Theology, British Christians “get all in a lather about Halloween, and our American cousins…don’t.”
“Many of my Christian friends in America were genuinely surprised when I first told them Christians don’t celebrate Halloween in the UK,” she wrote. “It had simply never crossed their minds that they were partaking in the glorification of evil. It was just good, clean fun to them. Some, once they thought it through, decided they too would stop. Others, equally thoughtful, decided to continue.”
Matthew Hosier is another UK-based writer who has called on his fellow Christians to be calm in their approach to the event. While he has expressed concerns about the commercial nature of the event, he thinks that Halloween offers a chance to connect with people in his neighbourhood.
“We have worked hard at cultivating friendships with our neighbours but a lot of that good will could be lost if we shut our door to their children on 31 October. The reality is when they take their kids out trick or treating they are not…entering into pagan worship – they are merely out for some fun.”
While Hosier does not send his children out for Trick or Treating, the event provided a chance for Christians to get involved in their local communities. “Halloween is just one more opportunity to build friendship with our neighbours, and we’re not going to close the door on that,” he wrote.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ editor